Cheltenham Festival: Sean Quinlan hopes Top Ville Ben can be in money for Phil Kirby team

SEAN QUINLAN hopes he can cap a career-best season by being placed at the Cheltenham Festival on Top Ville Ben – Yorkshire’s hope in this week’s RSA Chase.

Jockey Sean Quinlan rides Top Ville Ben for Catterick trainer Phil Kirby in Wednesday's RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Now on the 43-winner mark for the current campaign, Quinlan is making the most of picking up a chance spare ride for Phil Kirby at Market Rasen last August.

Though Nicely Indeed did not win, the horse only beat one other rival, the jockey kept the ride on the horse and was then used by Kirby when stable jockeys Tommy Dowson, and then Adam Nicol, were injured.

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The result was the ride on Top Ville Ben who won his chase debut at Hexham by 13 lengths before spreadeagling the field and recording an imposing 46-length win at Wetherby on December 27.

Sean Quinlan (right) with showjumping legend Harvey Smith.

Though last of five in Ascot’s Grade Two Reynoldstown Novice Chase last month, quick ground – and the track’s right-handed configuration – were valid excuses for the front-runner who runs in the red and yellow colours of the Harbour Rose Partnership.

“If they are getting the rain at Cheltenham that we’re getting up North, it will enhance his chances,” Quinlan told The Yorkshire Post last night.

“If you take his runs at Hexham and Wetherby, both left-handed tracks and on heavy ground, he would be open to improvement.

“At Ascot, it was good ground. We led them a merry dance, but he kept jumping left and losing ground at his fences.”

However Quinlan, who is seeking his first Cheltenham Festival success, is phlegmatic about Top Ville Ben’s chances in this Grade One three mile race for novice steeplechasers and potential Gold Cup contenders of the future. “We will be happy to be in the first five,” he said. “At least the rain has come. Realistically, we are hoping for a clear run and to finish in the first five and pick up some prize money for the owners.”

Though Quinlan rides predominantly for Sue Smith and Jennie Candlish – he rides Theflyingportrait for the latter in Friday’s Grand Annual Chase – he is respected for his reliability when riding out each day and willingness to go anywhere for one ride.

This work ethic has brought him to the notice of trainers like Brian Ellison, Chris Grant, Dianne Sayer and Catterick-based Kirby when he needed a rider for Nicely Indeed last summer.

It has paid off. Quinlan has now won twice on the horse and picked up other rides because other jockeys have been injured or unavailable. “That’s it. Other’s people misfortunes are other people’s fortunes,” he adds.

Meanwhile Kirby has confirmed that stable star Lady Buttons will line up in tomorrow’s Grade One Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham rather than the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday.

The Catterick trainer says he wants to give the popular mare, owned and bred by Jayne and Keith Sivills, the best chance of winning at the National Hunt Festival. He also confirmed that Dowson, one of the North’s top conditionals, will keep the ride after winning on Lady Buttons at Doncaster last time out.

Meanwhile trainer Nick Alexander is another to welcome the rain at Cheltenham as he prepares to saddle his first ever runner at jump racing’s showpiece meeting.

Not only is Grand National contender Lake View Lad top weight for tomorrow’s fiercely competitive Ultima Handicap Chase which also features Vintage Clouds for Bingley-based Sue Smith, but he is overseeing the horse’s preparations with a dislocated and fractured left shoulder after a recent skiing accident.

Owned by Trevor Hemmings, the chaser will, once again, be ridden by Middleham-based Henry Brooke who partnered Lake View Lad to eyecatching victories in Newcastle’s rehearsal Chase and then Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick Chase on Boxing Day.

However dry ground has kept the horse on the sidelines since Christmas. “The plan had been to run at Kelso 10 days ago as a prep for the Grand National, but the ground wasn’t right. This is the second option,” said Alexander who trains at Kinneston in Scotland.

“It is hard to believe a horse from Kinneston is top weight for a Festival handicap. The horse is in great shape and hasn’t missed a day. If he had 11 stone, instead of 11st 12lb, you’d have really fancied him. But I don’t think he will start at 25-1. If the forecast rain falls before racing, I think he is more like a 12-1 or 16-1 shot.”

As for Alexander’s own injury, he added: “I had a bit of a tumble on the ski slopes. It’s quite painful and very tiresome. Worse things happen. if I had been kicked by a horse, I might have got some sympathy.”