FOOTBALLING legend Mick Channon hopes Glen Forsa can provide him with one of the biggest wins of his sporting career by landing the Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham next month.
Now one of the country’s top dual-purpose trainers, Channon recorded his first Cheltenham Festival victory 12 months ago when Mister Whitaker prevailed in the novice handicap chase.
But the Arkle – named after the greatest steeplechaser of all – is a far more prestigious prize and the ultimate two-mile test, at Grade One level, for a novice steeplechaser. And while Channon, and owner Tim Radford, thought Glen Forsa would be lining up in the race won by Mister Whitaker last year, their hand has been forced by the horse’s two recent runs.
Victorious on his chase debut at Chepstow under Jonathan Burke, a young jockey now establishing himself amongst the country’s elite, Glen Forsa was an impressive winner at Kempton over Christmas. He then confirmed class by making all to beat the highly-regarded Kalashnikov in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Sandown nearly two weeks ago.
With Le Richebourg, trained in Ireland by Joseph O’Brien, ruled out due to injury, Channon – a longstanding Flat trainer after a decorated football career for Southampton and England amongst others – harbours realistic hopes of landing the Arkle.
“Everything has gone to plan with Glen Forsa, to the point that I wish his race was tomorrow. He is in very good order and pleased Jonathan who sat on him on Tuesday,” said Channon who works closely with former Gold Cup-winning trainer Henrietta Knight.
“All along we’ve known that he was very good – his work and demeanour told us that. But 18 months ago he came back from a routine canter with an issue and we found he had a hole in his hock, but Hen got him back and the rest is history.
“I admit going back to two miles at Sandown against Kalashnikov frightened me a bit. He beat Kalashnikov fair and square, he just needs to go and do it all again now. It’s all about jumping and the quality that is rarely seen in any horse, he seems to own – that’s his ability to quicken up not once, but two or three times, which is a trainer’s dream.
“As for his jumping, it’s been a hallmark of his races over fences, but funnily enough that’s the thing that worries me. The Arkle is one of the first races on the first day, the meeting hasn’t settled down and they go like hell, but if Jonathan can get him into a rhythm, he will take a lot of beating.”
Sue Smith says stable star Midnight Shadow is likely to miss next month’s Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in favour of a Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting.
Victorious in the Relkeel Hurdle at the Cotswolds track under Danny Cook, the horse did not appear to see out the three-mile trip in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham at the end of January. Meanwhile, Willie Mullins says Penhill, winner of last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle, will miss the race due to injury.