Ronan McNally has another tilt at the Cheltenham Festival Stayers’ Hurdle pencilled in for the impressively versatile The Jam Man.
Last seen claiming the Troytown Handicap Chase at Navan by an empathic 18 lengths, the diminutive gelding is now in line for a return to hurdling as he tracks a route back to Prestbury Park.
McNally has Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle in mind for the seven-year-old’s next run, with a visit to Haydock for their Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle also under consideration.
“He’s in at Haydock next weekend, which is probably 50/50 at the minute,” said the Armagh owner-trainer.
“His main target now is the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, the Grade One over three miles. That race is six weeks away, and ideally when he’s going well he likes to be running, so I’m not sure if I want to wait six weeks with him.
“He’s having an easy week this week, and he’s back up to his racing weight from Sunday already, but he can get quite fat if he’s given too much time off. He’ll canter away next week, and if I think he’s back we’ll probably have a look at the Haydock Grade Three handicap.
“If he doesn’t go there I’d say it’s likely he’ll just go on to the Long Walk Hurdle.”
The Jam Man has been something of a talisman for McNally, winning on the Flat and over both hurdles and fences, including representing the stable at the elite level in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
He finished ninth, but McNally believes his stable star did not quite fulfil his potential and is hoping to target the race again this season.
“I’d love to go back to the Stayers’ Hurdle this year and give it a wee rattle when he’s healthy,” he said.
“He ran in it last year, and it wasn’t his true running. I’m not saying he’s anywhere good enough to win it but I would like to give him a chance when he’s healthy.”
The Jam Man, who is ridden on the gallops by McNally’s schoolboy son, Kian ‘Tubbs’ McNally, is an 11-time winner.
“He’s unbelievable, he’s basically a pony,” he added.
“He’s just like a wee teddy bear around the yard – for him to do what he’s doing is unbelievable. He’s just a wee pet. We’re lucky to have him in truth – he can do anything.”
McNally also owns and trains the five-year-old hurdler Dreal Deal, who has recently been the winner of five successive handicaps.
He began is winning streak in September, after a summer competing on the Flat, and will now be rested before his next steps are plotted.
“Plans are fluid with him at the minute – he’s just out on a break,” said McNally.
“He’ll probably have a month off, he’s actually out at grass at the minute. Over the next week or so we’ll just start to formulate a plan – we didn’t want to rush into anything just yet.
“He’s mixing it with the best of the novices on his rating, (but) whether or not he’s good enough for that is another thing. I suppose when we get him back we’ll see whether he falls into graded company or stiff handicapping.”
After Dreal Deal’s most recent win at Cork, McNally spoke of his willingness to sell the horse to the right own provided he is not moved to another trainer.
“I don’t mind keeping him at all, I’m more than happy to keep him,” he said.
“I’m in no rush to sell him, but if the right owner did come along to keep him in the yard I might have been interested. We’ll see – there’s no offers at the minute, and we’re happy enough.”