PHIL KIRBY is hopeful Lady Buttons can round off a sensational season in style on the opening day of Aintree’s Grand National meeting.
The filly heads an 18-strong field for the Close Brothers Red Rum Chase which honours the legendary three-time National winner.
Her Yorkshire rivals include Brian Ellison’s Forest Bihan, Sue Smith’s Cracking Find – who won Wetherby’s Castleford Chase on December 27 – and Demi Sang for Ben Haslam.
Yet Lady Buttons heads to Merseyside on the back of four wins this season – and then a creditable fourth-place finish in a Grade One Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last month.
However, the nine-year-old, owned and bred by North Yorkshire pub owners Jayne and Keith Sivills, had a successful schooling session on Tuesday under jockey Tommy Dowson who will continue to deputise for the injury-sidelined Adam Nicol.
Though it will be the first time Dowson has ridden the horse over fences, Catterick-based Kirby said Lady Buttons deserves to take her place at Aintree where she will face battle-hardened two-mile horses from many of the country’s top yards.
“Everything is grand – we are looking forward to it,” Kirby told The Yorkshire Post.
“It is a massive ask with such a big field but she deserves to go – we will see how she gets on.
“Everyone thinks she wants fences and two miles to be seen at her very best – that is what she has got.
“We schooled her on Tuesday under Tommy and jumped really well. There was no reason to change everything.”
Kirby was initially disappointed that Lady Buttons could not maintain her winning run at Cheltenham after four high-profile victories captured the imagination of the racing public.
Yet, as he reflected, any occasion when a horse is placed in a Grade One race at such a prestigious meeting is a “cause for celebration” and Lady Buttons is likely to have a long lay-off after today’s test.
“She’s been brilliant and she owes us nothing,” he added. “Let’s get her back in one piece and then look forward to next season.”
Meanwhile, Paul Nicholls admits only time will tell how much the Cheltenham Gold Cup has taken out of Clan Des Obeaux as he bids to get back on the winning trail in the Betway Bowl – today’s Grade One highlight.
After following up his King George triumph with a dominant display in the rescheduled Denman Chase at Ascot, the seven-year-old was strongly fancied to provide his trainer with a joint-record fifth Gold Cup success at last month’s Festival. However, after travelling well for much of the three-and-a-quarter-mile journey, Clan Des Obeaux, co-owned by football legend Sir Alex Ferguson, weakened on the run-in and finished fifth. Nicholls hopes his charge can bounce back on Merseyside for the North’s own Gold Cup – provided his Cheltenham exertions have not left a mark on Harry Cobden’s mount.
“You have to say, looking at Cheltenham, that he didn’t really stay the last little bit from the back of the last – but he still ran a really good race,” said Nicholls, who had the honour of parading Clan Des Obeaux in front of the Queen a week ago when she visited his Somerset stables.
“He has made huge improvements this season in the way he has come on. Being back on a flat track will suit him.
“He was fresh and well on Saturday morning, and there was no debate about running him, but you don’t know how they have taken it until you run them.”
The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai ran his best race at Cheltenham to date in the Gold Cup three weeks ago – finishing two places ahead of Clan Des Obeaux in third.