Nuts Well has a return to Aintree on his spring agenda following a frustrating winter which has denied him the chance to extend this season’s unbeaten record since his Old Roan Chase victory.
A succession of hitches, with the weather and most recently a minor injury setback, has kept Ann Hamilton’s 10-year-old off the track for almost five months.
But Ian Hamilton, who owns the vastly improved chaser trained by his wife at their Northumberland yard, expects him to be ready for either the Melling Chase or Betway Bowl at Aintree’s Grand National meeting next month.
Patience has been key throughout the winter, and it was tested again when a poisoned joint – from which Nuts Well is already recovering – ruled him out of a return for Kelso’s Premier Chase on Saturday.
“Everything’s gone wrong with that horse since Aintree,” said Hamilton.
“He was going to Huntingdon (for the Peterborough Chase in December), and then they put it off and took it to Cheltenham – and we didn’t think Cheltenham would suit him.
“Then we were going to Wetherby to take First Flow on (over Christmas) – and when we got there, the ground was absolutely horrendous.
“(Jockey) Danny (McMenamin) had ridden in the race before and he said ‘that ground is no good for him’. So we decided not to run him, and brought him home.”
Nuts Well’s absences did not end there.
Hamilton added: “Then we were going to Kempton (for the Silviniaco Conti Chase in January), and the vet came to do something else, he checked him over and he said ‘I’ll tell you what, this horse is going over the top’.
“So we gave him a rest, and brought him back, and he was 110 per cent for Kelso.
“We don’t know what happened, but he got a poisoned joint. He wasn’t lame or anything, but we didn’t dare run him.
“He’s fine now, but we’ve missed again – so we’ve missed a few times with him.”
Nuts Well’s setback was ill-timed, but short-lived.
“We couldn’t find a cut or anything, but we think we’ve got rid of the poison now,” said Hamilton.
“He’s back riding again, but it was too late for Kelso.
“It’ll have to be Aintree, but I don’t know which race.
“I think he’ll stay three miles – we’d have found that out (for sure, over almost that distance) at Kelso. His half-brother Runswick Royal was by a miler, and he stayed three miles easily.
“He’s by more of a staying horse, so I’d have thought he’d be bound to stay.”
That brings the Bowl into the equation as well as the Melling – but either way, Nuts Well will be tackling Grade One level for the first time.
“I’m not sure which race to put him in – I’d have thought we’ll put him in both, and it will be (like) a first-time-out job to get him ready.
“He won at Kelso first time out, so we should be able to get him ready.”
Even from his career-high rating of 159, he will therefore need to excel himself – but after Old Roan runner-up Clondaw Castle boosted the form significantly at Kempton last month, that appears far from out of the question.
“He had some good horses behind him that day in the Old Roan, and he did it fairly well off top weight,” said Hamilton.
“The second horse won that good race the other day (at Kempton). That horse absolutely hacked up the other day – top class. So we should have a bit of fun somewhere.”
Nuts Well also proved at Aintree that he can perform in soft ground – but Hamilton is still hoping for a dry spring.
“He is adaptable, but he jumps better out of that good ground, because he’s not very big,” he said.
“He did fantastically at Kelso (first time out this season), and never touched a twig. But at Aintree, it was a bit on the softer side – he was all right, but he did touch one or two, just getting his feet out.
“So he’s definitely better on better ground, (but) Aintree is usually good ground.”