Sizing up the Winter options

With something of a lull on the Flat this week, there’s been news in the past few days, regarding some of Jump racings star performers.

The 2015 Gold Cup winner, Coneygree, looks set to be back in action in the coming weeks. Listowel’s Kerry National is the intended starting point for Sara Bradstock’s exciting chaser, and he appears to be giving the right signals as connections hope for an uninterrupted campaign. “He'll come on for the run, but he's fit enough as we've got our all-weather and he goes to Paul Cole's all-weather as well,” said Bradstock.

She went on: “I'd be worried if the ground in Ireland went heavy, which it can there, but they are hoping it will be yielding to soft, which would be perfect. He's just a bit better since the spring and has got his confidence back - he's feeling great.”

The plan is to then go for the Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly The Hennessy) at Newbury in December, where he’ll be lumping top-weight and attempting to replicate the likes of Denman. The Kerry National is very much a trial for Newbury, and will give the trainer the chance to assess whether he can give huge amounts of weight away in a handicap successfully. The team prefer the flat galloping track at Newbury, over the tighter course of Haydock which holds the Betfair Chase. They will also be keen to space his races well, as they attempt to avoid injury with the likeable chaser.

One that will be heading to Haydock for their Grade One feature at the end of November, is the current Gold Cup Champ, Sizing John. Jess Harrington spoke recently of targets for her leading chasers, and will be doing her best to keep Irish Grand National winner Our Duke and Sizing John apart, at least until a possible clash at Cheltenham in March.

“Our aim is to start him (SJ) off in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on November 25. He looks fantastic. We're keen to have a crack at the £1 million bonus for winning the three races at Haydock, Kempton (King George) and Cheltenham (Gold Cup). It's exciting to have a horse to run in those races, and the triple crown has always been on our minds since he won at Punchestown.”

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Formerly a high-class two-mile chaser, he certainly has the necessary ‘zip’ for tracks such as Haydock and Kempton, and has proved himself adept to going left or right-handed.

That’s likely to ensure an Irish campaign for Our Duke prior to Cheltenham in March, with the Lexus Chase over Christmas an early objective. “Our Duke is back trotting and looks fantastic,” added Harrington. “We'll kick off his season at Down Royal (JNwine.com Chase). That looks the ideal starting point for him.” The first Grade One in the Irish National Hunt season went to Don Cossack in 2015, and the great Kauto Star in 2008 and 2010.

Our Duke is likely to clash with several talented chasers from the Willie Mullins yard, including Djakadam, who came close to defeating Sizing John in the Punchestown Gold Cup in April. It’ll also be interesting to see where the likes of Minella Rocco and Native River head during the winter. The Lexus Chase could prove an ideal target for both as they build towards a possible crack at the Grand National at Aintree.

There’s still plenty of action to come on the Flat over the coming months, but it’s difficult not to get excited as another National Hunt season draws ever closer.

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