Cloudy Dream turns focus to Ryanair Chase

Cloudy Drean and Brian Hughes during Newbury's Denman Chase.
Cloudy Drean and Brian Hughes during Newbury's Denman Chase.
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RUTH Jefferson says she “couldn’t be happier” with perennial runner-up Cloudy Dream as she prepares the grey for a crack at the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

After chasing home Native River in Newbury’s Denman Chase on Saturday, the Trevor Hemmings-owned horse was – as expected – withdrawn yesterday from the entries for next month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

And while the most notable defector was injury-plagued 2015 winner Coneygree as retirement beckons for the former champion, the Malton trainer retains every faith in Cloudy Dream who has finished second in all four starts this season.

“He travelled well and he jumped well,” she told The Yorkshire Post. “I was thrilled with his performance – he just got outstayed. He did nothing wrong and he hasn’t done anything wrong all season.”

Cloudy Dream has won three of his 11 starts over fences, filling the runner-up spot on the other eight occasions.

However, Jefferson believes the drop back in trip to two miles five furlongs, and less testing ground, will bring out the best in the ever popular horse.

“He’s come out of the race at Newbury fine,” she added. “He always runs well wherever he goes, but I do think he’s a better horse on spring ground.

“You’d like to think he’ll have a chance of getting that when Cheltenham comes around, so we’ll see.”

Meanwhile, Jefferson hopes to record her first winner as a trainer when Cyrus Darius bids to successfully defend Kelso’s prestigious Morebattle Hurdle today.

She took over the licence of the family’s Malton stables after her father Malcolm died earlier this month.

Cyrus Darius, who ran in last season’s Champion Hurdle, reverts back to smaller obstacles after racing over fences.

“There aren’t that many races for him over fences,” she explained. “He hasn’t really got that experience to run in big handicap chases and while he’s a good jumper when he’s long and meets a fence right, he can’t really fiddle. We thought we’d go back over hurdles with him at Kelso.”

Sam Twiston-Davies will ride Blaklion in Saturday’s Grand National Trial at Haydock.

Trained by his father Nigel, the horse is ante-post favourite for the National and Twiston-Davies also intends to ride the horse in April’s big race despite being stable jockey to Paul Nicholls.

The jockey, who rode 
Straidnahanna to victory at Caterrick on Monday for Sue and Harvey Smith, says he is doing so on the basis that he won’t be 
required to ride any of the intended Nicholls runners in the National.

Though not totally unexpected, it’s a blow to Gavin Sheehan who rode Blaklion to victory in Aintree’s Becher Chase.

In other jockey news, Paddy Brennan is set to be reunited with Cue Card in the Ascot Chase this weekend. Jocked off Colin Tizzard’s stable star following a heavy fall in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase, he was replaced by Harry Cobden for Haydock’s Betfair Chase last November.

However Cobden is committed to ride for the aforementioned Nicholls at Wincanton on Saturday.