Clondaw Castle ready to kick off campaign in Charlie Hall

Tom George reports Clondaw Castle to be ready to return to action in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on Saturday.

The Slad trainer has had this Grade Two contest over an extended three miles in mind for a while as the gelding’s seasonal debut.

George feels ground conditions will be in Clondaw Castle’s favour as the nine-year-old sticks to three miles following two big runs over that trip in the latter part of the last term.

He won the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton in February and was then second to Clan Des Obeaux in the Grade One Betway Bowl at Aintree.

“He’s in great form. I’m very happy with him. This has been the plan for a while,” said George.

“Hopefully the rain stays away and they don’t throw too much water on the place. He likes good ground so it looks like everything could be in his favour.

“If the old Cyrname turns up, we’re a lost cause but if he doesn’t we’re there to pounce. I think we’re still heading in the right direction and there’s a lot more to come.”

Cyrname lifted this prize 12 months ago but was pulled up on his only other two starts last term.

The Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old has something to prove but he is reported to be in good shape.

“The plan is to go to Wetherby. It has been from the start of the season. He’s training well. His record fresh is very good so we’re hopeful of a big run,” Nicholls’ assistant Harry Derham told Sky Sports Racing.

“He’s got a bit to prove after last season. He’s a talked-about horse. He looks in good nick. We think he’ll run well but he has to go and do it on the track.

“Last year he loved Wetherby. It’s a flat, galloping track and a fair one, so hopefully there are no worries on that score at all.”

Clondaw Castle will sidestep Festival en route to Aintree

Tom George has decided to skip the Ultima Handicap Chase next week with Clondaw Castle and instead target the Betway Bowl at Aintree.

The nine-year-old gave George a third win in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton last month on what was his first run over three miles.

With a new rating of 160, George has drawn comparisons with former stable star Nacarat – who won the Kempton race in 2009 before going on to finish a close third in the Melling Chase at Aintree the same season.

“We’re going to wait for Aintree,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

“It (top weight) would be a very tough ask in a race like the Ultima, so we’ll go for the Bowl over three miles.

“He’s basically got the same sort of profile as Nacarat had at the same stage – that’s what we did with him, stepped him up in class, so we’ll keep him fresh for that.”

Clondaw Castle had continued to please his trainer since his victory last month.

“He’s amazing, because he seems to be improving again,” George added.

“Kempton hardly took anything out of him – he only lost three kilos.

“He seems to have really stepped his game up again and he came out of the race very well.

“We always thought he would improve for going up in trip, but you always like to see it happen when it does.

“He’s rated 160 now, so he’s ready for the next step up.”

Clondaw Castle gives Tom George another big Kempton success

Tom George landed the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton for a third time as Clondaw Castle relished the step up in trip.

Having his first try over three miles, the nine-year-old was being rewarded for a string of consistent efforts.

Fourth in the Arkle as a novice, he was second in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree earlier in the season.

George had been keen to step him up in trip – but must have wondered if he had done the right thing when Richard Johnson and Mellow Ben set a brisk early gallop that looked sure to find out any rivals with stamina doubts.

With half a mile to run the pace was beginning to falter, but Jamie Moore made sure that was not for long as he took over on Erick Le Rouge.

He led at the second-last but Johnathan Burke had still to ask for everything on Clondaw Castle (17-2) who ran right through the line, coming away to win well by two lengths.

Last year’s winner Mister Malarky was third, with Romain De Senam fourth. George enjoyed earlier successes in the race through the popular Nacarat, who struck twice, in 2009 and 2012.

George said: “I’m delighted. Jonathan Burke said they were going so quick that he could not have been any closer early on. They went a fair gallop around there. He had to sit tight and wait his moment, but once they started coming back to him, he knew he was always under control.

“He was probably a bit unlucky in the Peterborough Chase when he made a mistake or was almost brought down coming down the hill. The ground was very soft that day, but this is his ground today – a flat track over three miles, this is his optimum conditions.

“He was off 154 today, so that puts him into graded class which I’ve always thought he was. He is in at Cheltenham, but in the back of my mind, I’ve always had it that he will go from here (Kempton) to Aintree for the Bowl.

“He is capable of doing what Nacarat did, to be honest It depends what else turns up, but he will be a fresh horse. Nacarat won this and then won the Grade One there. He will keep on improving over three miles and has had a good long break before this. He should be off a mark of 160 by then and I think handicaps are out of the equation.

“I think the key is a nice, flat track and quick ground. I think he was a bit unfortunate not to have won the Old Roan Chase first time out this season when he was probably out in front a bit too long. He is still learning and hasn’t had that much racing.”

He added: “This race has been a special race for us. Nacarat won it twice and Double Shuffle was second in it twice, so we’ve had some good days here. It is important they keep the track as well, as you need good tracks where you get better ground, rather than keep going around on deep ground all winter.

“The season has been a frustrating one. There has been about five or six different factors and you put them all together and it becomes quite a big thing – a lot of bad ground and badly handicapped horses. I haven’t been concerned and we’ve sat tight.

Tom George has an affinity for Kempton
Tom George has an affinity for Kempton (Simon Cooper/PA)

“I’ve had two winners today and a big winner at Warwick on Friday, so the big thing is to sit tight when things aren’t happening and wait your moment, and hopefully everyone will be rewarded. From now until May is probably the biggest part of the season with lots of good races everywhere.

“I have got a lot of young horses and there is plenty to look forward to.”

The Colin Tizzard-trained Mister Malarky, meanwhile, looks set to take his chance in the Grand National.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He has run well today. With a lot of weight on his back, he has run a blinder. He has bounced off the ground. Harry (Kimber) got a really good start on him, which was important, and then he’s run his race. So, I’m pleased with him.

“I think we will go to the Grand National after that. I think it will convince everybody to have a crack at it on a bit of spring ground. We’ll probably swerve Cheltenham and go straight there.”

George duo out to enhance yard’s proud record in Kempton’s big handicap

Tom George has two lively contenders in Clondaw Castle and Double Shuffle as he bids to continue his fine record in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton.

Nacarat won for George in 2009 and 2012, and he has gone close on other occasions – most notably with Double Shuffle, who was runner-up in 2017 and 2019.

The Cotswolds trainer does not usually run two horses in the same race but is going against the grain on Saturday, because both deserve their chance.

“It’s a race we’ve done well in,” he said.

Trainer Tom George has a fine record in Saturday's feature handicap at Kempton
Trainer Tom George has a fine record in Saturday’s feature handicap at Kempton (PA)

“Those two horses both need to take their chance in it, although it’s not ideal running them against each other.”

This will be Double Shuffle’s fourth run in the race in its various guises, at a venue where he was also second in the King George VI Chase in 2017 and a course-and-distance winner just last month.

“Double Shuffle loves the track and likes good ground, and has run well in it before,” added George.

“He’s been struggling over the last year running on the wrong tracks on the wrong ground, wrong everything – and the handicapper hasn’t given him a chance – but I like to think he retains plenty of ability, and he’s in good form.

George believes the step up to three miles will suit Clondaw Castle.

“He’s ready for a step up to three miles. It’s what we’ve been waiting for, and this is a good opportunity to do it,” he said.

“He’s got plenty of pace. He was placed in an Arkle, but at the end of the day he’s going to be a stayer, so we should hopefully see plenty of progression stepped up in trip.”

Cap Du Nord is among the opposition, having run third in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster – where his trainer Christian Williams felt the three miles in testing conditions just found him out.

“I think the ground will be perfect, and he’s acted round the track before,” said Williams.

Cap Du Nord is expected to be suited by the ground and trip at Kempton
Cap Du Nord is expected to be suited by the ground and trip at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He made a mistake at the second last at Doncaster, but I still think he’d have finished third – I just think he got outstayed by two more experienced horses, who were proper stayers.

“I think he jumped and travelled well in the race, but the ground just zapped him. It was great to be involved in a race like that and finish in the first four.

“This has been the plan since.”

Connections of Slate House are hoping the nine-year-old can return to the form that brought him Grade One success in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase over the course and distance on Boxing Day 2019.

“He is a Grade One winner around the track,” said Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father Colin.

“He ran a nice race over two and a half at Wincanton last time, and that just put him right for it hopefully. It is a competitive race – but I think it is the right race for him.

“Things haven’t quite gone to plan for him this season – and although he didn’t run badly at Wincanton last time, he is not the easiest horse to keep right, so we were a bit held up in the early part of the season with him.

“His next target has been this since Wincanton – and although it was probably a couple of weeks longer than what he needed, it was the right race to aim for.”

Black Corton bids to go one better than 12 months ago, when he was beaten two lengths by the Tizzard-trained Mister Malarkey.

“I’ve been waiting for this better ground for Black Corton – who had been working nicely with Secret Investor, gutsy winner of the Denman Chase last Sunday,” trainer Paul Nicholls told Betfair.

Black Corton will have to defy top weight in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase
Black Corton will have to defy top weight in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase (Julian Herbert/PA)

“I’ve left him alone in the worst of the winter, while the going was heavy everywhere, and he is ready to go again.

“Although Black Corton doesn’t get any help from the handicapper, it’s encouraging that he ran tidily in this race last year and always goes well fresh. He is ready and could go very well.”

The Ditcheat handler also saddles Southfield Stone, who was second in the Grade Two novice chase on this card last year.

“He won an all-weather bumper at Kempton the other day, has also won over hurdles at the track and all his best performances have come on good ground,” he said.

“As he has never run over more than two and a half miles, he is now stepping into the unknown over three miles for the first time. But I’ve always felt he would stay this far, particularly round this flat track on good ground. So there are plenty of plus points.”

Alan King is hoping Talkischeap can confirm his place in the Randox Grand National.

“I’ve got to run him – he hasn’t had a chase run since this race last year,” said the Barbury Castle handler.

“He needs a bit of practice, and we need to run him in this to qualify for Aintree.

“I think whatever he does he’ll improve for it. He has had the two runs on the all-weather – and they have certainly brought him on – but I’m just hoping for a good, solid run and then we can head towards Aintree.”

Chris Gordon expects Mellow Ben to run a good race
Chris Gordon expects Mellow Ben to run a good race (John Walton/PA)

Mellow Ben has run creditably in defeat several times at Kempton, and his trainer Chris Gordon believes that will stand him in good stead.

“He seems in very good form at home,” he said.

“He’s got some good form round there to make a good case for him.

“I think the ground will suit him. I’m looking forward to him running a decent race.”