Eye-Catchers From Wetherby, Punchestown And Chepstow
Ben Fearnley picks out three eye-catchers from the last week, including a couple who may well be seen next at the Cheltenham Festival.
Milan Express – Wetherby, Tuesday 21st February
Milan Express isn’t the first Kim Bailey-trained horse to have shown improved form in recent weeks, with the yard now going much better overall than they were a couple of months ago. Milan Express has some interesting form to her name in maidens, including a fourth at Hereford (where she shaped better than the distance beaten), which has worked out well. She showed herself to be on a handy mark (from 104) on her handicap debut at Wetherby last week following 11 weeks off, improving on her maiden form to chase home a subsequent winner who was gambled on from a falling mark. A rangy mare, Milan Express will be suited by further than two and a half miles and is open to further improvement with that in mind. A 1 lb rise in the weights after her last run seems very fair. Kim Bailey
Apple’s Jade – Punchestown, Wednesday 22nd February
Considering Limini is trained by Willie Mullins and is already a Cheltenham Festival winner, she was sent off at a fairly big price for her return in a listed hurdle race at Punchestown last week. That was, of course, because of the presence of Apple's Jade , who had won the Grade 1 Hatton's Grace Hurdle in December and was the pick of the pair on form. Apple’s Jade was unable to match Limini’s turn of foot after the last, however, and she may well have needed the run more than expected given she was returning from 11 weeks off. Apple’s Jade’s profile suggests that she may well step up on this run next time, and she should be well suited by the stiffer track and likely stronger pace that the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival will provide. She remains a leading contender for that race, very closely matched with Willie Mullins' most likely representative Vroum Vroum Mag (who scrambled home at Doncaster last time and is more likely to run in the mares' race than Limini, who could be Champion Hurdle bound) on the pick of their form. Gordon Elliott
Jury Duty – Chepstow, Saturday 25th February
Gayebury, the winner of the Pertemps Qualifier at Chepstow on Saturday, will have gone down in plenty of notebooks after his much-improved performance on his first start over three miles (could even be worth a go in the Albert Bartlett). However the second that day, Jury Duty , also shaped with plenty of promise, especially with a view to the Pertemps Final itself at Cheltenham. Jury Duty travelled in to the race well before being left behind by the winner after two out, but this was his first start for three months following a taking win in a Navan handicap (which has worked out well since) and it should put him spot on for a crack at the main prize at Cheltenham later this month. Gordon Elliott
- ● Chapple-Hyam books Payne for Royal Ascot
- ● Multiple G1 winner Our Ivanhowe retired
- ● G1 winner Hucklebuck succumbs to colic
- ● Full field of 20 for Doncaster Mile
Whatever the collective noun is for National Hunt trainers, a pride is a perfect fit, like nomadic lions competing to claim certain territory, and, truer than for racehorses, a good big ’un will indeed beat a good little ‘un.
‘There is no semblance of any anti-Irish bias,’ said Phil Smith, extinguishing fired-up forces with one hand and expunging higher-up horses with the other, a marked man as the marks man, in an impossible position as the partial peacemaker in racing’s ratings rivalry between nations.