Kelly created history at Kempton over Christmas when riding the Nick Williams-trained seven-year-old to victory in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, becoming the first lady rider to win a Grade One over jumps in Britain.
Jumping with aplomb on just his second start over fences, he looked to have been doing it all his life as Kelly kept him out of trouble on the outside before bringing him with a smooth run to catch Southfield Royale in the straight.
While big races through the season are stepping stones to Cheltenham for many, that is not the case for Tea For Two who needs to go right-handed so will be swerving the March meeting.
“He’s all set and he’s been absolutely fine since Christmas. We’re very happy with him,” said Williams, who is Kelly’s stepfather.
“The ground will be no problem for him and we’ll take on all-comers and see what happens. Cheltenham wouldn’t be his cup of tea – excuse the pun – which is why we haven’t entered him there.”
Tea For Two’s main market rival is Nigel Twiston-Davies’s Bristol De Mai. The field also includes Maximiser from the Middleham yard of Simon West – the horse is looking to bounce back from a fall at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting last November. That has taken longer to heal than expected, but champion jockey-elect Richard Johnson is a significant booking.
“He looks unexposed and I’ve been pretty impressed with what I’ve seen from him so far,” the rider wrote on his Betway blog.
“It’s certainly a nice spare ride to pick up. Tea For Two and Bristol De Mai look like the ones we have to beat.”
Yorkshire jockey Danny Cook’s winning streak continued, meanwhile, when Sue Smith’s smart hurdler Hainan – stepped up in trip to three miles-plus for the first time – prevailed at Catterick.
It was a 30th winner of the campaign for Thirsk-based Cook, who remains just one winner short of last season’s career-best tally of 31 successes.
He partners Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red in today’s feature Towton Novices Chase at Wetherby and has several eyecatching rides at Musselburgh’s main meeting of the year tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Samantha Drake’s dream start to her training career continued with Raktiman’s success under her fiancée Jonathan England.
This was the Guiseley trainer’s second winner since she received her licence 10 days ago – her first victory came courtesy of Star Performer at the North Yorkshire track on Wednesday of last week.
Sheffield-born rider Joe Colliver’s hold-up tactics paid off on Micky Hammond’s Auldthunder in the handicap chase. Like Smith and Cook, and Drake and England, this is another combination to follow.
Connections of Arzal are planning to skip an outing at the Cheltenham Festival with Aintree’s Grand National meeting the ultimate target.
Harry Whittington’s charge was beaten by just over three lengths by Vaniteux when giving weight away in the Grade Two Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster last Saturday.
While Arzal is rated a lively outsider for the Racing Post Arkle Trophy and the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham, the six-year-old is set to bypass the meeting entirely in favour of arriving fresh for Aintree in April.
“We were very happy with him at Doncaster, to give Vaniteux 4lb and only just be beaten was a good run,” said Whittington.
Joseph O’Brien is keen to see how Ivanovich Gorbatov performs at Leopardstown today before committing to the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Although officially trained by the two-time champion Flat jockey’s father, Aidan, the master of Ballydoyle was keen to pass credit to his son after the four-year-old made a most impressive start to his jumping career at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting. He is already the hot favourite for next month’s juvenile championship at Prestbury Park and is odds-on for the Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
Road To Riches, last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup third, is odds-on to land the Irish Gold Cup for trainer Noel Meade and jockey Bryan Cooper.