Funambule Sivola is looking to add to what has already been a breakthrough season when he runs in the Marsh Chase at Aintree on Friday.
Trained by Venetia Williams, the diminutive seven-year-old won the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury before outrunning his 40-1 odds to finish second to Energumene in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Bookmakers will not be so generous on Merseyside, with Funambule Sivola rated only 1lb lower officially than last year’s winner and favourite, Fakir D’oudairies.
He is owned by the My Racing Manager Friends syndicate, run by Elli Morgan who admits she has been caught out by the seven-year-olds progression this season.
“I was absolutely thrilled with him at Cheltenham and what a little horse he is,” she said.
“It almost felt a like a win at Cheltenham. Just before the race I’d said to Venetia that as long as he ran a good race, even if he came back seventh, if he came back safe I’d be happy and she agreed, saying it was incredible he was even in it.
“Then Shishkin was pulled up, a few fences later Chacun Pour Soi lost his jockey and coming to the last I thought we’d be at least third yet he battled on for second.
“He’s clearly still progressing, each of his last three runs have been better than the last and he’s still only seven, he was the youngest runner in the Queen Mother so we’ve hopefully a lot of years left with him.
“Some of the press coverage was a little disappointing as it was all about ‘what if Shishkin was there’ but you can’t have everything.”
Funambule Sivola is stepping back up in trip, but Morgan is not too concerned about that.
“When he ran at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day there was a lot of talk that he didn’t stay the trip, but that was a different test to this and at Huntingdon before that I thought he stayed on and he wasn’t 100 per cent fit for his first run due to a little setback,” she said.
“We know he’s run well at Aintree, I’d expect him to get the trip there so it just depends on everybody else.
“We weren’t expecting him to be in graded races this season to be honest, we did think he would be eventually, but maybe next season. He has given us so much this year we can’t be greedy.
“We’ve obviously got Fakir D’oudairies to beat and we keep meeting these star horses – it would be nice to not have them in it one day – but in a way it’s nice they are as you find out how good you are.
“As long as he comes back safe, that’s the main thing, we’ve still got next year to look forward to. He’s already exceeded our expectations this season.”
Fakir D’oudairies was an 11-length winner 12 months ago, having chased home Allaho in the Ryanair a month earlier.
Connections decided to avoid another clash with Willie Mullins’ charge, who duly routed the opposition in the Ryanair again, and Joseph O’Brien’s eight-year-old was placed well to win the Grade One Ascot Chase instead.
O’Brien said: “Fakir has a great chance hopefully. It’s a tough, competitive race, but he likes the course and distance.
“He ran very well in it last year and we’re excited to be going there again.”
Paul Nicholls runs both Hitman and Saint Calvados and feels they both hold similar claims, admitting “I can’t split them”.
He has been forced into a jockey change, however, with Lorcan Williams replacing Bryony Frost aboard Hitman after she suffered a shoulder injury on Thursday.
“I retain plenty of faith in Hitman who ran very well when third to Protektorat at Aintree a year ago and has come up a touch short in top company this season,” the champion trainer told Betfair. “While he is not quite the real deal yet, he’s lightly raced and I’m sure there is more to come from him.
“I didn’t want to take on Allaho with him at Cheltenham and feel the Melling Chase over two and a half miles on a flat track is a much better option.
“Saint Calvados has had his issues but ran well for a long way in the King George on his first start for us, then hated the heavy ground when pulled up at Ascot.
“He has to improve but looks like getting the drier conditions at Aintree that he needs and will be much happier racing left-handed. He seems in good form at home.”