SMART Flat performer Area Fifty One makes his jumps debut at Doncaster today, a test that will determine his Cheltenham Festival credentials.
The six-year-old was rated 103 on the Flat when trained by Malton’s Richard Fahey before being switched to the yard of jumper trainer Nicky Henderson by owners Middleham Park Racing, who are based at Barton-upon-Humber.
Despite Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey Barry Geraghty flying into South Yorkshire for the ride, today’s Sky Vegas App Novices’ Hurdle is no formality – John Ferguson’s Dubai Prince, a Group Three winner on the Flat, on a retrieval mission after a lacklustre run at Kempton on Boxing Day.
“He was recommended to us by Richard Fahey as we were looking for a high-class jumper,” said Middleham Park’s Tim Palin.
“He’s in good shape and the plan is to run at all the big festivals and on the Flat as well.
“Nicky proved last year he can ready one for Royal Ascot with Forgotten Voice, winner of the Wolferton Handicap winner. If he really takes to it he could be top class.
“But I’m not sure what trip he’d want, whether he’d be a Supreme or Neptune type. If he’s not good enough for one of those we’ll re-route for a handicap.
“Nicky has been very impressed with him but this is a warm race with Dubai Prince, who was rated higher than us on the Flat, Paul Nicholls’s horse Varom declared and John Quinn’s Pearl Castle getting all the weight. I suppose the question is can you teach an old dog new tricks?”
Unioniste will attempt to carry top weight to victory in tomorrow’s Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.
Last seen running behind Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth – and the aforementioned Geraghty – in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, the Nicholls-trained grey will have Harry Derham on board taking 5lb off.
Derham rode Unioniste to victory in the December Gold Cup last season.
Henderson is represented by Roberto Goldback, who will be ridden by Sprinter Sacre’s work rider Nico de Boinville.
The Grand National winner Auroras Encore continues on his comeback as Sue Smith targets him once more at Aintree.
Saltburn trainer Keith Reveley’s Night In Milan won over the same course and distance in mid-December and is back off an 8lb higher mark.
Despite Doncaster changing tomorrow’s running order so Ruby Walsh could ride Annie Power on Town Moor, and then fly to Cheltenham to ride Boston Bob, the top jockey has opted just to ride at Yorkshire.
It is another vote of confidence in the Willie Mullins-trained Annie Power, who holds provisional entries in both the Stan James Champion Hurdle and Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
Today’s meeting at Huntingdon must pass an early morning inspection because of the threat of waterlogging.
Heavy rain has already led to the abandonment of tomorrow’s meeting at Uttoxeter and Sunday’s card at Plumpton.
An extra all-weather card will now be staged at Wolverhampton on Sunday.