Cheltenham Festival Pointers – Fry Flying High

It’s been a successful couple of weeks for Harry Fry, and as the spring festivals come into focus, he has his fair share of exciting contenders.

Cheltenham 2016 delivered the biggest win of his training career to date, when Unowhatimeanharry landed the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in gutsy fashion. His dramatic rise through the handicap culminated in that Grade 1 success, and the improvement has continued throughout this winter, resulting in the nine-year-old heading the market for the Stayers’ Hurdle back at Cheltenham in March.

Fry’s warrior-like stayer has added the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle and the Grade 1 Long Walk to his CV, and on Saturday heads to Prestbury Park hoping to take the Cleeve Hurdle. He’s likely to encounter a strong challenge from the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Ballyoptic. The son of Old Vic tipped up when the pair last met at Ascot. He wasn’t out of it when coming down at the last, and this looks an intriguing clash. Fry’s fella will be looking to make it eight wins on the bounce, and cement his place as a short-priced favourite for the Festival in March.

With one stable star flying high, another put in a storming performance at Haydock on Saturday. The highly-touted Neon Wolf romped to victory in the Supreme Trial, thrashing a decent looking field in the process. He’s a tank of a horse, and is expected to make an exciting chaser in time. He’s stoutly bred, being by Irish St Leger winner Vinnie Roe, out of a Supreme Leader mare.

Fry is keen to look after him with that chasing career in mind. Speaking on At The Races on Monday, the trainer reiterated that the horse would need juice in the ground if he were to take up an entry at Cheltenham in March. He also hinted that the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle was the most likely target. Should the ground be unsuitably quick at Prestbury Park, a trip to Punchestown becomes an option. The owners (Masterson Holdings Limited) were successful there with Fletchers Flyer in April, and would no doubt enjoy a return trip to Ireland.

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Team Fry already have a useful young chaser on their hands, as he proved when winning the feature novice chase at Warwick recently. American is known to be a fragile individual, but he’s been impressive in winning twice over fences this winter. He’s a forward-going sort, with plenty of scope. He has the physical presence to stand off a fence, but was also clever at Warwick when getting in close. Under a bold ride from Noel Fehily, he had the field stretched down the back-straight, and though getting a little tired near home, he ran out a comfortable winner. Champers On Ice was soundly beaten in second.

The horse clearly likes to get on with things, and as such the National Hunt Chase over four miles would probably stretch him. The RSA, or even a step back in trip for the JLT would therefore appear the likely Cheltenham targets. Black Hercules took the Warwick race 12 months ago, and went on to win the JLT at the Festival. After his latest win, both jockey and trainer spoke of the RSA as the ideal target, but again warned of the fragility of the horse. He’s another that would need soft ground, if he were to be risked at Prestbury Park.

Another with spring festival potential is the young novice hurdler Over To Sam. A winner of a Point-to-Point, his hurdling debut last week at Exeter couldn’t have been more impressive. He powered clear of Coole Cody, winning the 2m5f event by six lengths. The runner-up had previously finished second to Neon Wolf. The victory came on soft ground, but he’s out of an Overbury mare, giving hope that he’ll cope with a sounder surface. Cheltenham may come too soon for this fella, but he’s a lovely looking gelding with huge potential, and should be followed.

I spoke earlier of the success for Fletchers Flyer at Punchestown in April. The timing of that success allows him to continue as a novice over fences. He is entered in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, and is then expected to head to Fairyhouse for the Irish National. His win at Punchestown came on decent ground, and though he appears adaptable to conditions, a marathon stamina test now looks essential for the eight-year-old. Not seen since December, a prep-run in early February is likely. He’s a classy sort, and the trainer will be hoping for a big run should he make Cheltenham.

Bags Groove has certainly been busier, with three promising runs during the winter. The novice hurdler looks another decent sort, and was an impressive winner at Taunton a couple of weeks back. That victory came at 2m3f, but he’s bred to get further. He had to be niggled along turning for home, but stayed on powerfully for a comfortable win. He’s entered in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, but that may be plenty sharp enough for him. He’s by Oscar, out of a Roselier mare, and if he were to sneak into the Coral Cup at Cheltenham, he could prove an interesting contender. Activial came third in the race for the yard back in 2015.

Noel Fehily’s expertize in the saddle is crucial to the prospects of the Dorset stable. Having someone of his ability onside is a huge bonus. Fry continues to build on the success of previous campaigns, and a vital part of this, is producing winners at major meetings such as the Cheltenham Festival. He’s currently closing in on last year’s total of 54 winners, though it will be close. He has several hopefuls heading to Prestbury Park in March. Their performances will undoubtedly be seen by many, as a measure of the yard’s progress. The competition remains incredibly fierce, but Fry and his team are heading in the right direction.

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