Jockey Noel Fehily believes a spin over hurdles was just what the doctor ordered for Silviniaco Conti ahead of his bid to win the Betfair Chase for a third time at Haydock on Saturday.
The Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old – a former winner of Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase – blew away the cobwebs in his first run since winning Aintree’s Betfred Bowl for the second year running in April when finishing second to Brother Tedd earlier this month.
“Paul’s very happy with him. He’s fresh and in good form after Kempton so it’s all systems go,” said Fehily.
“I was delighted with him there. He felt great. There was plenty left to work on and it will have brought him on plenty, so fingers crossed.
“Cue Card was very good at Wetherby the last day and looked like he was back to his old self and he’s going to be hard to beat again.”
Meanwhile, Emma Lavelle has given an upbeat assessment of Closing Ceremony ahead of Saturday’s £80,000 Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock – a race won previously by the likes of Grands Crus and Dynaste.
The six-year-old won all three of his starts at the Lancashire track last season, culminating with a gutsy victory over Seeyouatmidnight in the three-mile Grade Two Rendlesham Hurdle in February.
However Lavelle was encouraged by Closing Ceremony’s fifth-placed finish behind runaway winner Kilcooley in last month’s bet365 West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby.
She said: “He is a horse who tends to take a race to put him spot on. Win, lose or draw he is going chasing after this.”
In other news, Open Eagle, a top performer on the Flat for Nawton’s David O’Meara, could not have been more impressive when opening his account over hurdles yesterday for Ireland’s dream team of champion trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh.
Sold by owners Middleham Park Racing after running away with last year’s season-ending November Handicap at Doncaster, Open Eagle’s jumping looked assured at Fairyhouse as he joins the list of potential future stars at the all-conquering Mullins stable.
Mullins said: “It was a good performance in very testing conditions.”
He also confirmed that Vautour, widely touted as jump racing’s next equine superstar, is likely to travel to Ascot to make his seasonal reappearance in Saturday’s Stella Artois 1965 Chase.
The six-year-old won at the Cheltenham Festival for the second successive year with a mesmerising performance in the JLT Novices’ Chase in March and heads ante-post lists for both the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“Vautour will probably run at Ascot. He’s working well and is in good form,” said Mullins.
It speaks volumes about the quality of horses at the Mullins yard that Don Poli, winner of this year’s RSA Chase at Cheltenham for three-mile novices, could become a Crabbies Grand National contender rather than a Cheltenham Gold Cup entry.
The horse was given a surprising entry in next month’s Betfred Becher Chase at Aintree.
The 47 entries also include the Sandra Hughes-trained Irish National hero Thunder And Roses.
“Thunder And Roses came back very well from his summer holiday and had a run over hurdles in Clonmel last week,” said Hughes.
“We want to give him a view of the fences before the Grand National in April. That is his main aim this year.”