IT still slightly irks trainer Warren Greatrex and jockey Gavin Sheehan that their star horse Cole Harden did not receive sufficient credit for his post-to-post win in last season’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
However they have a chance to set the record straight when this fabulous front-runner, who came to prominence when winning Wetherby’s West Yorkshire Hurdle 12 months ago, makes his eagerly-anticipated seasonal reappearance in the bet365 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
Their respective reactions to Cole Harden’s Cheltenham triumph showed what the horse means to both men who were recording their first triumphs at the National Hunt Festival – Greatrex could not hold back the years while Sheehan was pinching himself in disbelief.
They were still smiling a month later when the horse was narrowly beaten at Aintree by the Nicky Henderson-trained, and Nico de Boinville-ridden, Whisper who reopposes in today’s fascinating five-runner race.
However Greatrex is hopeful on two fronts – Cole Harden has had a wind operation to improve his breathing and his stable is coming to form after Sheen partnered Missed Approach to victory at Newbury yesterday.
“A few of our horses are hitting the crossbar, but that always happens and they seem really healthy,” he said. “I’m glad they are in good form going into this weekend.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked since he came back. We had to give him another wind operation but it’s done him the world of good. He’s been for two racecourse gallops and is as fit as I can get him. He is still quite big, but he does tend to be like that.
“I’d like to see it on the track, but, for me, his home-work is as good as ever, if not better. It’s not going to be ideal conditions, but they are expecting a bit of rain which will make it loose, which will help. He just doesn’t like tacky ground – if they are slopping through it he will be okay.”
As well as Whisper, there is another fascinating contender in the form of Thistlecrack who hails from the yard of Colin Tizzard of Cue Card fame. The seven-year-old sprang a surprise at the Grand National meeting when winning the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle but he proved that was no fluke when touched off by Killultagh Vic at the Punchestown Festival.
Ebor runner-up Wicklow Brave steps up to the plate for the 12th time this year in the StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
Willie Mullins’s versatile performer has turned up at several of the big festivals in 2015, including Cheltenham, Royal Ascot, Galway and York.
Wicklow Brave will be kept on the go for at least this race after being supplemented at Monday’s confirmation stage following his fine third behind stablemates Nichols Canyon and Faugheen in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown two weeks ago.
He is a first ride at Newcastle for the mercurial Ruby Walsh while Bryan Cooper, the rising star of Irish racing, partners Identity Thief in the same race.