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The Road to Cheltenham


It’s been a quiet week so far here are Hill Barn, however the end of the week brings a flurry of runners up and down the country.  And not forgetting we're now heading into the 6 week build up to the long anticipated Cheltenham Festival - sprits are warm and full of anticipation.  We may still be in lockdown but we’re still kicking on...
Artistic Language made the trip up to Doncaster last Friday, returning to hurdles having failed to take to the fibre-sand surface at Southwell on his previous start.  In a race where only four of the eight flights were jumped due to the low sun in the home straight, he was kept wide in search of better ground by Gavin Sheehan and received an early reminder after a mistake at the second.  His jumping was slicker thereafter, but he soon came off the bridle after they jumped what was effectively the last (usually 4 out).  He wasn't unable to pick up on the gluey ground and ended up beating just one home.  Sadly he has been quite frustrating since joining us this season and the decision has since been taken to retire him from racing.
Our racecourse adventures yesterday began in rather inauspicious fashion with Sheila Nash’s return to action in the mares’ bumper at Wincanton.  Unfortunately it was over before it began with Jonjo O’Neill Jr’s mount shying as the flag was dropped, whipping round and unseating him. This was incredibly frustrating, especially given she had been off the course since last January.  She does hold entries at Taunton and Huntingdon next week, which gives us the chance to bid for quick compensation.
We also sent Black Abbey to Ffos Las yesterday, refitting the blinkers he wore on occasions on the Flat in France as we continued our attempts to coax him back to form. Held up in rear in the early stages, he travelled kindly in the headgear and looked like getting involved in the finish as he made promising headway turning for home, moving into fifth upon jumping the third last.  However, he couldn’t sustain his effort in the heavy ground - conditions were incredibly testing come the final race on the card - eventually weakening away to finish 6th.
Warranty is all set to run at Catterick this afternoon having missed a number of races recently due to the weather.  We were very pleased with his recent performance when finishing 3rd in the blinkers at Sandown last month, and although this is a race with a touch more depth, we believe he has more to offer and looks to hold place claims once again. 
Musselburgh hosts their Cheltenham Trials meeting this weekend and Torigni will make the long journey up to Scotland for this, where he will line up in the Scottish County Hurdle tomorrow afternoon.  He has run really well to finish 3rd on both his starts for the yard since arriving from France.  He should find the flat right-handed track really playing to his strengths and we look forward to running him.
With Cheltenham being abandoned last weekend due to water-logging, we have decided to try again with Saint Calvados in the rearranged Cotswold Chase at Sandown tomorrow.  The change of venue is a real shame because he absolutely loves Cheltenham, but the race will still provide us with a guide as to whether he properly stays three miles and inform our decision with regards to having a crack at the Gold Cup or the Ryanair in March.
Poldark Cross is a horse we have been itching to run of late and he holds entries in handicaps at Plumpton and Market Rasen at the start of next week.  We feel he has been handed a fair opening mark following two placed efforts in novice company and should appreciate stepping up in trip at either venue.
Juniper, an Irish recruit, holds a few upcoming entires in line to make her stable debut.  A lightly-raced seven-year-old, she has shown promise to make the frame in an Irish point and a Ballinrobe maiden hurdle, but having been off the course since September 2019 she is sure to come on for the run.
Brave Kingdom is another who is set to make his stable debut soon.  He ran once in Irish points last season, finishing third at Cragmore nearly a year ago, coming home 9½ lengths behind the winner Brandy Love, who has since bolted up in a bumper for Willie Mullins.  A horse with a speedy pedigree in jumping terms, he should be capable of being competitive in a bumper in the next few weeks.
With mother nature creating havoc in terms of abandonments in recent weeks, a number of jumpers’ bumpers have been staged on the all-weather, and although we have yet to have a runner in one this season, that may change on Tuesday with Lantiern holding a choice of engagements at Kempton.  Off the course since the start of September, he is 2 from 2 in all-weather bumpers and a spin on the poly-track could be the perfect place to get him back up and running.
Calvario is a horse we acquired back in the autumn, who made a promising debut for us when 3rd in a Chepstow novice hurdle in November.  The form of that run looks solid and we look forward to getting him back on track, with both Taunton and Fontwell possible options in the next seven days.
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Until next week...