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McFabulous back on winning form with Relkeel success

McFabulous stamped his class on the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton.

The Grade Two bumper winner was disappointing on his first couple of starts over obstacles last winter, but having got his act together in the new year with wins at Market Rasen and in the EBF Final at Kempton, he made a successful return in October’s Persian War at Chepstow.

The seven-year-old’s winning run came to an end in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury the following month, but he was far from disgraced in finishing third behind the top-class pair of Thyme Hill and Paisley Park, and he was the 10-11 favourite to land this Grade Two prize, rescheduled from Cheltenham’s abandoned New Year’s Day card.

There were a few worrying moments for his supporters during the early stages, with a couple of untidy leaps putting McFabulous on the back foot and briefly taking him to the rear of the field under Harry Cobden.

But the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding made stealthy headway racing down the back straight and eased clear in the end – passing the post with just over two lengths in hand over On The Blind Side.

Nicholls said: “This trip (two and a half miles) suits him. He will have an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, just in case it falls apart or something, but I guess I’d nearly keep him fresh for Aintree. I think Aintree over two and a half would suit him well.

“A fresh, flat track would suit him as well. We might then look at Sandown on the last day of the season as there is a lovely race for him there over two-five, then we can go chasing in the autumn as that is his job.

“We tried the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and he wasn’t beaten far, but I’m not convinced I want to give him a hard race against those horses at this stage of his career if he is going to be a super chaser.

“I see him as an ideal horse for the Kauto Star (Novices’ Chase, at Kempton) next season.”

Of more immediate plans, he added: “You could look at the National Spirit Hurdle as it is a valuable race, but it is usually desperate ground and I wouldn’t be keen to run him.

“If we go to Aintree we could do that. I will talk to the boys. They are keen to have an entry for Stayers’ Hurdle, but it doesn’t convince me after Newbury. I think Aintree would be really good for him.

“He has got loads of natural speed and ability. He has come back in the winner’s enclosure with his tail in the air and it hardly looked like he had a race.”

Thomas Darby ran with credit in defeat
Thomas Darby ran with credit in defeat (Mike Egerton/PA)

Olly Murphy was delighted with third-placed Thomas Darby, saying: “He ran an absolute cracker and is crying out for three miles.

“It was a very encouraging run. He missed three out, but he was travelling well throughout the race.

“I was desperate to run him at Leopardstown over Christmas, but we couldn’t get there for one reason or another.

“The three-mile Grade One at Aintree will be his ultimate aim, as opposed to the Stayers’ Hurdle. There was a lot of positives to take out of that.”

Summerville back to optimum trip as he defends Relkeel crown

Tom George believes the re-scheduled Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton is the perfect race for Summerville Boy.

The 2018 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner has been right back to his best so far this campaign, winning a decent event over two and a half miles at Aintree first time out.

He then stepped up to three miles when fourth to Thyme Hill and Paisley Park at Newbury, and showed his versatility with a fine run over two miles in the International Hurdle behind Song For Someone.

Summerville Boy won Saturday’s race last year, at its usual home of Cheltenham.

George said: “Summerville Boy is probably running over his optimum trip of two and a half miles.

“He’s very close to the best over three miles and very close to the best over two mile, but this is probably his optimum.

“He’s been running really consistently in some good races, and it’s nice to get him back over two and a half.”

McFabulous is likely to go off favourite for Paul Nicholls.

Impressive in the Persian War on his return, his last chance to run in novice company, he travelled extremely well before apparently failing to see out three miles at Newbury when just in front of Summerville Boy.

Kempton Park Races
McFabulous was an easy winner of the EBF Final last season (David Davies/PA)

“Switching this race to Kempton from Cheltenham’s abandoned card on New Year’s Day is a big plus for McFabulous,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“I was a bit nervous about him on deep ground at Cheltenham, and he will be much happier on better ground at Kempton – where he was so impressive over this distance in the EBF Final just before lockdown.

“He ran very well when third to Thyme Hill and Paisley Park at Newbury, and this trip looks perfect for him.”

Kim Bailey’s Younevercall is 10 but does not have many miles on the clock, and ran a career best last time time out in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

He was still in front jumping the last, and Bailey believes coming back in trip may also suit him.

“We obviously had to redraw our plans,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

“He wants to go right-handed – and if this race had taken place at Cheltenham then he wouldn’t be running.

“He’s there – my only concern would be if this race is coming quick enough after Ascot, but as he’s 10 years old now, we’ll have to see.

“I’ve no problem dropping him down in trip – his run before the Long Walk was over similar, and he only just got beat.”

Olly Murphy had hoped to send Thomas Darby to Ireland over Christmas for the three-mile Grade One at Leopardstown, but the travel ban put paid to that.

Thomas Darby had a short-lived novice chase career
Thomas Darby had a short-lived novice chase career (Mike Egerton/PA)

“This race is very much an afterthought, but he’s in very good form,” said Murphy.

“I’d have loved to have gone over three miles with him him – but there’s not a lot for him at the moment, so this looked the obvious race.

“He’s in good form, and I’m looking forward to running him, and he’s got an each-way chance.”

Paul Webber’s Cheltenham Festival winner Indefatigable is the only mare in the field and was third on her return at this track in a Listed race.

“She’s absolutely fine,” said Webber.

Paul Webber (right) celebrates Indefatigable winning at Cheltenham
Paul Webber (far right) celebrates Indefatigable winning at Cheltenham (Tim Goode/PA)

“I think they went no gallop in the Listed race – it was a very clever ride by David Bass from the front (on Bannixtown Glory), and I think they just did her for a bit of toe really.

“But she seems in very good form. There aren’t many options at the moment, with the weather as it is.

“She’s still well and needs a run, so we thought this was the only possible place, and she should have her chance.

“I don’t think it was necessarily the (three-mile) trip (that beat her), and this should suit her nicely tomorrow – hot race though it is.

“She’s won Listed races, and there aren’t many Grade Threes, so she’s got to have a crack at a Grade Two.

“Her 7lb weight allowance brings her right there on the ratings. On ratings, she’s right in there.”

Nicky Henderson’s duo of Call Me Lord and On The Blind Side complete the field.

Paul Nicholls: Best of the rest

Paul Nicholls nominates some in his yard it may pay to keep onside this season:

Fidelio Vallis

“He won two novice hurdles at the end of last season. The plan is to run him in a Listed novice hurdle at Kempton next weekend, then go to Cheltenham for the Paddy Power meeting. He took a while to acclimatise last season like a lot of the French horses do.”

Frodon

“The plan is to go for the Charlie Hall and he is in good shape. We want to campaign him a bit more over three miles this season, as that is what he definitely wants. He just wasn’t quite good enough last season and has probably lost a gear as well. He has won a Cotswold Chase over three-one and I think three miles is his trip now.”

Greaneteen

“He is a nice horse and the plan is to go to the Haldon Gold Cup. He ran very well at the Cheltenham Festival in the Grand Annual and he did nothing but progress last season. I could see him running in a Tingle Creek if he progresses.”

McFabulous

“I’m starting him off in the Persian War at Chepstow. I could either then find another novice or go to Newbury, which is what I really want to do, for the Long Distance Hurdle and then see how good he is. Last year he was big and weak, but he is much more mature now. He had a fall schooling then first time at Chepstow a horse fell in front of him and it just didn’t go right, but he ended up getting well handicapped for the EBF Final. In my mind I can see him being competitive in a Stayers’ Hurdle. He is a high-class horse.”

Next Destination

“He has had the best part of 18 months off since he won at Punchestown. We are on top of everything at the moment and if we keep him sound he will be a very nice novice chaser as he has schooled well. He could go to Fakenham for a three-mile novice chase.”

Real Steel

“I’m told he is better right-handed and his form suggests that, but he did run well in the Gold Cup where he looked a non-stayer. I think we will start him off in the Christy 1965 Chase that we won last year with Cyrname. To me he is a Ryanair horse. “

Saint Sonnet

“He ran well at Cheltenham having only won at Catterick the time before. I will give him a run over hurdles somewhere then he will have an entry in all the good two-and-a-half-mile handicap chases, including the Paddy Power, which might be a nice race for him.”

Solo

“We will start him off at Wincanton in the Elite Hurdle and go from there. He has been gelded during the summer. He was very good at Kempton in the Adonis, but he got lost a little bit round Cheltenham in the Triumph and he may have been over the top. He will improve this season as we have started from scratch with him.”