YORKSHIRE trainer Tim Walford’s dream of a Cheltenham winner has been shattered after his top hurdling prospect Ubi Ace was sold for a reported six-figure sum.
The highly-promising six-year-old will now be trained by Jonjo O’Neill and run in the colours of Gay Smith, whose husband Derrick is a major player at the Coolmore Stud in Ireland.
Ubi Ace was a Listed winner at Sandown in December and signed off from Walford’s tutelage with a brave second in the John Smith’s Scottish County Hurdle at Musselburgh.
He is likely to line up in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on Friday week.
“He’s been sold and has gone to Jonjo’s,” said Malton-based Walford. “I think he’ll now be owned by Gay Smith and will run in the County Hurdle.
“It was with a heavy heart, but the offer was too good to turn down.
“I told the old owner we could buy a few more horses and have enough in the bank to pay for the training fees for a few years.
“I was thinking of running him in the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday, but business is business.”
The Imperial Cup – one of the form keys to Cheltenham’s fiercely competitive handicap hurdles – will see Master Of Arts have just his third run over obstacles.
The seven-year-old had a solid career with Sir Mark Prescott on the level before originally joining David Pipe in 2009 when he beat Copper Bleu – now a leading Grand National contender – on his hurdling debut.
Unplaced in the Triumph Hurdle won by Zaynar, he was off for 11 months before reappearing in Dubai for Middleham’s Mark Johnston.
The horse was well-beaten by the Richard Fahey-trained Our Joe Mac at York’s Ebor festival last August, and then trailed home in last place in a Ripon handicap before returning to the Pipe yard.
He is now 5-1 from 10s for Saturday’s feature with the sponsors – and 10-1 (from 20s) for the County Hurdle.
The horse is owned by Roger Brookhouse whose Cheltenian won last year’s Bumper at the NH Festival.
“He’s going for the Imperial Cup, but we are taking every day as it comes,” said Brookhouse.
“If he comes out of the race fine, he will go to Cheltenham for the County Hurdle.”
The Imperial Cup carries a £75,000 bonus from Paddy Power if the winner can double up at the Festival – a feat last achieved by Pipe’s Gaspara in 2007.
Noble Prince’s likely candidature in the Ryanair Chase could scupper Ferdy Murphy’s plans to book Davy Russell to ride Kalahari King in Thursday’s Grade One contest.
Russell has winning form on the Paul Nolan-trained Noble Prince, last year’s Jewson winner, and would be an obvious replacement if AP McCoy opted to stay loyal to Jonjo O’Neill’s veteran Albertas Run, who is seeking a third successive Ryanair victory.