THE road to Aintree begins at Doncaster today for trainer Keith Reveley’s steeplechaser Night In Milan, as he looks to confirm his Crabbies Grand National credentials.
The headline act in the Bet365.Com Handicap Chase, this is a horse who always saves his best for Town Moor – he won the corresponding renewal 12 months ago when he galloped clear of Sue Smith’s well-regarded De Boitron and the frontrunner franked the form by landing the William Hill Grimthorpe Chase in March.
Yet, while the eight-year-old only faces four rivals provided the Doncaster track passes an 8am inspection because of the threat of overnight frost, Night In Milan does have to carry top weight and saves his most exuberant jumps for those races where he enjoys an unchallenged lead.
“He likes the track and won the race last year,” Saltburn-based Reveley told The Yorkshire Post.
“However, he is running off a massive career-high mark and he will have to race at his best.
“Hopefully, we can be competitive. He has been running over hurdles without setting the world alight.
“He is more of a chaser and he really attacks those fences at Doncaster – his only poor performance there was when he was taken on for the lead in the Great Yorkshire Chase.”
Night In Milan was previously trained by Malcolm Jefferson before being switched by owner Richard Collins to Reveley’s yard in 2010.
However, Reveley and his son James, who will be in the saddle today, believe the horse could become their second Grand National contender after Rambling Minster five years ago.
“He’s from a grand, late maturing family and has just kept improving,” said the trainer.
“Hopefully he’ll run in the three big races at Doncaster, starting today, and then Aintree. I’m not sure if he will be suited by the National – he likes a bit of space and it is a hustle and bustle race. Apart from Crisp in 1973, you don’t get horses making all the running for four-and-a-half miles, but the owner is keen and you don’t know until you give it a go.”
Victory today would also be a boost to Reveley, who is having a quiet season by his standards. He has just 20 horses in training and several are on the sidelines.
It is one reason why he has chosen to lease 30 self-contained boxes to Phil Kirby, who has announced his intention to leave his stables at Kate Walton’s Middleham yard in the New Year and return to his own racing roots.
“When Phil asked if he could come back, the answer was ‘yes’,” explained Reveley, who echoed the sentiments which were made by Skipton-born William Haggas at this week’s Gimcrack dinner about the state of National Hunt racing in the North.
“It makes it a bit more viable and gives me the chance to bring on our yearlings without being under too much pressure. Horses are being retired and not being replaced. Everyone is finding it tough at the moment. The big southern money people are keeping a lot of the decent animals. They want the horses trained in the South and that’s it.
“We’ve just got to keep tipping away with our own horses. The last thing you should do with a jump horse is race them before they are ready. With the Flat, you can buy a batch of yearlings and you have good ones or bad ones. It takes much longer with National Hunt horses.”
One plus is the form of the trainer’s son James who will be in the saddle today. He recorded a treble at Hexham on Wednesday and is riding with confidence after another successful stint in France which yielded 40 winners and saw him accrue nearly one million euros in prize money.
He continues to prosper from his alliance with top French trainer Guillaume Macaire.
“Even though he’s not number one jockey, he comes in for a hell of a lot of good rides,” added Reveley senior. “Here, his forte is getting the young horses jumping at the little stables – his agent Bruce Jeffrey has very good contacts in the Scottish Borders. It does work really well.”
Danny Cook faces a spell on the injury sidelines after breaking his arm at Newcastle on Thursday. It was the jockey’s second heavy fall of the week and comes after he had started to forge a fruitful alliance with Sue and Harvey Smith’s Bingley yard.