TRAINER Karl Burke has confirmed that his mare Intense Tango will bypass the Cheltenham Festival ahead of a crack at Grade One glory at Aintree.
The four-year-old is to be targeted at the Premier Novice Hurdle at Kelso on February 28 following her imposing Grade Two victory at Doncaster last month under a confident Brian Hughes – the North’s leading jump jockey this season.
If she emerges from the Kelso assignment, another Grade Two contest, in fine fettle, Intense Tango will head to Merseyside for the Matalan Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle on April 9 on the first day of the Crabbie’s Grand National meeting.
“We haven’t made any entries for Cheltenham. She ran very well first time out in the Listed race at Aintree and she seems to handle flat, left-handed tracks so we thought that was the prudent thing to do,” said Leyburn-based Burke who is more readily associated with Flat horses like 2013 Dante winner Libertarian.
“She jumped brilliantly at Doncaster and she travels very well. We think she’ll be a bit better on better ground than she got at Doncaster. The handicapper was certainly impressed. He put her in at 140 and I had a look back to see what Annie Power was rated after three runs over hurdles. She was 145, so we hope that’s the type of horse we are going to grow into.”
Nicky Henderson’s top novice Josses Hill puts his Cheltenham credentials on the line at Kempton today.
The novice chaser, a previous course winner at Doncaster, had been due to return to Town Moor yesterday before the cold weather intervened.
However, jockey Barry Geragthy is bullish.
“He’s done a good bit of schooling since Doncaster and I believe Nicky’s very happy with him,” he said.
Josses Hill’s probable Cheltenham target is the two-mile Arkle Trophy headed by the Willie Mullins-trained odds-on favourite Un De Sceaux.
Yet the presence of this potential new steeplechasing superstar will not deter Gordon Elliott from saddling Clarcam. Well beaten by Un De Sceaux at Leopardstown last month, he said: “If your man stands up he looks unbeatable, but you can’t be afraid of one horse.”
Jonjo O’Neill’s string showed signs of a definite return to form after the handler saddled a treble at Huntingdon.
It will have been a dismal Christmas at Jackdaws Castle as O’Neill went through the whole month of December without a winner.
He also confirmed that Taquin Du Seuil, rather than Holywell, will represent the stable in tomorrow’s Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury, one of the last significant trials for next month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
James Bethell hopes his prolific winner Rich Again can scoop the prize for the most successful horse on the all-weather this season.
The six-year-old has won on his last four races at Wolverhampton and is set to return to the West Midlands track on March 7.
“He has always been a talented horse but has had quite a lot of niggling problems,” said Bethell. “This year, he has stayed very sound and obviously loves that new Tapeta surface at Wolverhampton.”