Sue Smith is looking forward to stable star Midnight Shadow stepping up to Grade One company today.
The strapping horse represents the North in the prestigious Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown.
Past winners include Best Mate, a subsequent triple Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, and current Queen Mother Champion Chase favourite Defi Du Seuil 12 months ago.
And a strong showing will leave the strapping seven-year-old, owned by Aafke and Cyril Clarke, on track for next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
A past winner of the Scottish Champion Hurdle, Smith has bided her time this season with the novice chaser.
Midnight Shadow was a final fence faller on his chase debut at Carlisle when appearing to hold a winning position – this at a time earlier in the season when the much respected West Yorkshire stable was out of form and enjoying no luck whatsoever.
He was then second at Haydock, after being caught on the long-run-in, before taking advantage of the highly-regarded Champ’s penultimate fence fall at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day to land the Dipper Novices’ Chase.
However the High Eldwick trainer, and stable jockey Danny Cook both want Midnight Shadow to get Grade One experience before returning to Cheltenham next month for the National Hunt Festival.
“He seems to be in excellent form going down there,” Smith told The Yorkshire Post. “He’s doing everything right and schooled very well this week. It will be a good test for him.”
Smith and her husband Harvey, the redoubtable showjumping legend, always like their novice steeplechasers to progress through the ranks wherever possible.
“You have to give them a little bit of time to get used to the new discipline,” she said. “All being well, he’s a pretty good jumper and we’re hopeful of a good run.”
Yet, while some will contend that Midnight Shadow would have been well-beaten by Champ at Cheltenham on his last outing, Smith knows that her horse will step up to three miles in time – the Scilly Isles race is over two and a half miles.
“Smashing,” said Smith when asked to describe the win. “Very satisfying because the other horse (Champ) tried to run the finish out of us and it didn’t pay off. He ran and jumped great on tiring ground. Conditions will be similar at Sandown. With a bit of luck he will run a big race.”
Smith is hopeful of a good run from Joke Dancer in one of Sandown’s supporting races. Running in the same colours as Midnight Shadow, she added: “He’s done nothing wrong this season.”
Oliver Sherwood is hoping the handicapper’s assessment proves correct when Dominateur steps up to Grade Two class in the three mile William Hill Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby.
The seven-year-old, the mount of Leighton Aspell, is the highest-rated horse in the six-runner field after winning his last two starts over fences at Chepstow.
“It’s the obvious target to go for, off his rating,” said Sherwood.
“Like all trainers, we think the handicapper has been a bit heavy-handed. Time will tell if he is right or wrong.
“He gets the trip well, and I was quite impressed with him last time out.”
Meanwhile Kim Bailey reports Newtide, the mount of David Bass, to be ready to return to action for the first time since winning a three-runner novice chase at Ffos Las on his fencing debut in November.
“He’s stepping up in grade, and I’m happy with him,” said Bailey. “It’s a long time since he ran, but I’m pleased with him. It’s a very open race, and I think Oliver Sherwood’s horse is the right favourite.”
Dan Skelton’s Ardlethen has good course-and-distance form – having finished second to the now injury-sidelined Sam Spinner earlier in the season.