PHIL KIRBY will bid to add to his big-race tally – and burgeoning reputation – with novice chaser Top Ville Ben on Saturday.
The seven-year-old is the sole Yorkshire-trained representative in Wetherby’s Grade Two Towton Novices’ Chase.
Held in high regard by the in-form Kirby, Top Ville Ben made a winning steeplechase debut at Hexham last November.
But the horse, owned by the Harbour Rose Partnership, confirmed his class with a dominant 46-length win at Wetherby on December 27.
Kirby, who is based near Catterick, immediately nominated the Towton for the horse who has also been given an entry in the Grade One RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Kirby immediately nominated the Towton for the horse who has also been given an entry in the Grade One RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.Tom Richmond
After all, it is only three years since the diminutive Blaklion – trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and ridden by Ryan Hatch – pulled off the Towton and RSA double.
Yet, while 15 horses have been entered in the Towton, weather and ground conditions will determine the final field. Though the going is currently good, officials cannot water the track because several overnight frosts are forecast followed by the possibility of snow later in the week.
This might deter the Kim Bailey-trained Vinndication who remains unbeaten after six starts under National Hunt rules. He made a winning chase debut at Carlisle under David Bass before winning the Grade Two Noel Novices Chase at Ascot. However, the horse’s preference is for softer ground.
What is not in doubt, however, is the form of the aforementioned Kirby stable which has already recorded 32 successes in the 2018-19 National Hunt season – four more than its previous best in 2013-14.
It has already won more than £330,000 in prize money, eclipsing last season’s tally of £204,000, thanks, in part, to the four high-profile successes recorded by stable star Lady Buttons.
Harvey Smith, meanwhile, says Midnight Shadow will head to the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival despite being well-beaten in the Cleeve Hurdle at the Cotswold track last Saturday.
A bad mistake at the last did not help but the former showjumper, who trains the horse with his wife Sue at High Eldwick, told The Yorkshire Post: “He’s fine. He’s going there (Cheltenham) all being well.”
BUVEUR D’Air is firmly on course to bid for a third successive victory in the 888Sport Contenders Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday. The eight-year-old has used this Listed contest as a stepping-stone to claiming Champion Hurdle glory at Cheltenham in each of the last two seasons and Henderson is hoping history repeats itself.
Buveur D’Air will in March aim to become the sixth horse to claim the two-mile hurdling crown three times – and the first since another JP McManus-owned Istabraq.
King George Chase hero Clan Des Obeaux, co-owned by football legend Sir Alex Ferguson and the mount of young Harry Cobden, will complete his Cheltenham Gold Cup preparations by lining up in Newbury’s Denman Chase on Saturday week, says trainer Paul Nicholls.