EVEN though the Cheltenham Festival is a battle between Britain and Ireland, Might Bite – the home favourite for the Gold Cup –has a very special supporter from the Emerald Isle.
He’s small-scale County Limerick breeder John O’Brien who sees no reason why the nine-year-old, winner of Kempton’s King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, can’t prevail on Friday week.
Might Bite is a son of Scorpion –the 2005 Doncaster St Leger winner – out of O’Brien’s broodmare Knotted Midge and he is understandably excited about the prospect of breeding a Gold Cup hero.
He said: “I think he has a favourite’s chance and I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if he could do it. It would obviously be massive for me if he could.
“Knotted Midge is the only broodmare I’ve ever had. She’ll be the only broodmare I’ll ever have as well. The mare is 18 now. She’s fresh though as she missed a few years.”
Might Bite came to prominence when falling at the final fence in the 2016 Kauto Star Novices Chases at Kempton with the race at his mercy. A confidence boosting win at Doncaster preceded a dramatic RSA Chase at Cheltenham in which the leader wandered off the last before rallying to beat Whisper on the line.
Yet O’Brien believes stamina won’t be the issue after Might Bite, owned by The Knot Again Partnership, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville, put Grade One winner Bristol De Mai to the sword in the King George.
“I thought he put up a good performance at Kempton. He had to go and do the donkey work to take Bristol De Mai out of his comfort zone,” said O’Brien.
“After beating him off he was always going to be a sitting duck, but every time they came to him he was going on and he was never going to be beat.”
On Might Bite’s wayward tendencies, he added: “Last year, I think that was just a case of being in front too long. I think if he had a bit of company he’d be fine and I wouldn’t worry about it.”
O’Brien felt Might Bite was destined for big things from an early stage, adding: “I sold him as a three-year-old. I broke him and I rode him and I sold him on to the Hendersons, the very same as I did with his half-brother Beat That.
“Might Bite was a gorgeous horse from the word go. Beat That was a good looking horse but this fella was a model from the day he was born.
“Beat That is 10 at this stage. I think he’s in the Pertemps Final. Injuries have taken their toll on him, unfortunately. He’s dropped a bit in the handicap though so he might have a squeak, too. The mare has had two runners – Beat That and Might Bite.”
Two of Yorkshire’s chief Cheltenham hopes continue to please connections.
Malton trainer Brian Ellison was bullish after working Gold Cup hope Definitly Red on the gallops at Richard Fahey’s Musley bank stables.
“He worked over a mile and went really well. Andy (Robertson), who looks after him and rides him every day, was on board and he was happy,” he told racegoers at Newcastle afterwards.
“We have heart monitors on him and they were very good and we scoped him after to make sure he was all right and he was very clean, so everything is perfect at the moment.
“He’ll have another workout at home, but he’s spot on. I couldn’t have him any better; he’s in great form.”
Meanwhile Middleham handler Jedd O’Keeffe is equally happy with Sam Spinner ahead of the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Though he, like other trainers, endured a disrupted week because of the snow, most of the horse’s main work was done before the so-called ‘Beast from the East’ struck.
Jump racing on the turf could resume today for the first time in a week.
No problems are foreseen at Southwell, which raced on the all-weather yesterday, though Lingfield’s card must pass an early morning inspection because of the amount of frost still in the ground.
Inspections will be held this morning at Newcastle and Exeter to determine the prospects for jumping action tomorrow.
Meanwhile the going at Cheltenham was changed to soft, good to soft in places, on all three tracks yesterday. Rain and milder temperatures are expected in the build-up to the four-day Cheltenham Festival, which begins on Tuesday week.