Harry Fry has revealed ante-post favourite Metier will sidestep the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Sunday week and head straight to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
The Mastercraftsman gelding is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles this term, completing his hat-trick with a runaway Grade One success in last month’s Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.
Fry was preparing to let his stable star step into handicap company for the lucrative contest on Saturday – but with the cold snap leading to the entire meeting put back eight days, the trainer has confirmed a change of plan.
He said: “The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is very much our number one target and while we were happy to have a go at the Betfair en route, next weekend is only just over three weeks before the Festival.
“It’s not like he was going to the Betfair rated 139 – he’s rated 149 and already a Grade One winner.
“We think he’s got a very good chance in the Supreme, so that’s where our focus is.
“Newbury and the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) and everyone involved deserve a lot of credit for rescheduling the whole fixture, but sadly it doesn’t fit in with our plan for Metier – it wasn’t to be.”
Metier is the shortest-priced British-trained runner for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 7-1, with the Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate It the 7-4 favourite following his second Grade One success at Leopardstown last weekend.
Fry added: “Appreciate It probably wasn’t as visually impressive as he was at Christmas, but you still can’t knock him – he’s a dual Grade One winner.
“I don’t think we should dismiss Ballyadam either, who obviously didn’t run as well as he can at Christmas, but certainly ran much better to be second to Appreciate It the other day.
“As always there will be formidable opposition coming from the other side of the Irish Sea, which is another reason why we want to make sure we have our horse fresh and absolutely A1 for the big day.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
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Ante-post favourite Metier heads 26 contenders in the hunt for Betfair Hurdle gold at Newbury.
Harry Fry’s charge was last seen when winning the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown at the start of January, extending his unbeaten record over obstacles to three in the process.
He has dominated the market for Saturday’s big handicap ever since, although he is set to shoulder 11st 9lb – behind top weight Buzz on 11st 12lb.
Fry has another string to his bow in Lightly Squeeze – while Dan Skelton’s Cadzand, the Alan King-trained Edwardstone and Jonjo O’Neill’s Soaring Glory are others prominent in the betting.
O’Neill has also left in Sky Pirate, who has alternative weekend engagements over fences in both the Game Spirit Chase on the same card and the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.
Nicky Henderson has Mister Coffey in contention along with Buzz, while Chris Gordon is another who could be double-handed via Highway One O Two and Annual Invictus.
Paul Nicholls has three to pick from in Friend Or For, Thyme White and Wild Max – as does Evan Williams, leaving in Ballinsker, Dans Le Vent and Mack The Man, who still held every chance when brought down by the fall of Lightly Squeeze at the final flight last year.
Ben Pauling’s Shakem Up’Arry, owned by Harry Redknapp, chased home Metier in the Tolworth but has a 13lb pull at the weights.
“He’s in really good form, he’s been in good form all this season,” said Pauling, in a call hosted by Great British Racing.
“Harry was good enough to let me go over to Ireland and find him a good horse. He’s by Flemensfirth and has a proper jumping pedigree. He’s a big, raw horse – and it’s really been a patient game with this lad.
“We’re still having to be patient, we’ve kept him as a second-season novice. He probably would have won an egg-and-spoon race at Leicester but for tipping up – which for the way he jumps, is hard to believe.
“Obviously Metier came past us and won a shade cosily, but he had the rest of the field well beaten. It might not have been a vintage Tolworth – but looking back, it might not be as bad as people thought at the time.
“The likelihood is Daryl (Jacob) will ride again. He’s had a few different jockeys but we like to keep as consistent as we can. Daryl gets on well with him.
“I think this horse could be absolutely out of the top drawer next season. I think fences are what he wants and I really do think he’s got everything you need.”
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The Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot is the likely next target for Harry Fry’s stable star If The Cap Fits.
The top-class hurdler made a fine start to his career over fences at Ffos Las in October, before finding Nicky Henderson’s Pym too strong in a Listed event at Sandown the following month.
He looked set to finish nearer last than first in his bid for a second Grade One victory in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, but made late headway to finish third behind Shan Blue and The Big Breakaway.
If The Cap Fits again had to make do with minor honours when runner-up to the Paul Nicholls-trained Yala Enki in a conditions chase at Taunton last weekend, but Fry is confident improvement will be forthcoming as he prepares for Ascot on February 20.
“He didn’t run badly at Taunton,” said the Dorset trainer.
“He should have capitalised on the mistake that Yala Enki made four out – but he is still a novice, and that was only his fourth start over fences.
“It was a better run than at Kempton on Boxing Day, although he only ended being beaten seven lengths in a Grade One that day, and we will probably look towards the Reynoldstown at Ascot.
“A decision will be made on the back of that whether he goes to Cheltenham or whether we wait for Aintree.”
Either way, Fry believes the Grade One-winning hurdler can progress further in his chasing career.
“He has not been running badly, but I still feel there is more to come from him over fences,” he added.
“He has won at Ascot before, so he should be fine going back there.”
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Harry Fry admitted he is leaning towards the Sky Bet Supreme for Metier rather than the Ballymore after entries for the novice hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival were revealed.
The sponsors make Metier their second-favourite after the five-year-old recorded an impressive 12-length victory in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown earlier this month.
Fry said: “Metier is a Tolworth winner and the Supreme is the much more likely of the two races, rather than the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, but we will just keep our options open at this stage.
“He has got an entry in the Betfair Hurdle in just over a fortnight’s time, but there is no definite decision yet. He has done everything right so far over hurdles and is a very exciting novice that seems to be progressing into either a Supreme or a Ballymore horse.
“There is a race at Exeter the day after (the Betfair) in which he would only have a 5lb penalty, but then if you are looking at that why not run in a Betfair?
“If the weather keeps as it is there is every chance he will line up in the Betfair Hurdle. I think a better race with an even stronger gallop will suit him better again. We were able to drop him in the last day in the Tolworth, but we would have still been happier if they had gone faster.
“All his form is on slower ground and it would be interesting to see him on better ground. At some point we will encounter it, but good horses go on all ground.
“We would have to weigh up and decide the pros and cons whether going on better ground means we would have to step him up in trip.”
Fry has also entered Boothill in both the Supreme and the Ballymore. The six-year-old made a winning hurdling in good style at Taunton last month.
“Boothill had a splint flare up about 10 days after he won at Taunton and that just held us up for a few weeks,” Fry went on.
“I had hoped to get him back for the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon, but that is just going to come too soon. He could end up going to the Dovecote at the end of February. In the worst-case scenario, he might even end up going straight to Cheltenham – I would like to get another run into him between now and then, but we will be guided by him.
“We are back pressing on again with him. Hopefully, we don’t get a recurrence of the splint injury and get a clear run with him. Certainly, on the manner of his debut win at Taunton, there looks to be lots to look forward to.”
He added: “Boothill and Metier are completely different types. Metier is an ex-Flat horse that is very workmanlike at home and is very much a hurdler, whereas Boothill is a proper chasing type who impresses in everything he does at home.”
The Supreme, the opening contest on day one over two miles, has attracted 96 entries, with a record 59 trained in Ireland – including the 5-2 ante-post favourite, Appreciate It from the Willie Mullins yard.
There are 120 entries, 65 from Ireland, for the Ballymore over two miles and five furlongs.
Disputing favouritism are Henry de Bromhead’s Bob Olinger and the Paul Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame.
Willoughby Court landed the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle for Ben Pauling in 2017 and the trainer looks to have another live contender with Optimise Prime. The five-year-old caused a 50-1 upset when winning on his hurdling debut at Hereford in November and followed up with a smooth victory at the same venue in December.
Bourton-on-the-Water based Pauling said “Optimise Prime is in great order.
“He is entered at Cheltenham on Saturday. If he doesn’t run there because the ground is terrible, he would probably wait for the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon.
“He is a lovely horse that has done nothing wrong in winning a couple of races at Hereford, which will hopefully work out OK, but he has got to prove he can do it at the next level now.
“I took him out of the Leamington at Warwick as it was bottomless ground and I wasn’t overly fussed about missing it as we always knew that his next race would be his prep for the Cheltenham Festival, where we plan to go for the Ballymore.”
Gordon Elliott’s charge, one of 20 Irish-trained entries, has won all his three starts over the smaller obstacles culminating in the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.
is among 54 entries for the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
Fry is hoping he could provide the fourth successful female winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle with Fortunes Melody.
A Listed winner at Auteuil in September, she placed on her next three starts in Graded company for her former trainer David Cottin. She has yet to start for Fry.
He said: “Fortunes Melody has some very good form in France and is the second highest-rated juvenile filly there. We are very excited and grateful for her owners Simon (Munir) and Isaac (Souede) for giving us the opportunity to train her.
“She has been with us since the turn of the year, but has been in England since the start of December. She spent some time with Sally Taylor who does a lot of the pre-training for the owners, so she has had the chance to settle and acclimatise there.
“We are learning about her all the time, but hopefully she will be ready to run in the next couple of weeks. We have given her the Triumph Hurdle entry as an option. We need to run her first to see what we have got.
“There is some good form in the book already though as she is a winner of a Listed hurdle in France.”
There are 74 entries, 39 from Ireland, in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle over three miles.
Prominent in an open betting market are the Mullins-trained Stattler, impressive when scoring in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown last month, and Barbados Buck’s from the Nicholls stable.
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Harry Fry is considering the Betfair Hurdle for his impressive Tolworth winner Metier, with the sponsor installing him as the 6-1 favourite on release of the entries.
Useful on the Flat in Ireland for Andy Slattery, Metier has taken to hurdles exceptionally well following a year off, winning at Newton Abbot and Ascot before his romp in last Saturday’s Grade One at Sandown.
With nothing else on Fry’s radar, it will either be Newbury on February 13, for which Metier is one of 49 entries, or straight to the Cheltenham Festival for the unbeaten novice.
“The owner and I discussed plans after Saturday’s win and wanted to give ourselves the option of the Betfair Hurdle, because we think it’s a race that could really suit him,” said Fry.
“He will either go for that en route to Cheltenham or go straight for Cheltenham – we will just look at the entries and weights and see how the horse is in the coming weeks.
“We’ve thought for a while now that a race like the Betfair Hurdle would be right up his street – a really strongly run two-mile race on a big, galloping track like Newbury, plus as an ex-Flat horse we know he will handle a big field.
“We’ve been delighted with the progress he’s made this season and are really excited to see how far he can go over hurdles in the future – hopefully he can make a mark at the spring Festivals.”
Fry also has another entry in Lightly Squeeze, who was still in front when coming down at the final flight in the race last season.
“We’ve also entered Lightly Squeeze, who was running a great race in this last year when taking a heavy fall at the last,” Fry added.
“He ran a nice race in the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot last time out, so we potentially have two darts to throw at race.”
Paul Nicholls has a numerically strong entry with Solo, Thyme White, Christopher Wood, Miranda, Friend or Foe and Wild Max.
Nicky Henderson, the most successful trainer in the race with five victories, can choose from Buzz, Fred, Marie’s Rock and Mister Coffey.
Last year’s runner-up Ciel De Neige could run for Willie Mullins, with Dan Skelton holding two live chances in Third Time Lucki and Cadzand.
Ballyandy, Soaring Glory, The Shunter and Albert’s Back are others among a strong field of contenders.
Metier maintained his unbeaten record over obstacles with a facile victory in the Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.
A useful performer on the Flat in Ireland for Andrew Slattery, the Mastercraftsman gelding subsequently changed hands for 150,000 guineas to pursue a jumping career with Harry Fry.
He made a fine start for his new connections when impressing on his hurdling bow at Newton Abbot in October – and having since doubled his tally with a dominant front-running display at Ascot, Metier was the 7-4 favourite to complete his hat-trick in this Grade One feature.
Always travelling well in the hands of Sean Bowen, the five-year-old loomed up to challenge long-time leader Shakem Up’Arry early in the home straight.
The latter did his best to make a race of it, but Metier had far too many guns and powered clear in the testing conditions to score emphatically by 12 lengths.
Paddy Power reacted by cutting the winner to 10-1 from 25-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
Fry said: “He comes alive on the racecourse. It was ideal we didn’t have to make our own running today, as they went a good tempo. Sean said he just jumped for fun.
“Turning into the bottom, he had a double handful. Very rarely do races go quite so smoothly, and certainly not at this level, but I’m absolutely delighted for Gary Stevens. We bought him over a year ago now and he had to wait over 12 months to see him first run. I’m delighted that patience is being rewarded.
“He relishes those conditions. He is a very exciting hurdler. With the action on him, I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to run him on drying ground, but good horses have to run on all grounds.
“This is a lovely race to win and I’m absolutely delighted to get a first Grade One winner from the new yard, having only moved in back in June.
“A lot of people have helped us to get where we are. To get the new yard up and running, moved in and set up, is a lot of hard work from the team – not least for my wife Ciara, who not only is assistant trainer but is married to me, so it is a double-edged sword. It is great for all the team.
“I think you’ve got to consider that (Supreme). We will enjoy this moment then work out whether we go straight there (Cheltenham) or look at something in between.
“The Betfair (Hurdle) entries close this week, for which you have to have a third run by next weekend anyway, but he has probably gone about it the wrong way. He will certainly have an entry. It will be an interesting conversation with the handicapper.”
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Harry Fry believes Metier has everything in his favour ahead of his bid for Grade One honours in the Unibet Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.
A 150,000 guineas purchase last year after displaying smart form on the Flat in Ireland, the son of Mastercraftsman made an excellent start to his jumping career on his debut for new connections at Newton Abbot in October.
Metier doubled his tally with a dominant front-running victory at Ascot last month and is well fancied to complete his hat-trick in this weekend’s top-level feature.
“He’s in good form, he has form in the ground and a stiff two miles will suit him,” said Fry.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing if he can continue on an upward curve.”
The Michael Scudamore-trained Do Your Job won a couple of minor races at Ffos Las and Ayr in October, before filling the runner-up spot behind Llandinabo Lad in a Listed contest at Haydock.
The winner has since finished second in a Grade Two at Ascot to give the form some substance.
Scudamore said of Do Your Job: “He goes there in great form and didn’t run a bad race at Haydock. In hindsight, things probably didn’t quite go to plan that day. I’m not saying we’d have won, but with different tactics, perhaps we might have finished closer to the winner.
“The form doesn’t look too bad now. We probably have to step up again on Saturday, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t handle the track and he’s handled that ground before.
“He deserves his place in the field.”
Ben Pauling’s Shakem Up’Arry, who is owned by football manager Harry Redknapp, brings plenty of jumping experience to the table as a second-season novice.
The Flemensfirth gelding chased home the brilliant Shishkin in a novice hurdle at Newbury last term, before finishing down the field in the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival, but he has subsequently turned in two sound efforts.
“I think he’ll run a massive race on Saturday. He’s a very nice horse who is 100 per cent a chaser for next season, but two miles on soft ground around Sandown is about as ideal as you could get for him really,” said Pauling.
“He’s in good form and had a solid run to finish fourth in a handicap at Haydock last time out. I hope he’ll run a nice race.”
Jane Williams saddles Galice Macalo, who after winning at Warwick and Stratford in October, finished runner-up in a competitive Listed handicap hurdle over this course and distance four weeks ago.
The trainer’s son Chester Williams takes the ride, and said: “I can’t wait to ride her – she is a very exciting mare. She has done everything right this season and was probably unlucky to be beaten by a good horse last time.
“She is very progressive. We know that the track and trip suit her well and she loves deep ground.
“She has got to go there with every chance. It would be lovely to get a Grade One on the CV.”
Grandeur D’Ame (Oliver Sherwood), Smurphy Enki (Chris Gordon) and Tile Tapper (Chris Honour) complete the field.
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Paul Nicholls expects Stormy Ireland to make the most of a significant drop in class the Unibet “You’re On” Mares’ Hurdle.
The Jared Sullivan-owned seven-year-old will bid to strike gold on her fourth start since joining the Ditcheat handler from Willie Mullins when stepping back up to two and a half miles in the Listed contest at Sandown.
Although Stormy Ireland beat only one rival home in the Grade Two International Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, Nicholls believes the result was better than it looks on paper.
Speaking in his Betfair column, Nicholls said: “Chasing didn’t work out for her in two starts this season, so she was back over hurdles last time when she ran much better than her finishing position suggests in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham three weeks ago.
“That has sharpened her and this Listed mares’ hurdle is a more suitable target for Stormy Ireland, who has a 4lb penalty to carry for winning a Grade Three race in Ireland.
“I’d say she should be hard to beat stepping up in trip against her own sex.”
Robin Gold has been in prolific form this season winning four of her last five starts, however, trainer Dan Skelton feels she will have to improve again if she is to add to that tally.
Skelton said: “Though Harry (Skelton) won on her last time, Bridget (Andrews) will get the ride on Robin Gold as she gets on very well with her.
“She has been very progressive this season, but this is a massive step up in class again though.
“The track will suit her as it is a track you can play late on. She has got a lot on her plate being realistic though, but we are looking forward to giving it a go.”
Harry Fry is confident testing conditions will play to the strengths of Whitehotchillifili, who finished second off top weight in a handicap over course and distance on her latest start.
He said: “Strictly on ratings, they’ve all got plenty to find with Stormy Ireland.
“Our mare ran a really good race there a month ago under top weight.
“Conditions will not be an issue for her and hopefully she goes there with a very strong each-way chance.”
The field is completed by Flow Away from the yard of Alex Hales, the Venetia Williams-trained Quick Wave and Desaray Girl, who will represent Micky Hammond.
Harry Fry is unsure what to make of If The Cap Fits after his stable star charged home from an uncompromising position to pick up minor honours in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton.
The top-class hurdler made a fine start to his career over fences at Ffos Las in October, before finding Nicky Henderson’s Pym too strong in a Listed event at Sandown the following month.
He looked set to finish nearer last than first in his bid for a second Grade One victory on Boxing Day, but made late headway to finish third behind Shan Blue and The Big Breakaway.
Fry said: “We were quite relieved to get the consolation of third prize in the end, because for 98 to 99 per cent of the race he was tailed off and looked like he’d be pulled up.
“It was a very strange run. It shows the ability is there, to run with the handbrake on for the majority of the race and still manage to finish third and be beaten only seven and a half lengths.
“It’s a bit of a head scratcher. The cheek pieces worked for him over hurdles, but whether he’s resenting them over fences, I don’t know.”
When asked where If The Cap Fits could make his next appearance, the trainer added: “We’re thinking of the Reynoldstown at Ascot – there’s nothing set in stone yet, but that’s a potential next target.
“We’ll try to work out how we get the best out of him the next day.”
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Metier is set to face seven rivals when he puts his unbeaten record over obstacles on the line in Sandown’s Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle.
Formerly trained on the Flat in Ireland by Andrew Slattery, the Mastercraftsman gelding subsequently changed hands for 150,000 guineas to pursue a jumping career with Harry Fry.
He made an impressive start for his new connections at Newton Abbot in October – and having since followed up with a dominant front-running victory at Ascot, Metier is well fancied to complete his hat-trick in Saturday’s Grade One feature.
Metier’s rider Sean Bowen said: “He has done everything right in his two runs so far, in that he has jumped and travelled well.
“I think Sandown will suit him well. For a Flat horse he stays very well, and the softer the better it is for him. It looks like it will be fairly testing, so that will suit.
“He was a decent stayer on the Flat, but he is just a hardy, tough horse that enjoys his jumping.
“My only Grade One win is on If The Cap Fits, but hopefully he can give me another one on Saturday.”
The biggest threat, according to bookmakers, is the Jane Williams-trained filly Galice Macalo. After winning at Warwick and Stratford in October, she finished runner-up in a competitive Listed handicap hurdle over this course and distance four weeks ago.
Adrimel bids to make it three from three over hurdles for trainer Tom Lacey and four-time champion jockey Richard Johnson, following wins at this venue and Haydock this term.
Ben Pauling’s Shakem Up’Arry, who is owned by football manager Harry Redknapp, brings plenty of jumping experience to the table as a second-season novice.
Do Your Job (Michael Scudamore), Grandeur D’Ame (Oliver Sherwood), Smurphy Enki (Chris Gordon) and Tile Tapper (Chris Honour) are the other hopefuls.
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Metier, impressive winner of his two starts over the smaller obstacles, is among 12 entries for the Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.
Harry Fry’s unbeaten novice has shown himself to be a bright prospect with victories at Newton Abbot and Ascot.
Connections must rate the Mastercraftsman gelding highly to put him in a Grade One at this early stage of his career.
Dan Skelton is three-handed at this stage in Saturday’s Grade One with Faivoir, Third Time Lucki and Wilde About Oscar – another who has won both hurdles starts.
Tom Lacey has put in Adrimel, also unbeaten in his two runs over hurdles – at Sandown and Haydock.
Completing the dozen are Do Your Job, Fifty Ball, Galice Macalo, Grandeur D’Ame, Shakem Up’arry, Smurphy Enki and Tile Tapper.
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Harry Fry has earmarked the Jacquart Noel Novices’ Chase at Ascot as a potential target for If The Cap Fits.
The Dorset handler is considering dropping the eight-year-old down in trip for the two-mile-five-furlong Grade Two, which has been won in recent years by the likes of Politologue and Simonsig, on December 18.
Having made a successful chasing debut at Ffos Las – beating the smart Fiddlerontheroof – the Grade One-winning hurdler lost his unbeaten record over fences at Sandown last time out after suffering an odds-on defeat in a three-mile Listed contest.
Fry said: “I was disappointed not to win at Sandown with the allowances we were getting. We learnt maybe more in defeat than if we had won.
“It was only his second start over fences and to jump three miles around Sandown is a good experience.
“We will now maybe come to Ascot before Christmas for the Grade Two which is over two miles five and a bit.
“There are still lots of good races to look forward to and this part of the season it is all about getting the experience into him.”
One thing Fry plans to do when If The Cap Fits next appears is reapply the cheekpieces that have been absent in both his starts over fences.
He added: “His last few runs over hurdles were in cheekpieces. We had left them off over fences, but I think they will be going back on next time.
“As his owners said, the battle may have been lost but the war goes on.”
Plans for stable stalwart Unowhatimeanharry remain fluid following his comeback victory in a Pertemps qualifier at Aintree.
Fry said: “He has given us some special days and that was another memorable occasion. It was fantastic and great to see him winning races at the grand old age of 12 under top-weight – Kevin Brogan gave him a lovely ride.
“He is back up into the 150s now and you are either carrying top-weight in a handicap or you pitch him back in the races he has won before.
“He will tell us when he is ready again. It is just great he is still in love with the game and enjoying it.”
Though Fry will take plenty of plaudits for getting the four-time Grade One scorer back to winning ways, he believes owner JP McManus merits an equal amount of praise.
Fry said: “It was Mr McManus’ call to keep him in training and he was absolutely spot on.
“At home you wouldn’t have known he was a 12-year-old about to turn 13. We are at a new yard and a change of scenery has probably done him no harm.
“He is a four-time Grade One winner and doesn’t owe us anything. Wins like his last one are just cherries on top. We will just enjoy having him around.”
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/2.56123884-scaled.jpg12802560Geegeez Newshttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngGeegeez News2020-11-22 15:27:362020-11-22 15:40:05Fry looks to Ascot outing for If The Cap Fits
Alan King’s Sceau Royal made a triumphant return to action in the Potter Group Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las.
Better known as a high-class two miler over fences, the eight-year-old was last seen finishing last of five runners in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March – having finished third behind Altior in the same race 12 months earlier.
Back over the smaller obstacles for the first time since filling the runner-up spot in the 2019 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, Sceau Royal was a 10-1 shot in the hands of Daryl Jacob.
Always travelling strongly, the Doctor Dino gelding moved smoothly into contention in the home straight before pulling two and three-quarter lengths clear, with Ballyandy best of the rest in second.
King said: “We didn’t really have too many options over fences at the minute, and Anthony (Bromley, racing manager for the owners) felt this looked a good starting point for him when the ground started to dry up, because he’s rated about a stone lower over hurdles.
“He had a little wind operation a month or two back. It was very slight, but you never know, it might just have helped him a little bit – it doesn’t look to have hindered him, anyway.
“We’ve got all sorts of options now. We could look at the Elite Hurdle, which is in three weeks’ time at Wincanton. If we didn’t fancy that, he might have an entry in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham next month – and there’s also the Shloer Chase on the same weekend.
“He doesn’t have to go straight back over fences. The ground is the key to him, because he doesn’t want a slog – running in those heavy-ground Tingle Creeks are no use to him.”
Jacob and his retaining owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede were completing a quick-fire double on the card, with If The Cap Fits having earlier made a successful fencing bow in the Canter Carpet High Performance Surfaces Novices’ Chase.
The Grade One-winning hurdler faced a far from straightforward task, with the quality pair of Fiddlerontheroof and Emitom in opposition, and he was not entirely convincing in the jumping department through the early stages.
However, he was good when he needed to be over the final two fences – and it was impossible not to be impressed by the way Harry Fry’s stable star careered seven and a half lengths away from Fiddlerontheroof on the run-in.
“I’m delighted with that,” said Fry.
“He was a bit novicey early on, but Daryl gave him a lovely introduction and I was delighted with the way he attacked the fences in the straight.
“There’s loads more to come from him, both in terms of experience over fences and fitness. Today was far from the be all and end all – it was about hopefully getting a nice round of jumping in and some confidence.
“We’ll get him home and see how he is, but I was thinking something like the Rising Stars Novices’ Chase at Wincanton might be a nice next target for him. Bags Groove actually won this race today for us, before going on to win the Rising Stars.
“Today was very exciting, and I hope it’s onwards and upwards.”
Estelle Ma Belle made a winning first start for Paul Nicholls in the Follow pottergracing On Twitter Mares’ Maiden Hurdle.
Part of the batch of horses moved to Ditcheat from Willie Mullins’ yard by owner Jared Sullivan, the French import finished second on her only start in Ireland at last year’s Galway Festival.
Ridden by 3lb claimer Lorcan Williams, the six-year-old came home with five lengths in hand over Spring Run.
Nicholls was at Kempton, from where he said: “Estelle Ma Belle is a nice mare. She had one run for Willie last year and then had her problems – saying she is very fragile would be an understatement.
“We’ve done a lot of work with her and got her right. I thought she would run tidy today – and she won well
“She is not the most fluent jumper. But we have been doing an awful lot on that at home, and Lorcan has been riding her home schooling, which is why he rode her today – and he did a good job with her.
“She could be a nice mare. First and foremost, we have to see how she is tomorrow, and that is the most important thing.
“I do think she needs to go left-handed, which is a plus. I will talk to Jared, and we will find a nice mares race left-handed.”
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