TOM SCUDAMORE hopes Ballynagour can bounce back to form in today’s Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury.
Victorious at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, Ballynagour came within a whisker of beating Silviniaco Conti in Aintree’s Grade One Betfred Bowl Chase last April.
However, the horse’s three runs this season have all been slightly disappointing. Third in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase, the David Pipe-trained horse was a remote 110 lengths adrift of Cue Card in Haydock’s Betfair Chase before being pulled up in Kempton’s King George Chase on Boxing Day.
With Ballynagour perhaps lacking the tactical speed required to win these top-class chases, it is noteworthy that he has been handed an entry for the Crabbie’s Grand National.
“On ratings and the way the weights have panned out, he’s top-rated,” said Scudamore.
“He’s got to bounce back from the King George, but he’s got some top quality Grade One form and he’s a high quality horse on his day.
“He’s had his issues in the past and hasn’t been the easiest horse for David to train and because of that he wouldn’t be the most consistent of horses. But on his day he’s a very good horse and when he’s right he’s very straightforward. He’s run some great races and given me some great days.”
Ballynagour’s rivals include Scudamore’s old friend The Giant Bolster – the jockey was placed in three successive Cheltenham Gold Cups on David Bridgwater’s stable star – and Rocky Creek, another National contender, from the yard of champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
Josses Hill went some way to getting his career back on track with a good performance at Kempton yesterday which confirmed the horse’s probable participation in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old has been something of a mixed bag over fences to date, despite finishing third in the Arkle last year.
On his only other outing this season, Josses Hill took a crashing fall in the Tingle Creek Chase and he had undergone extensive schooling at home.
Jumping big and safe in the early stages, Nico de Boinville set out to make every yard of the running and had enough form and fitness to deny God’s Own who appeared to blow up on his first outing for over 100 days and who and trying to concede 7lb to the winner.
Henderson said: “That was the perfect race for him and it was good to get that confidence into him. That was the best he’s ever jumped. He is talented but his mark is ferocious for being third in the Arkle.”
Leeds-based bookmaker William Hill was sufficiently impressed to cut the horse’s Ryanair odds from 50-1 to 20-1.
Spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke said: “Josses Hill is still an outsider for Cheltenham but he’s creeping into contention, with the Ryanair looking very open if Vautour goes for the Gold Cup instead.”
Oisin Murphy is expected to be out of the saddle for three to four weeks with a broken collar bone.
Murphy, who won last year’s Ebor on Litigant, took a fall at Southwell on Wednesday when the fatally-injured Vivacissimo slipped up on the bend.
Harry Bentley will link up with Roger Varian for the new Flat season.
Bentley, who also has a retainer for owner Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Thani, will be sharing the mounts at Varian’s with Andrea Atzeni.
“Last season was my best to date with 56 winners and I am keen to build on that in terms of quantity and quality,” said the jockey.