Matching last season’s achievements will be a hard act to follow for trainer Harry Whittington, but the chances of another campaign to savour look distinctly possible.
The coronavirus pandemic may have cut the last National Hunt term short, but it failed to stop the Sparsholt handler from enjoying his best season numerically, and financially, along with saddling his first ever Cheltenham Festival winner.
Having provided Whittington with his breakthrough Festival victory in March, Simply The Betts will now bid to cement his status as the rising star of the stable by continuing his progression over fences this term.
Whittington said: “We sent him to Laura Collett midway through last season and she worked wonders with him. The more he went there, the more confident he got with his jumping.
“After jumping two fences on Festival Trials day, I said to my wife ‘we are going to run a massive race here’. He went on to do the same thing in the Brown Advisory with a round of neat and tidy jumping before showing his class.
“It is going to be tougher now, but he has all the right credentials and is a confident horse from what he did last season, so hopefully he can go up another level.
“He has done very well at two and a half miles and we will keep him to that for now. Because of his mark he is quite limited to what he can run in so the obvious ones are the Old Roan (Aintree) and the Paddy Power Gold Cup, but as ever Andrew (Brooks, owner) will have the final call. He could be a Ryanair horse later on.”
Had Saint Calvados met the last on a better stride then Whittington could have celebrated a second Festival winner instead of having to make do with the runner-up spot in the Ryanair Chase. But it was a display that suggested the best is still to come from the seven-year-old.
He said: “What is so pleasing with Saint Calvados is that he can be ridden patiently now and it works.
“From a blistering front-runner in his early days, changing tactics has worked fantastic as there are many horses that would sulk and not want to be ridden that way.
“There was always a question mark about stamina, but I think he showed he is a horse that can stay and you could argue that is what was kicking in at the end of the Ryanair.
“Potentially we will go three miles and it will be Andrew’s decision, but we are talking about it a lot. I’d imagine we will see him out towards the end of November in perhaps the Christy 1965 Chase (Ascot) and/or maybe the Betfair Chase (Haydock).”
The switch to fences last season saw Rouge Vif take another step forward after claiming Grade Two glory in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick before finishing third in the Arkle, and Whittington feels his progress is not yet complete.
He said: “Rouge Vif is a lot more relaxed mentally as when he was younger he was half-mad and it was like trying to tame a lion.
“His performance in the Arkle was as good as the Kingmaker. The ground was against him, but his jumping was something to behold in the Arkle and that is what kept him in it.
“There is the race at the Showcase meeting at Cheltenham that Saint Calvados won last year, or there is the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter for him to start with.”
Having done well with his novice chase team last season Whittington appears to have in Stick With Bill and Young Bull two ideal candidates to give him further success in the same division this campaign.
He said: “Stick With Bill is still on the weak side as he is a big horse, but he has done well for a break. He will start off in a novice handicap chase, I’d imagine, over two and a half miles on soft, but I’d imagine we will go over three miles pretty quickly with him. He could be a future Welsh National type.
“Young Bull has a similar profile to Stick With Bill and he was three from five last season and he probably surprised us a little bit.
“He might start over two and a half miles this side of Christmas around a big, galloping track like Wetherby or Chepstow in a novice handicap chase. He will make up into a three-miler by the end of season.”
Like every yard, the father-of-one has welcomed in an influx of new talent, of which there are two he has high hopes of seeing appear in the winner’s enclosure over the winter months.
He said: “I got Docpickedme at the Cheltenham Festival Sale. I spoke to Derek O’Connor, who rode him in his point-to-point, during lockdown and he felt he had enough speed and class to go in a nice bumper somewhere.
“Qualismart is a very well-bred horse from France that has a lot of speed. He was going to run in France, but Andrew decided to give him a bit more time which was a wise move.
“He won’t run in a bumper as he has done a lot of work in France. He jumps well and will go straight over hurdles.”