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In-form Pauling excited by potential Festival contenders

3 minute read

Ben Pauling could saddle two exciting novice hurdlers at the Cheltenham Festival next month.

Trainer BEN PAULING. Picture: Pat Healy Photography

Fresh off the back of saddling three winners at Ascot on Saturday and an impressive 30% strike rate over the last fortnight, fewer trainers will be heading into the Cheltenham Festival in the same form as Ben Pauling.

Ben Pauling is no stranger to Cheltenham Festival success with Willoughby Court, Le Breuil and, most recently, Global Citizen all entering the Prestbury Park winners' enclosure throughout his short career to date.

It would be Willoughby Court who would provide Pauling with his first Cheltenham Festival success when landing the Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle back in 2017 and the Naunton-based handler looks to have another potential exciting contender courtesy of Handstands.

Unbeaten in three starts over hurdles, Pauling described his recent Listed Sidney Banks winner to be 'equal or if not then a shade better' than the 2017 champion Willoughby Court.

"Having trained a horse to win that race in Willoughby Court, I know this horse is equal to Willoughby or if not then a shade better," said Pauling on Sky Sports Racing.

"He came out of the Sidney Banks brilliantly and Harry Cobden was very impressed with how easily he did it."

"It depends on the renewal of this year's race and how it fits but he's got an enormous amount of talent and doesn't have to try overly hard. I think if he ran at Cheltenham, he'd be a horse I'd be very excited to see how he got on."

However, a trip to the Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle for Handstands still remains in the balance with Pauling suggesting 'all options remain open.'

Pauling added: "There are some thoughts about if we need to take on the Irish this year or if we just miss Cheltenham and go to Aintree. I personally think he's a horse that takes it all in his stride and a very talented horse so, we'll keep all options open. He's certainly a horse for the future."

Whilst Handstands Festival participation seemingly hangs in the balance, Pauling looks set to be represented in the Cheltenham opener courtesy of fellow last-time-out Huntingdon winner Tellherthename, who will be stepping back into Grade 1 company in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

"He's in brilliant form," said Pauling. "Since the day I got this fellow from the sales I've adored him. When we bought him, he was a very weak individual, and he was never going to run last season, but he's gone from strength to strength this year."

The Megsons'-owned five-year-old disappointed when pulling-up in the Grade 1 Formby Novices' Hurdle, formerly known as the Tolworth, at Aintree on Boxing Day but Pauling believes conditions were to blame for his sub-par performance and expects a much brighter showing from his dual Huntingdon scorer at Cheltenham come March.

"The only blot on his copybook was Aintree and it was just desperate ground," Pauling explained. "We looked at every single detail and didn't leave any stone unturned afterwards, but he came out of the race very very well and I hang my hat that he just couldn't handle that bottomless ground. It was the worst ground that I've seen all season that day."

In a bid to utilize a potentially lenient mark of 135, a tilt at the valuable Betfair Handicap Hurdle had been on the cards for Pauling's exciting youngster before once again unsuitable ground paid to his chances of participating.

Pauling said: "He was ready for the Betfair and couldn't have been in better form but again the ground just went against us. I didn't want to give him a very hard race in the Betfair hurdle before going to the Supreme Novices' because I do think he can be very competitive in that race."

With Tellherthename off the track since sauntering to success in a novices' hurdle at Huntingdon on January the 12th, Pauling is keen to get his five-year-old Grade 1 contender out for a racecourse gallop in the coming weeks.

He added: "He'll go to Kempton for a racecourse gallop a week tomorrow where he'll do a good bit of work. If I can get him to the track in the form, I think he's in at the moment then I'll be very excited."

"He's got bags of speed, a good jumper and on a bit of good ground I think he'll be very exciting."

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