TRAINER Philip Hobbs is set to line up in the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup with Captain Chris after landing the Grade One Betfred Ascot Chase by 19 lengths.
The 10-year-old came home in splendid isolation under Richard Johnson from Sue Smith’s Cloudy Too who stayed on to finish second under young jockey Jonathan England with the returning Hunt Ball a creditable third.
Two miles five furlongs on a right-handed track play to the strengths of Captain Chris who has not shown his best form at Cheltenham since winning the Arkle in 2011.
However Hobbs indicated last night that his horse will head to Cheltenham, despite some reservations. “I would think it’s likely he’ll run, as there’s nothing else for him in March,” he said.
“It is not as if he can’t run left-handed – he won an Arkle there – but if you could ask the race planners to run the Gold Cup at Ascot or Kempton rather than Cheltenham, it would be appreciated because he prefers going right-handed.”
Johnson said: “He’s still a high-class horse and while he did win an Arkle, he developed a physical problem after that and he’s preferred jumping right-handed since then. Physically he’s fine, but it might be a mental thing with him now.”
The Cheltenham quandary is shared by connections of Cloudy Too. Even though this was a significant step-up in class for the winner of Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick Chase, he could be better suited – trip-wise – by the Ryanair Chase rather than the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
That said, the Ryanair Chase is shaping up to be a formidably competitive contest – it could be the target for Tony Martin’s 2013 Jewson winner Benefficient – and Cloudy Too could, just, run into a place in racing’s premier chase.
O’Faolains Boy enhanced his Cheltenham Festival stock with a deeply impressive victory in the RSA Trial Novices’ Chase (formerly known as the Reynoldstown) for Rebecca Curtis – the big disappointment was Gevrey Chambertin who was pulled up after setting a scorching pace in the conditions.
There was compensation for his trainer David Pipe and jockey Tom Scudamore when Un Temps Pour Tout advertised his Cheltenham claims after running out a 16-length winner of the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle better ground.
Teaforthree may have been touched off by Restless Harry, a former winner of Wetherby’s John Smith’s Hurdle, in the Weatherby’s Hamilton Insurance Chase but afterwards all the talk was about Aintree for the horse who was third to the Yorkshire-trained Auroras Encore in last year’s National.
The Curtis-trained 10-year-old was beaten a neck in the three-mile Listed event after a titanic duel over the final three fences, but Noel Fehily’s mount was immediately made favourite for the Crabbie’s Grand National.
Curtis said: “I am very pleased with that. He has a lovely weight for the Grand National (10st 12lb) because there are a lot of high-class horses above him in the handicap.”
Kaylif Aramis delivered his lines to perfection when landing the Great British Drama Handicap for the Nigel Twiston-Davies stable. It was a second big handicap win in a week for Ryan Hatch.
Melodic Rendezvous has been given a clean bill of health after his narrow victory in Saturday’s Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. Jeremy Scott’s chestnut is in line to go for the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham but had to work hard on desperate ground to get the better of Zarkandar.
Malton trainer Brian Ellison enjoyed a 274-1 treble yesterday – Maison De Ville prevailed at Market Rasen for James Reveley while AP McCoy rode Five In A Row and Knightly Escapade to victory at Kempton.
McCoy’s probable Champion Hurdle mount, My Tent Or Yours, warmed up for Cheltenham with a leisurely victory in a jumpers’ bumper race at Kempton that resembled an exercise canter.
Charlie Longsdon will not know the full extent of Ely Brown’s injury for the next couple of days. Wetherby’s Towton Novices’ Chase winner struck into himself when running in the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot on Saturday.