DO NOT tell the flooding victims but there is one person who does not want the rain to relent for another month – trainer Kim Bailey.
His stable star Harry Topper will only enter the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup reckoning if conditions are heavy at the National Hunt Festival.
It comes after his stable star demonstrated his endless reserves of stamina by winning the Grade Two Betfair Denman Chase by an emphatic 25 lengths, confirming the promise that the horse showed last November when winning Wetherby’s £100,000 Charlie Hall Chase.
Bailey, who is enjoying a resurgence after a period of time in the racing doldrums, prepared Harry Topper for Saturday’s three-mile test by schooling the horse over a row of five fences, an unusual raceday tactic.
It worked in 1995 when his Master Oats, a proven mudlark, won the Gold Cup and Harry Topper’s jumping at Newbury was more fluent as Katenko set the pace.
The only moment of consternation for winning jockey Jason Maguire came when he passed the winning post on the first circuit and had to give his seven-year-old some sharp reminders.
However, Harry Topper was in perfect position on the turn for home and revelled in the ground as he pulled clear of the Paul Nicholls-trained Al Ferof who may now miss the Gold Cup in favour of the two-mile Queen Mother Champion Chase or the mid-distance Ryanair Chase over two miles, five furlongs.
“It’s great for the horse. We’ve believed in him from day one. He loves this ground and that makes a huge difference,” said Bailey.
“He tries. I know he dropped the bit and was given a couple of cracks down the far side, but once he gets going he’s as tough as they come.
“I’ve always believed in him and thankfully he’s come right. We schooled him this morning over five fences and the last time I did that was when Master Oats won the Gold Cup all those years ago. They are similar horses with similar attitudes.
“He proved when he ran at Sandown he doesn’t go on quicker ground and he won’t go to Cheltenham for the Gold Cup unless it’s soft and he doesn’t have to go anywhere.”
Nicholls said of Al Ferof: “Daryl (Jacob) said he travelled very well but ran out of stamina.
“John Hales, the owner, is keen to go for the Gold Cup, but I’m not sure he’s an out-and-out stayer, certainly in that ground. We’ll have to sit down and have a think about it.”
Sprinter Sacre had paid his first visit to a racecourse since his well-documented mishap over Christmas and a walk around the paddock took him closer to the potential defence of his BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase crown.
One of his possible opponents may have appeared as Module narrowly overcame Nicholls’s novice Dodging Bullets in a hammer-and-tongs battle for the Betfair Cash Out Chase, better known as the Game Spirit.
Trainer Tom George said: “He’s in the Queen Mother and the Ryanair. I’ll have to talk to the owner about it but I’m starting to get interested in the two-mile race.”
Meanwhile, Nigel Twiston-Davies will weigh up all the options before deciding on Splash Of Ginge’s Cheltenham target following his victory in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday.
The six-year-old already holds entries in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
Handicap hurdles such as the County will also be considered depending on what the assessor makes of Splash Of Ginge’s surprise 33-1 success under young conditional Ryan Hatch.
“That was very pleasing and a very good ride by Ryan,” said Twiston-Davies. “He’ll definitely go to Cheltenham, but what race I don’t know yet. It just depends what the handicapper does to him and what the novice hurdles look like.”
The New One won the Neptune for the Naunton trainer at last year’s Festival and is a leading fancy for the Stan James Champion Hurdle. Twiston-Davies reports all to be well with that six-year-old, who has been kept for the Champion after going down by half a length to My Tent Or Yours in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day. “The New One is smashing, really good,” he said.
Fingal Bay made a winning return to action following a 429-day lay-off with success at Exeter. The horse has not been sighted since he ran out during a novice chase at this course in December 2012.