PHIL Kirby has no qualms about running stable star Lady Buttons at this weekend’s inaugural Dublin Racing Festival.
Unlike most top British trainers who are shunning the two-day meeting, he is enticed by the first prize of €44,250 in the Mares Handicap Hurdle named after the late Paddy Mullins, who trained the legendary Dawn Run to win both the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup.
After Lady Buttons finished a fine fourth at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting behind the highly-regarded Let’s Dance, ironically trained by Mullins’s son Willie, he believes a drop back in trip to two and a quarter miles will suit Lady Buttons, who was bred by her North Yorkshire owner Jayne Sivills and her husband Keith.
After all, Lady Buttons was seventh in the 2014 Bumper at Cheltenham to Modus, who coincidentally won a valuable handicap chase at the Cotswolds track last Saturday under an inspired Bryony Frost, before sustaining a leg injury that halted her career.
Yet the horse, the mount of regular rider Adam Nicol, has now amassed seven wins and was a gutsy second to the Warren Greatrex’s top prospect La Bague Au Roi at Wetherby on Charlie Hall Chase day last November.
Though Catterick-based Kirby, one of the North’s leading dual purpose trainers, believes the mare’s future is over fences, he says the horse heads to Leopardstown with “a realistic chance”.
Kirby and Lady Buttons will make the trip across the Irish Sea later today, with the trainer riding the horse at the grade One track tomorrow before Nicol’s arrival on Sunday.
“I keep making the mistake of running her over two and a half miles, but she doesn’t quite stay the trip,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“She travelled very well last time behind Let’s Dance and she looked like getting involved, but she didn’t quite get home. The shorter trip will help.”
He says the eight-year-old handled the sea crossing well and just wishes he had more horses to take to this festival, an amalgamation of three Grade One meetings at tracks near Dublin that will be a definitive trial for the Cheltenham Festival next month. “It’s a great idea. When you look at how much money is on offer this weekend, it is fantastic, I wish I had a lorry load to take,” he added.
“A similar race in England might only be worth 10 to 15 grand. It’s serious money for what it is and you don’t get many opportunities like this, especially because I don’t think she’s badly handicapped.”
Sue Smith’s Sky Bet Chase winner Wakanda could return to Doncaster for his next run.
She is contemplating a tilt at next month’s Grimthorpe Chase after Henry Brooke’s mount prevailed in a five-way finish on Town Moor last Saturday.
The Bingley trainer believes the Grimthorpe’s extended three-and-a-quarter mile trip could suit the ever popular Wakanda.
“He ran an absolute corker. He appreciated the better ground and Henry gave him a lovely ride,” said Smith.
“I wasn’t 100 per cent sure three out that he’d get there, but his jumping got a lot better the further he went and, speaking to Henry, he said he knew he’d have to wing the last, but when he did, he picked up really well. The longer trip in the Grimthorpe could suit.”
John Quinn’s Look My Way is bound for the Cheltenham Festival in March after finishing a fine second to Nicky Henderson’s top prospect Apple’s Shakira last weekend.
The Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle is the probable target for Quinn’s charge after his horse’s run at Cheltenham last Saturday.
Quinn said: “He ran a very good race and we’re very pleased with him. He isn’t the biggest horse in the world and I do think he might be a bit better on better ground.”
Top jockey Oisin Murphy’s weekly commute to Dubai paid off when Benbatl won first prize of nearly £90,000 in a Group Two race at Meydan yesterday.
Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, this horse provided Murphy, 22, with his first winner at Royal Ascot last summer in the Hampton Court Stakes.
Now rising rapidly through the middle distance ranks, Benbatl and Murphy’s success in this nine-furlong contest came a fortnight after winning a Group Three prize at Meydan.
The horse, who settled under Murphy’s soft hands, is likely to be targeted at the UK’s top middle distance races this year on this form.
The ambitious Murphy, a former champion apprentice, rides on the all-weather circuit in the UK on most days before flying to Dubai on a Wednesday night and returning after the next day’s racing. He is in action at Lingfield today.