Mister Fisher out to do Potters proud at Cheltenham

A Cheltenham Festival winner remains the prized target for Mister Fisher’s owners as they reap the rewards from their intertwining business, racing and breeding operations.

Ryanair contender Mister Fisher is owned by James and Jean Potter Ltd and heads to Prestbury Park on Thursday, having triumphed in the relocated Peterborough Chase – which was switched from waterlogged Huntingdon to Cheltenham in December.

James and Jean Potter Ltd own a band of a broodmares, including the newly-purchased full-sister to Champion Bumper favourite Kilcruit, and have been developing their breeding interests since the purchase of Potter’s Gale, a half-sister to Denman, almost 30 years ago.

James Potter is also involved in a team of National Hunt horses owned alongside Walters Plant Hire which run to promote the business activities of the Potter Group – a Welshpool-based business he heads with his daughter Debbie.

From those horses, three hold Cheltenham Festival entries this week – with six-time winner Mister Fisher the Potters’ most obvious prospect of a winner in the Ryanair.

“He’s going for the Ryanair – he’d be about an 8-1 shot for that,” James said.

Mister Fisher and Nico de Boinville will be back at Cheltenham this week
Mister Fisher and Nico de Boinville will be back at Cheltenham this week (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Then we’ve got Our Power and Two Taffs entered too – it’s just a shame we won’t be there.”

A good run in the Ryanair could put Mister Fisher on track for next season’s King George VI Chase at Kempton, a race to which trainer Nicky Henderson considers the seven-year-old should be suited.

“We’ll see how he runs, but if he runs well then you’d have to think about it,” said James.

“He’s the sort of horse that race would suit – but he would have to run well at Cheltenham.

“Whether he’s a Gold Cup horse, I don’t know, but Nicky always mentions Kempton.”

At this year’s Festival, Two Taffs’ involvement in Thursday’s Paddy Power Plate is dependent on whether he makes the cut for the final field of 24, with Our Power subject to a similar assessment as his owners hope to line up for the Coral Cup on Wednesday.

Two Taffs and Davy Russell on their way to victory at Ayr in 2017
Two Taffs and Davy Russell on their way to victory at Ayr in 2017 (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Should the latter be denied a run at Cheltenham, he could be rerouted to the consolation Silver Plate Handicap Hurdle at Kempton.

“It’s (the Coral Cup) where we’d like to go, but it’s whether or not he gets in,” said Debbie.

“If not there’s the consolation race at Kempton – and he’ll jump a fence eventually,” James added.

Another promising runner for the group is the Henderson-trained Patroclus, who won two hurdle starts before pulling up in Saturday’s highly-competitive Grade Three EBF Novices’ Hurdle final at Sandown.

“Nicky has always said from the beginning that Patroclus was one he really liked, but time will tell,” Debbie said.

“Nico saved him for another day (at Sandown) – for which we are grateful, because he’s a really nice long-term project and has his whole career ahead.

Patroclus and Nico de Boinville were winners at Doncaster last month
Patroclus and Nico de Boinville were winners at Doncaster last month (Tim Goode/PA)

“He’s been taken out of the race at Cheltenham, but he could go to the Scottish Grand National meeting instead.”

Pencilled in for the same meeting is the homebred eight-year-old Potterman, who is owned under the James and Jean Potter Ltd banner and was last seen unshipping Tom Cannon in the Grade Three Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury – before which he was beaten just a short head in the Listed Badger Beers Chase at Wincanton.

“I think the Scottish Grand National is quite high on the list,” said Debbie.

“It would be nice to know what would have happened if he had stood up in the Hennessy (Ladbrokes Trophy), and then there was the Badger Ale – beaten a short head – there was quite a lot of shouting going on!”

Scottish Grand National success would complement the 2013 Welsh National victory of Mountainous – a triumph the Potters particularly cherish alongside the success of the homebred Kayf Grace, who won the Grade Two Aintree bumper and is now one of their broodmares.

A Festival winner nonetheless remains high on the agenda for the family, with the Gold Cup the ultimate prize and Cheltenham one of their favourite tracks.

Potterman and James Bowen in action at Bangor
Potterman and James Bowen in action at Bangor (David Davies/PA)

“It’s got to be the Gold Cup, but I’ll settle for any Festival win,” said James.

“There’s nowhere quite like Cheltenham, but we do like Aintree and we’ve had a lot of fun there – and at Bangor, where I’m a director.”

The Potters will not only be closely following their own runners at the Festival, but also the performance of Easysland as he bids to defend his Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.

Easysland is the highest-profile progeny of Gentlewave, one of six stallions standing at Yorton Farm Stud, a breeding operation based on the Potters’ Leighton Farm Estate and run by David Futter.

The David Cottin-trained seven-year-old also holds an entry in the Grand National, for which he has been allotted top-weight of 11st 10lb.

In 2019 Yorton Stud teamed up with Goffs to host their inaugural bloodstock sale, with the subsequent November Sale in 2020 becoming the scene of the record-breaking purchase of Jonbon, a full-brother to the great Douvan who was sold to JP McManus for £570,000.

Easysland and jockey Jonathan Plouganou winning the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival
Easysland and jockey Jonathan Plouganou winning the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival (PA)

The profile of the sale and the breeding operations continue to rise, and the Canter Carpet gallop surface the Potter Group supply to many of their trainers is another example of their innovation in business.

Foresight and long-term relationships underpin the group’s operations, as James Potter himself concluded: “We trust the trainers and we usually agree with them anyway, and we’ve got patience as well – which in this sport you’ve got to have.”

Top amateur turned professional Edwards able to look forward to Cheltenham

Alex Edwards’ Doncaster victory on the promising Osprey Call was further vindication of his decision to turn professional just three weeks ago – a move which means he can seek more Cheltenham glory next month.

On the day it was confirmed all Edwards’ former amateur colleagues will remain out of action until after the Festival, because of coronavirus restrictions, even in the moment of victory he had inevitably mixed feelings.

The 30-year-old will be able to bid for his second success in the St. James’s Place Festival Hunters’ Chase – be it on 2019 winner Hazel Hill or one of the 13-year-old’s younger stablemates Wishing And Hoping or Salvatore.

Ex British point-to-point champion Edwards was due to complete this campaign as an amateur for trainer Phil Rowley, until the season was put on hold last month – and subsequently amateurs were suspended from riding under rules.

Against that backdrop, he made the switch early.

“It was always my plan to turn at the end of the point-to-point season – because I could ride a lot of point-to-pointing for my boss,” he said.

“That’s always been my main job. But with my boss (Rowley’s wife, Mel) now training under rules, it made sense for me – now or never to go professional.

“With the stopping of the amateurs riding, it spurred me on to do it quicker. I’d been speaking to the BHA beforehand, and it pushed me into making a decision there and then.”

Edwards may face a tough choice over which horse to ride at Cheltenham.

He said: “We’re very lucky – we’ve got a selection of two or three I could possibly ride.

“I can keep the ride. That’s great for me, but obviously there’s not great news for the whole amateur side.

“A lot of good friends of mine work very, very hard (as amateur jockeys) – so it’s just frustrating for them. Let’s hope, in a month’s time,  we’re all back up and running and this is all forgotten about.”

Edwards should have more to smile about with the Alastair Ralph-trained Osprey Call, who overcame a significant mistake and awkward landing at the last for a near four-length win from Across The Line in the opening Virgin Bet Novices’ Hurdle.

“He’s a very green horse,” he said of the 7-1 winner.

“One minute he’s hanging right, then he’s hanging left, so it’s just trying to keep him on the straight and narrow.

“He’s got plenty of ability, and I think he could be going places.

“He was fairly keen early on. He’s a baby, and has to learn to settle and to breathe and to get into a rhythm jumping.

“It’s all a bit of a rush for him at the moment. But to go out and still win like that is quite nice – really impressive.”

Beau Bay produced an exemplary round of jumping from the front, apart from a blip at the second-last, to take the feature Virgin Bet Veterans’ Handicap Chase by almost four lengths from Ami Desbois.

Doncaster Races – February 24th, 2021
Beau Bay jumped well to win the Virgin Bet Veterans’ Handicap Chase (Tim Goode/PA)

The back-to-form Grand Sefton winner proved three miles is his bag these days – and after his 8-1 victory under Charlie Hammond, trainer Dr Richard Newland will be making future plans on that basis.

Among them the 2022 Grand National may even enter the equation – because although Beau Bay has an entry back at Aintree this year too, at 98th in the list he has no realistic chance of making the cut.

Newland said: “I was a bit gutted – because I thought he had a chance of winning the veterans’ race at Exeter (last week), and they called off the chases at the last minute (because of frost) and just ran the hurdles.

“That would have put him in the National – which is what we’d love to do.

“But he’s in the Kim Muir, and we might have a go.

“Then maybe, if he’s high enough rated, next year the National.”

Beau Bay, a bargain buy for the yard out of a Worcester claimer four years ago, has exceeded all expectations.

Newland added: “”He’s quite a small horse – but for whatever reason, he just loves the chasing.

“He tends to get a bit forgotten about in these races – people think he’s been around the block a bit, and is exposed.

“But he’s just in rude health. He’s an incredible horse – extraordinary. You can pay thousands and thousands, and you won’t get one as good as that.”

At £150,000, Patroclus was a little more expensive – but after Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old had doubled his career tally in his just his third race under rules, jockey Nico de Boinville was in no doubt he has potential.

Patroclus and Nico de Boinville were winners in the Virgin Bet EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle
Patroclus and Nico de Boinville were winners in the Virgin Bet EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

Following the evens favourite’s three-quarter-length success from market rival Riggs in the Virgin Bet EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle, he could chase a high-profile hat-trick if taking up next month’s Ballymore entry at Cheltenham.

A patient approach may be more likely, however.

De Boinville said: “He’s a smashing horse – a really solid National Hunt type.

“He probably got a bit lonely but stayed all the way, and I think he’ll want three miles in time.

“I wouldn’t know where we’re going to go after that, but he’s very much a long-term project.”