david bass believes The Last Samuri is “a better horse this year” as the gallant Grand National runner-up makes his seasonal reappearance at Down Royal.
Connections opted for today’s Grade One JNWine.com Champion Chase, Northern Ireland’s big race of the year, over last week’s Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
Though next year’s National remains the ultimate target for the Kim Bailey-trained chaser, owned by Paul and Clare Rooney, today’s race against proven performers like Silviniaco Conti and Don Poli will determine whether The Last Samuri can compete against the top staying steeplechasers on level terms or will have to concede weight in handicaps.
After all, weights for last season’s National were set before the horse’s emphatic victory in Doncaster’s Grimthorpe Chase.
“I’m really hopeful of him running well,” Bass told The Yorkshire Post.
“It’s a different ball game stepping up from handicaps straight to Grade One races.
“He improved all the way through last season and he definitely feels a better horse this year.
“I couldn’t be happier with him at home. He’s relaxed and he’s a joy to work...he’s working nicely,” he said.
“We’re optimistic of him running very well but we have to be realistic in that we’re going up against Grade One horses.
“We want to go back to Aintree but Down Royal will tell us whether we can compete in the better chases off level weights or go down the handicap route,” he added.
Since the heartbreak of The Last Samuri being collared on the National run-in by Rule The World, it’s been a stop-start period for Bass, not helped by the occasional ban for riding misdemeanours and then an unseasonably dry autumn which has curtailed opportunities for all those National Hunt horses who relish softer ground.
However, Charbel was an exciting winner of the Kalahari King Beginners Chase at Uttoxeter last Friday when beating two highly-touted equine rivals – the Grade One Henry VIII Novices Chase at Sandown next month is next on the agenda.
“There’s a fair bit of improvement still to come,” said the jockey.
Meanwhile, last season’s novice hurdler Barters Hill, who provided Bass and trainer Ben Pauling with their first Group One success respectively when landing Newbury’s Challow Hurdle, could make his steeplechase debut at Bangor on Wednesday.
“He’s ready to run, we’re just waiting for the right ground,” said Bass before Markov’s win at Fontwell yesterday.
“I’ve had a bit of a frustrating time, but when you think of these three, I’m lucky to be riding for good trainers who have good horses.”