TRAINER Ben Pauling is relishing the prospect of seeing stable star Barters Hill make his debut over fences on day one of Cheltenham’s three-day Open meeting.
The two-and-a-half-mile Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase has an illustrious roll of honour, with subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup heroes Denman and Imperial Commander having landed successive renewals. Grade One winners Grands Crus, Dynaste, Taquin Du Seuil and More Of That have also won the race.
A quality field of seven runners has assembled for the latest running, with the David Bass-ridden Barters Hill the headline act. Victorious in his first seven starts, including Group One success at Newbury before a gutsy win in the River Don Hurdle at Doncaster, the horse’s unbeaten run came to an end when only fourth in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Pauling had been aiming his charge at next week’s Hennessy meeting at Newbury, but decided to let him line up today following significant rain. “With March in mind, I don’t think you can have too much experience of the place, really,” he said.
“As ever, he will come on a good deal for his first run, but he’s as fit as we can get him at home. I’m just so glad it’s rained, we can finally crack on with him.
“It’s a relief all round, for me, his owners and everyone in the yard as we were getting frustrated.”
The Philip Hobbs-trained Rock The Kasbah made a fine start to his chasing career at Chepstow a month ago in the colours of Diana and Grahame Whateley, but must concede 8lb to Barters Hill as a result.
“With Barters Hill in the race, it will be interesting,” said Hobbs.
“He’s got the penalty to carry, which might not be easy against some of these ex-hurdlers, but hopefully he’s a very decent horse and probably our best prospect for novice chasing.”
In other news, the aforementioned More Of That, winner of the 2014 World Hurdle for trainer Jonjo O’Neill, heads the entries for tomorrow’s feature BetVictor Gold Cup.
However, jockey Sam Twiston-Davies misses the whole meeting. After suffering a spleen injury following a heavy fall at Chepstow last month, the BHA will only sanction the rider’s return following another CT scan.
Meanwhile 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree came through a racecourse gallop at Haydock unscathed. Sidelined for nearly a year, Sara and Mark Bradstock’s stable star remains firmly on course for the Grade One Betfair Chase at the Merseyside track next weekend and a clash with the likes of Cue Card.