Lorna Fowler is thinking of running Colonel Mustard at Aintree next month after his terrific effort at Cheltenham.
The lightly-raced seven-year-old did his trainer proud in taking third place behind the well-backed 11-4 favourite State Man, trained by Willie Mullins, in the 26-runner County Handicap Hurdle.
It was his first run in a handicap after also taking minor honours in the Grade One novice hurdle at Leopardstown last month won by subsequent Ballymore victor, Sir Gerhard.
“He ran a huge race. My biggest worry was we’d run into trouble, but we just ran into another one of Willie Mullins’,” said Fowler.
“He’s home, he’s tired, like he knows he’s had a race but he ultimately seems fine. I think he was old enough and mature enough to handle the handicap. He gave everyone an awful lot of pleasure.”
Colonel Mustard could stay out of graded company again and go for the Orrell Park Handicap Hurdle over two and a half miles on Merseyside.
“He’ll tell us if he’s ready in time. We’ve got Aintree as a possibility,” said Fowler, whose stables are in County Meath.
“He’s lightly raced this season and there’s three weeks, so if he’s OK we’ll consider that. Then there’s a few other options, including Punchestown.
“If Aintree looks a viable option then I think we’d be quite keen to take it. We’d probably go for the two-and-a-half (mile race) but I probably won’t know where I’m at until next week.”
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Connections of Colonel Mustard are set to bypass the Cheltenham Festival after finding Sir Gerhard a little too hot to handle at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Having previously chased home the talented Jonbon at Ascot, Lorna Fowler’s seven-year-old stepped back into Grade One company and finished 12 lengths adrift of the Willie Mullins-trained winner of the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle.
Yet despite those two excellent efforts, the County Meath handler has decided Colonel Mustard will likely swerve his engagements at the Cheltenham Festival.
Though currently as short as 20-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with Sky Bet and 25-1 with Paddy Power for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Fowler feels Aintree now tops the list of potential landing sports.
She said: “He ran a huge race and tried his heart out on ground he didn’t really like – it was lovely ground, but he definitely does like it a bit more lively.
“He ran a huge race and I could not be more proud of him. He definitely knows he’s had a race – that was the hardest race he has ever had – and we will just let him come back to himself and enjoy being the star of the show at our yard. So, we are very happy with him.
“After that, it does make you shy away from Cheltenham a bit, because you very much know where you are at and you know what is around you, and you know where they are at.
“So, I think we will probably shy away from Cheltenham and we have certainly got the Aintree two-and-a-half-mile novice hurdle as an option. That’s probably highest on the agenda at the moment, but nothing is set in stone. I could keep him at home.
“A few of them could fall by the wayside at Cheltenham, and while you should never say ‘never’, Aintree is looking the most likely scenario.
“The track will suit him and he’s travelled before. That’s the provisional plan anyway.”
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Colonel Mustard will step back into Grade One company for his next outing before being aimed at either the Supreme or Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Lorna Fowler’s seven-year-old heads to Leopardstown for the two-mile Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle on Sunday week after chasing home the highly-regarded Jonbon in the Grade Two Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot last month.
Though the Nicky Henderson-trained Jonbon barely came off the bridle in handing out a two-and-three-quarter-length beating, County Meath-based Fowler is hopeful last season’s Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle runner-up can continue to progress after learning more about the Makfi gelding.
“He is in very good form, I am happy to say, and at the moment we are still on course for Leopardstown next weekend. Providing the ground is OK, that is the plan,” said Fowler.
“He came back from Ascot with no bother – he seemed very pleased with himself, which was great – and we are just stirring him up for the next occasion.
“Obviously, everyone is getting very excited about all these novices’ going to Cheltenham, but right now we are just focussing on Leopardstown.
“He has entries in the Ballymore and the Supreme, but we will focus on the goal right now, which is Leopardstown.”
Jonbon followed up with a hard-earned success in deep ground in the Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday and while pushed out to 4-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Fowler felt that the Ascot form had been franked.
“It is amazing how you are put up there to be slammed,” she added.
“Everyone was quite mute about Jonbon’s performance in terms of no-one was particularly impressed at Haydock and he got pushed out in the market, but I think it was very testing ground and he has done very well.
“He wasn’t impressive, he was workmanlike, but Nicky did say he quickened away twice, and you can’t argue with that. We were beaten by a good horse at Ascot, but equally, we think Colonel Mustard is a good horse and hopefully he will continue to prove it.”
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Colonel Mustard will be aimed at the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle after further demonstrating his class with a fine run in defeat at Ascot on Friday.
Lorna Fowler’s six-year-old took on Nicky Henderson’s much-vaunted Jonbon in the Grade Two Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle, starting at 8-1 with the latter the even-money favourite following comfortable victories in a point-to-point, a bumper and a maiden hurdle.
The race began at a very sedate pace as no one appeared willing to make the running, but Jonbon eventually took up the lead and found his toughest rival to be Fowler’s gelding, who pursued the winner all the way to the line and was beaten two and three quarter lengths.
“He ran a huge race, like all of the others he wasn’t suited by no pace early on. But everyone was in the same boat,” said Fowler.
“What I loved about him at Ascot was the way he just really ran to the line, he finished behind an exceptional horse but I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
“He wasn’t annihilated by any means, he pressed Jonbon and he made sure he had to extend a bit to go and win the race.”
The journey across to Berkshire was a fact-finding mission for Colonel Mustard’s connections, who wanted to travel to Ascot to see how their chestnut coped with both the trip from Fowler’s base in County Meath and the high-calibre competition in the race.
Confident that he managed well in both regards, Fowler is now hoping for further improvement from the French-bred son of Makfi.
“I do think there’s no doubt our horse will be better suited by a stronger pace and a stiffer test of stamina, and probably a bigger field to carry him,” she said.
“We brought him over to see how well he travelled and to be honest, to find out how good he was and if he was up to the top level.
“From what he did at Ascot he has not been found wanting, he ticked every box that I wanted and I was so happy with him.
“He has grown up a lot, he’s always been a bit of a Jack the Lad. You’ve had to do a bit of push and pull to keep him sweet.
“He’s basically Flat-bred, Mafkis could have a reputation for not being straightforward but he’s come through the teenage years and I think he’s come of age this year.
“He came of age coming out of Punchestown when he was second in the Grade One there. He’s still very lightly raced for a six-year-old and I definitely think there is more to come and better to come, for sure.”
Colonel Mustard is headed in the direction of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March – for which Jonbon is the hot favourite – and is expected to run once more on home turf beforehand.
The Grade One Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival in February could be his next outing, with a Listed two-mile novice hurdle at Punchestown the following week also under consideration.
“Ultimately we still have our long-term goal of the Supreme, nothing is set in stone but that’s an obvious target for him,” said Fowler.
“In the meantime I wouldn’t want to travel him again before Cheltenham, so I would run him either in the Grade One at the Dublin Racing Festival or there’s a Listed race the following week, a Listed novice hurdle.
“I’ll keep those as my two options as they would both tie into Cheltenham.”
Colonel Mustard remains in good form following his Ascot exertions, a run that was his sixth consecutive start under jockey Conor Orr.
“He arrived back on Saturday night, he was really happy to be home and he’s been in the paddock,” said Fowler.
“He’s just 10 feet tall, he really, really enjoyed himself.
“Him and Conor are a good partnership, Conor knows him and I think the jockey knowing the horse makes a difference.
“Both of them were 10 feet tall, as they should have been, and I hope that confidence just takes them forward to do even better next time.”
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Lorna Fowler insists that Colonel Mustard “deserves to take his chance” against the likes of Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Jonbon in the Howden Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot on Friday.
The six-year-old Makfi gelding will be the oldest in the line-up for the Grade Two event and Fowler hopes his experience will be an asset against younger rivals.
Fowler, sister of former jockey Mark Bradburne, was a regular racing presenter before she married Harry Fowler and moved to Ireland, taking over the training licence upon the death of Harry’s parents.
“In theory, it was never the plan to train,” said Fowler, an accomplished former amateur rider who guided the late Sir Henry Cecil’s Plato to victory in the St Patrick’s Day Derby at Cheltenham in 2011.
“I love it, though – but not all the time. When it goes right it is wonderful. It was quite an easy transition to move to Ireland, really.”
Colonel Mustard is the flag-bearer for the family-run Rahinston Farm & Stud yard in Summerhill, County Meath, ending last season with a fine staying-on runner-up effort to Echoes In Rain in the Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival.
He showed his well-being with an authoritative success on his return to action a Galway maiden hurdle and has either won or been placed in six of his seven career starts.
Fowler had the option of running Colonel Mustard in the Grade One Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, but felt he could learn more by heading to the Berkshire track.
She said: “He’s in the Kennel Gate and we are planning to bring him over.
“We looked at Christmas at Leopardstown, but with the way the weather is, it is so crazy.
“So, I looked at the UK programme book and thought, ‘why not have a go at Ascot for the Supreme trial?’.
“We have targeted this race. He’s very much on course for it and is in very good form. He will travel over on Wednesday and we are well aware of what we are taking on, but we will be taking on that grade of horses either here (in Ireland) or there.
“It will give us a chance to see if he travels.
“So, I suppose while it is a bit of a fact-finding mission, we definitely have got him there in the best form. I’d be happy about that side of things.
“He has a bit more experience and he was a Grade One-placed novice last year and he is a much more mature horse this year without a doubt.
“On Friday, we’ll find out a bit more. He deserves his chance – we’ll have a go.”
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