FRESH from landing their debut Grade One victory, Brian Ellison and Fearghal Davis will go in search of more big-race glory with Palomar in Saturday's prestigious Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton.
Malton-based Ellison and Davis, one of the most improved riders in the North, secured their first win at the highest level when Marsh Warbler landed the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on Saturday. The Cheltenham National Hunt Festival now beckons.
Yet they have equally high hopes for Palomar who was last seen winning a jumpers' bumper at Southwell at the end of last month – Ferdy Murphy's Kalahari King was among the impressive horses in arrears.
Currently on a career-high mark over obstacles thanks, in part, to a fine success at Market Rasen, this was Palomar's first start since an excellent run in Doncaster's November Handicap on the level. "He's in good fettle," said Ellison.
So, too, is 24-year-old Davis, one of the weighing rooms quieter riders, who splits his time between Nicky Richards's Greystokes stables and Ellison's burgeoning yard in Malton. County Tipperary-born, he has found himself in the right place at the right time because of racing's fickleness. Davis, who rode out his claim last year on Marsh Warbler, is a beneficiary of Richmond jockey Keith Mercer's longstanding leg injury.
He also rode nine-year-old Palomar, with considerable success, for Richards before Sir Robert Ogden sold the horse to the Koo's Racing Club.
"He has a nice racing weight and these are the races you want to be in," said Davis who has also enjoyed some eyecatching victories on Neptunes Equester for the syndicate.
"Winning on Marsh Warbler was exciting – certainly the best day of my career because it was a Grade One race and shown on the BBC. He'd perhaps need softer ground at Cheltenham, but it's something to look forward to.
"Like Marsh Warbler, Palomar is still improving. He has the speed, he provided Flat champion Paul Hanagan with a winner at Musselburgh in his title challenge, and we'll know more after Saturday – the stable is certainly in form."
Davis is quietly reserved, even though his 13 successes this season have already eclipsed his winning tally in 2009-10 by one. There is good reason for this. For, while his career is prospering, Monet's Garden, the talisman of the Richards yard, is fighting for his life.
The galloping grey – one of the most popular racehorses – has been suffering from a life-threatening infection in a hoof. There has been some progress as the brilliant 13-year-old has been able to leave his box tentatively.
But, while Davis never rode Monet's Garden on the racecourse, he did have the privilege of riding the Aintree and Ascot specialist on the gallops. It is an experience that he will never forget.
"You never like to ask too much because it is so upsetting for everyone – Nicky and the horse have had cards and gifts from all over the country," said Davis, speaking ahead of racing at Catterick today where he will be in action.
"Different class, different league, different ball game, he just floated. He was a giant of a horse, just exhilarating. It's not just that he's a beautiful grey, like Desert Orchid and One Man, but the way he jumped – he taught me a lot."