The Jukebox Man will not be seen again until the spring following his fine third in Newbury’s Challow Hurdle.
Owned by football great Harry Redknapp, he was bought for £70,000 after impressing in the pointing field and since being beaten by the well-regarded Gidleigh Park on his rules debut, he has barely put a foot wrong for trainer Ben Pauling.
Two novice hurdle victories saw him stepped up in class for the final Grade One of 2023 and although failing to come away with victory, the six-year-old was less than two lengths adrift of eventual winner Captain Teague after being involved in a prolonged battle with both the Paul Nicholls-trained scorer and runner-up Lookaway up the Newbury straight.
That gives Pauling confidence that he has a special performer under his care and after being given plenty of time to recover from his Challow exertions, The Jukebox Man will be prepared for big-race targets in the spring.
He said: “We are really lucky at the moment to have some smart young horses, but he is definitely up there with the best of them.
“He’s particularly suited by that sort of ground and I’m not saying he does not have the speed or class for better ground, but I think he handles the soft very well.
“I thought he ran a lovely race and jumped particularly well and travelled strongly. Although four of them finished within two lengths of each other, rather than say the race wasn’t that strong, I think you probably have four nice horses.
“Lookaway brought very strong handicap form to the race and the others are very unexposed horses who have done nothing wrong in their preparation and are hopefully going to be smart horses for years to come.”
Pauling continued: “He won’t run again now until the spring. I just feel the Challow is always a gruelling enough test and I don’t think we can say this year is any different.
“Amazingly, he has come out of it very well indeed and is as fresh as a daisy. However, I think we will be saving him for something in the spring, whether that is Cheltenham, Aintree or even Perth.
“We will look to run once or twice max before the end of the season and although I think he will stay three miles very well, ground will probably determine which route we went really.
“I think he will definitely stay three, but if it came up soft I wouldn’t be afraid to leave him at two and a half and I think he is an absolute belter. He has a brilliant attitude, loves his job and I think he is going to be a very smart horse for the future.”
It was an exciting few days for both Pauling and Redknapp and although they fell short in the Challow, they received the perfect compensation package at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day when Shakem Up’Arry landed the valuable Paddy Power New Year’s Day Handicap Chase by an emphatic seven and a half lengths.
It was a long-awaited victory for the 10-year-old, who had been sent off favourite for the corresponding race in 2023 and had also placed over the course and distance at the Cheltenham Festival.
“He has always been knocking on the door of a big one without quite finding what is needed to get his head in front,” continued Pauling.
“Whether that be at the Festival or whenever he ran, he always seems to turn up, but has just fallen slightly short.
“We just gave him a tinker with his wind in the summer and whether it is that or not, I’m not sure, but it looks to be paying dividends and it is great for both Harry and the horse to get on the board in a big one and reap the rewards for almost Harry’s patience really.
“Harry couldn’t have been much happier, he was gutted not to be there, but he has always adored this horse – I think because he is named after him. He has owned him with me since he was a three-year-old and amazingly he turned 10 the other day which is frightening.
“He has always been fond of this horse and it was lovely to see him go and do it.”
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