HARVEY Smith hopes steeplechasing experience will enable Fill The Power to hit the bullseye today in one of Wetherby’s feature races of the year.
The showjumping legend, who bought the unraced horse speculatively at the Doncaster Sales, chose to name the horse in honour of the darts legend Phil Taylor.
Yet, because naming rules at racing administrators Weatherbys prevented the gelding being called Phil The Power, the moniker used by the multiple darts world champion, an indefatigable Smith circumvented the red-tape with a simple play on words.
The result is a horse of considerable promise who is one of the favourites for the totepool Towton Novices’ Chase, an illustrious race landed in the past by subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Mr Mulligan (1996) and the Smith-trained Royal Emperor (2004).
Fill The Power runs in the black and yellow colours of The McGoldrick Partnerships – the Leeds-based horse racing syndicate set up by Richard Longley to celebrate his brilliant Mister McGoldrick, who prevailed in a record eight races at Wetherby.
With the Venetia Williams-trained Houblon Des Obeaux set to run at Sandown, Ryan Mania’s mount will have five rivals as the country’s top novice chasers put their reputations on the line.
On testing going, experience will be key and Fill The Power has the benefit of five races over fences. His record includes a victory at Sedgefield and a hat-trick of second-place finishes on his last three outings, including a race in which he was narrowly denied by Gold Cup prospect Wyck Hill.
“He was unraced when I bought him and I wanted to call him ‘Phil The Power’ because I like darts and he’s the best,” said Smith, who trains with his wife Sue near Bingley.
“They wouldn’t let me use that name unless I had got written permission from Taylor and I couldn’t be bothered with all that paperwork, hence the name Fill The Power.
“People name all these sports stars but there are only three who are head and shoulders above the rest – Phil The Power, AP McCoy who has been champion jockey for 17 years and Jess Ennis because she’s from Yorkshire and she’s brilliant.
“I buy a lot of horses – I’ve bought five more this week – and it’s our job to make something of them. Fill The Power goes to the Towton with every chance. Some of the horses haven’t won anything or had much experience. Steeplechasing is a totally different sport. People forget that National Hunt racing is three disciplines – flat, hurdles and chasing.
“Most of the others have not got the experience that our horse has got.”
The only horse with experience comparable to Fill The Power is Restless Harry. The runaway winner of the 2011 John Smith’s Hurdle at Wetherby, Robin Dickin’s horse has had a stop-start career over fences, with one win from five races.
His rider is Henry Oliver – a one-time stable jockey at the Smith yard and who won a novice hurdle on Fill The Power at Newcastle in November 2011.
Next up in the experience stakes is Tim Walford’s Fentura with one win from four chase starts and then the Donald McCain-trained Super Duty, today’s short-priced favourite.
Super Duty, who chased home the precocious Simonsig at Aintree last April, has one win from three chaser starts and is the mount of Jason Maguire who is now the North’s leading jockey.
McCain appears unperturbed by the testing conditions over three miles-plus.
“He is a better horse on better ground but he has been winning on soft ground so it shouldn’t stop him unduly,” he said. “I always thought he would make a better chaser and the Towton looks the obvious race before we decide about Cheltenham.”
Of the remainder, Tim Easterby’s Fourjacks was impressive when winning his only chase to date at Wetherby last month before the big freeze, while Goulanes is making his debut over the larger obstacles for West Country trainer David Pipe.
As for Fourjacks, his inexperience should be placed in context – he runs in the colours of dual Grand National-winning owner Trevor Hemmings. Even more significantly, his managers chose to withdraw the Smith-trained Vintage Star, who was imperious at Catterick on his last outing.
However, Hemmings and Smith do team up with the ultra-consistent Gansey in the handicap chase as the 11-year-old bids for his first win in two years. The one to beat, however, is McCain’s Dunowen Point. He recorded a course win last month when he exploited a last fence blunder by Easterby’s Lease Lend who reopposes. The latter’s record is an exasperating one – he has been placed four times at Wetherby this season without ever getting his nose in front.
But, on a competitive card, it is Fill The Power’s form which is the most appealing. He was only beaten by half-a-length by David Bridgwater’s Wyck Hill, who then landed a top race at Ascot before Christmas. The vanquished included Katenko, who is now being touted as a future Grand National contender after an emphatic win at Cheltenham seven days ago.
“If he continues to improve, Phil Taylor may want to become involved with him,” said Longley who heads the six-strong owners’ syndicate. “It’s decent money today. We have a decent horse – and very decent form. We may be talking about the Scottish National and Eider Chase in time. I don’t think we’ve seen the real Fill The Power yet.”