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Cheltenham Bound


The start of the week brought in 2 more nice winners in the form of Dargiannini back at Sedgefield on Sunday, followed on Monday by The Jockey Club South West Syndicate owned Docpickedme at Southwell.  A great start to the week and nice to get a few more victories under our belt as we head into the biggest week of the year... It's now the final countdown we have all been waiting for to The Cheltenham Festival.  This year we are looking forward to sending out 2 runners to compete on the biggest stage in National Hunt Racing - Rouge Vif who lines up in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday and Saint Calvados who'll be looking to go 1 better this year in the Ryanair on Thursday.  Sadly for obvious reason it will be a little quieter this year without the crowds but we will still be cheering them on up the hill as loud as ever, hoping for some more HWR magic...
Gemma Quintin & Warranty
Brave Kingdom & Cozzy
See The Eagle Fly was the first of our 4 runners at Newbury on Friday where she contested the opening juvenile hurdle.  A fine 3rd in a jumpers’ bumper on her recent return from a winter break, she was patiently ridden in a race run at a good gallop, making smooth headway into contention.  Moving to two out she was the only horse still on the bridle, but an untidy jump there sadly checked her momentum at a crucial stage.  Although she battled on well for pressure, she could only find the one pace and came home in 4th.  A thoroughly likeable filly, she should continue to give a good account of herself in races of this nature.  There is also the option to go back on the Flat at some stage with her this summer.
We had high hopes for the reappearing Sir Sholokhov as he stepped up to 2½m in the novices’ hurdle on the same card at Newbury on Friday.  Setting off in front, he was a little fresh and keen on his first start since November.  Turning into the home straight he was being pressed for the lead when getting in close to three out, losing his advantage and fading out of contention from that point on, eventually coming home in 4th.  He remains a useful prospect and the form of his first run was boosted further when My Drogo won the Grade 2 novice at Kelso on Saturday.  He now has a handicap mark so we will most likely look to start him off in a Novices handicap chase next.
We ran two in the three-mile handicap hurdle on the same card at Newbury with Neverbeen To Paris returning from a 98-day break and Breaking Waves.  In the event, it was Neverbeen To Paris who fared best in finishing 6th.  Despite an unfortunate mishap at the start, the mount of Daryl Jacob made promising headway from the rear to get within a couple of lengths of the leaders approaching three out before just being unable to sustain his challenge.  This was a pleasing return to action and one that should set him up perfectly for a Spring and Summer campaign. 
The second of our two runners in the three-mile handicap hurdle was Breaking Waves reverting to the smaller obstacles in a bid to restore some jumping confidence having fallen over fences last time.  There were some more encouraging signs on this occasion as his jumping was sound, despite gradually loosing his mid-field position turning out of the back straight.  Hopefully he can build on this moving forwards.
Following 2 good runs in jumpers’ bumpers on the polytrack last month, we experimented by giving Lantiern his first start on the Flat proper at Southwell on Saturday evening.  We left his usual hood off in an attempt to combat the drop to 1½m but he found it hard work from the get go.  Ridden along leaving the stalls, he struggled to hold his position throughout, dropping to the rear and losing touch with the main group soon after halfway, carrying his head to one side as he was clearly hated the fibresand surface.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and unfortunately the programme book doesn't open up a huge amount of opportunities for him on the flat, but he will go to Wolverhampton in early April for another go. 
Dargiannini journeyed to Sedgefield on Sunday for what looked a golden opportunity to get him back on track in the novice hurdle.  The betting made it a match between him and the second favourite Malpas and that was how it transpired with the pair racing clear from an early stage.  Dargiannini setting a good gallop up front, the screw was turned from three out and this was the point where he really began to assert his superiority under Gavin Sheehan.  Still bowling along on the bridle whilst his main market rival was hard at work, the race already over as a contest when Malpas unfortunately fell at the last.  The eventual winning margin some 33 lengths.  Now 2 from 3 with both wins achieved at Sedgefield, this was just what the doctor ordered.  He is very much one to look forward to for the remainder of this season and beyond.
Juniper made a quick reappearance in the mares’ maiden hurdle at Huntingdon later that afternoon, bidding to go one place better than when just touched off at the same course 10 days earlier.  Sent off favourite, she jumped and travelled sweetly in mid-field and everything seemed to be going to plan when she loomed up to challenge heading to the second last.  Unfortunately she was unable to find any extra once push came to shove, fading to finish 6th.  The run perhaps ultimately coming a little too soon after last week’s exertions and a huge amount of time off of the track prior to that start.
We had 3 runners on Monday, the pick being Docpickedme who ventured to Southwell looking to make it third time lucky over hurdles.  Held up in behind the leaders, he was given a ground-saving ride by Daryl Jacob, sticking limpet like to the inside, and rounding the home turn had just two rivals in front of him.  Taking dead aim he jumped to the front at the second last and was always just doing enough to prevail thereafter, leaving the impression there was more in the tank if required.  Already an Irish point winner, he looks set to develop into a cracking novice chaser in time.
A little earlier in the day, Sergeant O’Leary made his second start over hurdles at Wetherby.  Fitted with a first-time tongue tie, he settled in a handy position but showed his residual greenness as he needed to be pushed along down the back straight to keep tabs with the leaders.  He lacked the pace to get seriously competitive but did display a willing attitude as he kept galloping to take 5th.  He will appreciate a step up in trip in handicaps in due course.
Caught Inthe Slips accompanied Sergeant O’Leary to Wetherby, taking her chance in the mares’ maiden hurdle.  Sent off at 33/1 in a 16 runner affair, she was hampered at the first hurdle, and although running respectably until halfway, she began to lose her place after a circuit. She is very much work in progress and after her run last time it was a step back in the right direction.
Sheila Nash provided us with a much-needed winner when scoring on the polytrack at Kempton in February and goes for a step up in class in the Listed Mares’ Bumper at Sandown tomorrow.  She will need to improve in order to be competitive, but she displayed a wonderfully game attitude at Kempton and will no doubt give a good account of herself.
Shore Shanty holds a number of entries in the coming week with handicap options at Plumpton and Hexham, and a mares’ novice hurdle at Sedgefield as another potential target.  A winner on good ground at Ludlow back in November, conditions will have a big bearing on where she runs.
Warranty had excuses when running below par at Catterick last time and is a possible runner at Stratford on Monday as he looks to get back on track.  The forecast for better going set to be in his favour.
Placed on her two previous starts, Booley Beach would look to have leading claims in the mares’ bumper at Taunton on Monday, taking on male rivals at Sedgefield the following afternoon a back-up option.
Rouge Vif is set to line up in the Grade 1 Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday our first Festival runner of the week.  A winner over the Champion Chase course and distance in October prior to finishing 3rd in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek in December.  He will find the drying ground suiting far better than the soft surface he then faced at Kempton over Christmas and has a solid each-way chance behind hot favourite Chacun Pour Soi.
Perhaps our best chance on the main stage next week, certainly if the betting is anything to go by, is stable star Saint Calvados, who will bid to go one place better than last year in the Ryanair.  We toyed with the idea of running him in the Gold Cup, but having failed to find out whether he truly stays in the Cotswold Chase, we have decided to have another crack at the Ryanair.  His 4th in the King George was a brilliant run on his first start this season and if he can reproduce his eye-catching run 12 months ago, he should be right in the mix once more.
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Until next week...