Malcolm Jefferson reports Cape Tribulation to be in fine shape as he attempts to defy top weight in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury this afternoon.
The versatile nine-year-old beat Imperial Commander in the Argento Chase last season and then ran an honourable fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He is paying for those efforts by way of a mark of 160 now, though, and was never a factor on his return to action in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, eventually pulling up.
“He schooled on Tuesday and schooled well, he looks very well and is working exceptionally well,” said Norton trainer Jefferson.
“He carried a big weight when he won at Liverpool (Grand National meeting of 2012) and he’s run well off top weight in other races.
“He’s a classy horse, he just lacks a few pounds that makes him top-class. When you get horses like that they are hard to place.
“We could have either run in the Betfair last week, which was a mini Gold Cup, or run here.
“He’s been fifth in a Gold Cup and a lot of the others still have it all to prove. It will be tough off top weight but there’s nothing around 10st that looks thrown in.”
Imperial Commander will try to bow out in a blaze of glory in the Hennessy.
The Our Friends In the North syndicate who own the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero have decided the 12-year-old will sign off, whatever the result.
They believe the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained gelding is ready to run a big race as he bids to become the oldest horse to win the prestigious handicap.
“The syndicate as a whole are keen to retire the horse after the race. We see this as his last race. We are keen to retire him as we don’t want to see him racing as a 13-year-old,” said syndicate member Hugh Doubtfire.
“He’s done everything we could possibly have hoped for. He’s run in the Gold Cup, the Grand National, the Paddy Power, the Ryanair – what an amazing horse he is.
“From the owners’ point of view we realise we could keep going, but the plan is to run him in the Hennessy and say goodbye to him in terms of his racing career.
“We’ve been so thrilled and are so proud. We want him to get a good send-off on the track. We want him to go out the way he deserves.
“He’s been working well with other horses at home and seems incredibly fit and well, and Nigel says he couldn’t have him in a better place in terms of where we are now coming into the race.
“Obviously he’s 12 years old and, at the end of the day, he may not have the speed he had. Given that situation, one still hopes that his record fresh means he should run a big race.”
Dougie Costello has come in for the plum spare ride on Lord Windermere due to an injury to Robbie McNamara.
The leading Irish amateur broke his collarbone schooling for Dermot Weld yesterday morning and trainer Jim Culloty has snapped up Costello to partner last season’s RSA Chase winner.
“I’m thrilled. He’s got a serious chance and I’m over the moon to be asked,” said Costello.
“I’ve seen him plenty and I’ll watch a few more replays of his runs again and I’ll speak to Jim and Robbie.
“It’s a shame on Robbie’s part. It was such a good ride and just one of those things. It’s a great spare for me to pick up.”
Culloty said: “Dougie’s a good rider. It’s not ideal having to change at the last minute but these things happen.
“Lord Windermere is in great form.”
Nicky Henderson has a couple of Hennessy wins to his credit with Trabolgan and Bobs Worth and has two bites at the cherry with Triolo d’Alene and Hadrian’s Approach.
Triolo d’Alene won the Topham over the fearsome Grand National fences in the Spring and was third on his Ascot comeback, while RSA third Hadrian’s Approach was pipped on his Kempton comeback over an inadequate distance.
“Both are in good form. We were deciding with Triolo d’Alene whether to go up to Aintree and the Becher, or go for the Hennessy. He had a nice start at Ascot and will come on for it,” said the Seven Barrows trainer.
“Hadrian’s Approach was only running over two and a half at Kempton and he will improve for the step up.”