Robert Waley-Cohen is excited to see whether Noble Yeats can cement his Gold Cup claims with a bold showing in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.
The eight-year-old provided the Waley-Cohen family with a day they will never forget at Aintree last spring when claiming Grand National glory under the owner’s amateur jockey son Sam, on what proved to be his final ride before retiring from the saddle.
Emmet Mullins’ charge was pulled up on his return to action at Auteuil in October, but bounced back with victory at Wexford a couple of weeks later before throwing his hat into the Gold Cup ring with a seriously impressive display in Aintree’s Many Clouds Chase the following month.
The Waley-Cohens have already tasted Gold Cup success, with Long Run memorably seeing off Denman and Kauto Star in 2011, and Noble Yeats is a best priced 7-1 to become only the third horse to win the blue riband and the Grand National after L’Escargot and Golden Miller.
But while Waley-Cohen is hopeful his charge can make his presence felt in a fascinating clash with last year’s Gold Cup third Protektorat – winner of the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November – he warns the result is not the be-all and end-all, with the big day still seven weeks away.
“It’s a very hot race. There’s six very good horses in it and obviously Protektorat has done brilliantly, finishing third in a Gold Cup and winning the Betfair Chase,” said Waley-Cohen.
“It will be very interesting and I think it will be good for Noble Yeats to get some more experience of the course.
“But as we keep reminding ourselves, the Cotswold Chase is a furlong shorter than the Gold Cup and I’m not sure I would read too much into the result. This is not the Gold Cup and whatever happens, we’ve still got to meet the likes of A Plus Tard and Galopin Des Champs.”
While doing his best to dampen expectations, Waley-Cohen reports Noble Yeats to have travelled over from Ireland in rude health.
He added: “I don’t want to put anyone off and say we haven’t got him ready, because he certainly is ready. He’s ready to do himself justice, but I hope there’ll be a fraction to work on.
“Trainers like to have their horses super sharp for the big day, but that is not to say they can’t win earlier in the season, of course.
“Protektorat appears to be the best of the British, although given that Noble Yeats spent the entire summer here and I own him, I must admit it’s hard to think of him as Irish, even though he’s Irish bred and Irish trained!
“He’s spent a couple of days with us this week after travelling over and he seems in very happy form.”
Dan Skelton is excited to see Protektorat back on the racecourse, having elected to keep his powder dry since his brilliant Haydock success in November.
He said: “Everything has been really good since Haydock and I’m very happy with him. He looks fantastic and we always wanted to come here after his last run.
“For a few days after Haydock he was a bit quiet but he came out of it sound and healthy, so there was never any issue on that part. Since then we have slowly built him back up and he is fresh and well.
“He has not been for any away days but he is flying around the place and I’d like to think even though Noble Yeats is coming over, he can run well. It should be a good race and I think you should hopefully see something very positive.”
Frodon won the Cotswold Chase four years ago for Paul Nicholls and returns for another tilt after the cold snap scuppered an intended appearance at Taunton last weekend.
The popular veteran is three years older than each of his rivals at the age of 11, but his trainer expects him to run his usual solid race.
“Frodon is fresh and well and he will run a good race, but he might be vulnerable to some of those younger legs again,” said Nicholls.
“It was a shame the Portman Cup at Taunton was called off last week, but he likes Cheltenham and especially the New Course so you just never know.
“He looks as well as I’ve seen him look. He schooled on Monday and he worked great.
“He has an outside chance of winning, but he could run well and get placed.”
Sounds Russian was fourth behind Noble Yeats at Aintree in the autumn and has since pushed Into Overdrive close in the Rowland Meyrick.
Trainer Ruth Jefferson expects to have a clearer idea of what the future holds for her stable star after Saturday’s race.
She said: “Saturday will tell us where we go with him. He’s got a Gold Cup entry and he will have a handicap entry somewhere.
“He’s grand and doesn’t take a lot of training – he is quite straightforward. We’ve been pleased with him since Wetherby.”
The Lucinda Russell-trained Ahoy Senor was just ahead of Sounds Russian when third in the Many Clouds Chase, but that promising effort is sandwiched by disappointing runs in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and the King George at Kempton.
Russell is keeping her fingers crossed the eight-year-old can re-establish himself as a force to be reckoned with, saying: “He was a freak as a hurdler and a freak as a novice chaser and he did extremely well as a novice chaser.
“But he was running on pure ability, whereas this year he has had to knuckle down and learn how to really race properly.
“He can’t just boss fields like before in the company he’s been running in and I’d like to think with that bit of confidence he has got from the runs he has had this season, he could build on that and if he does build on that, we might create a monster again.”
The field is completed by Nicky Henderson’s outsider Dusart, who returns to the larger obstacles after finishing sixth over hurdles on his seasonal debut at Cheltenham last month.