MICKY Hammond is confident that age is not catching up with Just Cameron as his stable star returns to action at Wetherby.
The ever-popular horse put in a superb round of jumping to win the prestigious Castleford Chase at the West Yorkshire track on December 27.
And there is no reason, says Hammond, why the horse cannot defy top weight to win today’s five-runner Totescoop Handicap Chase after winning the corresponding two-mile contest 12 months ago.
The only difference between last year’s course victories, and today’s test, is that Paul and Carol Chapman’s horse turned 11 on New Year’s Day.
However, he will once again be ridden by Sheffield-born Joe Colliver who remains in the form of his life after a landmark Grade One win on Jedd and Andrea O’Keeffe’s Sam Spinner at Ascot just before Christmas.
“He has come out of the Castleford very well,” Middleham-based Hammond told The Yorkshire Post. “We are very pleased with him and are expecting a big run.
He’s a strong horse and he’s top weight for a reason – he’s the best horse in the race. Wetherby suits him and Joe gets on very well with him.Micky Hammond
“He’s a strong horse and he’s top weight for a reason – he’s the best horse in the race.
“Wetherby suits him and Joe gets on very well with him. He was on board for the horse’s first three novice chase wins and perhaps their best performance was when second to Un De Sceaux at the Punchestown Festival in 2015.”
Though connections were of the view that Just Cameron might need stepping up in trip because he does not necessarily have the speed of his old, soft ground wins Wetherby – and the fact that the four fences in the home straight are still a stern test of jumping – mean they’re sticking to the minimum trip for now.
A far from disgraced loss to the scintillating Sprinter Sacre in the 2016 Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, a return to the National Hunt Festival is not being ruled out.
Hammond says he will consider an entry for the Grand Annual Chase, the Festival’s finale, if today’s performance by Just Cameron gives him sufficient confidence that the horse can be more than competitive at Cheltenham.
Meanwhile, champion jockey Richard Johnson heads to Wetherby for six rides as he bids to win a third successive title.
He has faced a spell on the sidelines after being concussed by a fall suffered at the same track on Boxing Day.
Though he leads this year’s championship, he does not have an unassailable lead over his nearest pursuer Harry Skelton, hence why he is looking to accumulate winners rather than seek big race success at either Kempton or Warwick.
Warren Greatrex is looking to Missed Approach to book his Grand National ticket with a bold showing in the Betfred Classic Chase at Warwick.
Last year’s contest was landed by One For Arthur who then triumphed at Aintree.
Though Greatrex and jockey Gavin Sheehan were disappointed by Missed Approach’s third- place finish in Wetherby’s Grade Two Towton Novices Chase last February, the horse was a creditable sixth in Newbury’s Ladbrokes Trophy.
Nevertheless top weight in this three-mile-five-furlong affair is a big ask.
Greatrex said: “He seems in good form and this seems a good race to go for. Top weight is not ideal, but he is the best horse in the race. The trip won’t hurt him and he won’t mind the ground. The track, with so many fences, should help him as he is a good jumper.
“This is the right race to go for as we would like to get him up a couple of pounds to make sure he gets into the Grand National.”