Cole Harden is absolutely bouncing after his trip to Kempton on Saturday, his second and final racecourse gallop before the festival. He’s a horse who thrives on racing but I didn’t want to bottom him by running him on testing ground again, as he really doesn’t like it. The key to the racecourse gallop at Kempon on Saturday was that it was just before racing, so there was quite a big crowd, and that got him revved up in a similar way to being in a race. Graham Baines, my Head Lad, who does all the work on him, knows him inside out and he was very pleased with his work.
Most of his prep work is done now and it’s just a case of keeping him ticking over in the run up to the meeting. He's in as good a shape as he was at this stage last year.
I don’t think this year’s race is particularly stronger than last year’s given high-class horses like Saphir Du Rheu were fancied 12 months ago, but I do respect Thistlecrack and if he beats us fair and square then he's clearly the real deal. However, he is going to be tested like he’s not been tested in any of his races this season and we’ll find out just how good he is. I wouldn’t swap Cole for anything in the race and providing the ground is no worse than good to soft, we will not let go of our crown lightly.
Missed Approach worked brilliantly with Cole Harden at Kempton on Saturday and it’s all systems go with him for the Pertemps Final on the Thursday. He’s been bumped up a total of 20lb for his Newbury win but the form of that race has worked out quite well and this fellow is one of my best chances of the week. He is improving all the time and I’ve got a feeling he might turn out to be an even better horse on goodish ground, although he’ll need to be to win the Pertemps.
As I’ve said before, he’s not a horse who shows us a great deal at home so it’s hard for us to gauge exactly what we have, but I think he’s got all the attributes to win a race like the Pertemps, not least because he jumps so well, and it’s exciting to think about how far this fella might go. Remember, he’s only had three runs over hurdles so he’s still learning his trade but he’s already rated 143 and the sky could be the limit with him.
I’ve made no secret of how highly I rate Chef D’Oeuvre and we’ve got a few options with him but the key to him is soft ground, so, whilst drying ground would be a help for a few of my big guns, it would spell trouble for Chef. He’s in the Coral Cup, the Albert Bartlett and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle on the final day (where he would be ridden by Harry Bannister), and it’s the latter of the three that interests me the most given it will be run over the same course and distance that he ran over when fourth to Yanworth in January. I'll be disappointed if he's not better than his current mark of 135 but if the ground isn’t right we’ll just wait, possibly for Punchestown, as we are in no rush with him and he’s going to be a cracking horse next year.
Ma Du Fou is almost certainly going to go to Aintree.
We haven’t confirmed running plans for our two smart novice chasers yet, but I’m leaning towards the Close Brother Chase on the opening day for Aloomomo, while Out Sam will probably also run on the opening day, in the 3m 1f Ultima Handicap which is the third race on the card.
Aloomomo has been a revelation this season, winning three handicap chases on the spin, rocketing up 32lb in the process. We’ve purposely looked after his chase mark since the Newbury win in November but we wanted to get a run into him hence the spin over hurdles at Ascot on Feb 20. I was delighted with how he ran that day and he is now exactly where we want him heading into the festival. He’s got a few entries but the 2m 4f novices’ chase looks the best race for him as it’s quite a stiff jumping test and his biggest asset is his fencing. His jumping will keep him in the race no matter how fast they go and if Gavin [Sheehan] can get him into a nice rhythm I’m sure we’ll be able to finish strongly up the hill given we now he stays much further. I’m really keen on him.
Out Sam is potentially very well handicapped off 139 given what he did at Newbury and rather than go for the RSA I would be stupid not to try and take advantage of his mark by running him in one of the handicaps. The form of that Newbury race took a big boost last week when the runner-up Milansbar came out and won a handicap chase by eight lengths at Exeter. We also had the 149-rated Activial 16 lengths behind us that day.
I had been waiting to step him up to 3m for a while so it was pleasing to see him improve significantly on what he had done previously. He’s a really classy horse, so much so that I wouldn’t have any problem running him in the RSA Chase, but, given his mark, the Ultima Handicap looks too inviting an opportunity.
Ballyculla and Warrantor are entered in the four-mile National Hunt Chase but the plan with Ballyculla is get his confidence back after his fall in the Eider, possibly by running him in a small-field novice chase. Gavin [Sheehan] said he was still cantering when he came down - he felt he was going better than Shotgun Paddy who was alongside him and eventually finished second. We can’t go to Cheltenham with Warrantor now, given what’s happened to him on his last couple of starts.
Paint The Clouds barely had more than an exercise canter when winning at Doncaster last week and he’s in great form as we build up to another tilt at the Foxhunter Chase. He really deserves to win a big one but his chance will once again be compromised if the ground turns soft, as it did 12 months ago. He’s a much better horse on goodish ground and, if he gets it, he will almost certainly run a huge race. If the ground goes against him it’s likely we will swerve the race and wait for the Foxhunter at Aintree instead.
Dolatulo is going to be my first runner in the Cross Country Chase and he really enjoyed a schooling session over the Cross Country fences at Prestbury Park last week. He's a mid 140's horse which means he should be very competitive in a race like this and his preparation has gone very well. It's always going to be hard against the Irish horses in these races but it's the sort of race that could bring out the best in him and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he put up a big show.
Best chance of a winner: Cole Harden
Which horse running at Cheltenham would he most like to train: Douvan
Banker bet: Un De Sceaux
Most vulnerable short-price favourite: Annie Power