PHIL KIRBY believes that Top Ville Ben has a favourite’s chance in the 888Sport Rowland Meyrick Chase – the traditional Boxing Day highlight at Wetherby.
The Catterick trainer is also hopeful that there is further improvement to come after the horse’s agonising defeat in Newcastle’s Rehearsal Chase at the end of last month.
Ridden by Tommy Dowson, the horse appeared at the final fence to have the race at his mercy before being collared by Scottish Grand National winner Takingrisks, and Captain Chaos, in a three-way finish.
“He goes there with a favourite’s chance,” Kirby told The Yorkshire Post as he oversaw the horse’s final preparations for the three-mile and one-furlong Rowland Meyrick race, which honours of the memory of a former clerk of the course at Wetherby.
“He ran well last time (at Newcastle) but he probably needed the run in hindsight. Maybe we left him a bit short in terms of preparation, but his last run was a good run and, hopefully, he will step up again. If he does, he will be there or thereabouts. He has nearly top weight for a reason – he’s a good horse.”
Top weight on 11st 12lb is Nick Alexander’s 2018 winner Lake View Lad, who will be bidding to give North Yorkshire jockey Henry Brooke a fourth successive win in this Boxing Day highlight.
Yet, while the Trevor Hemmings-owned grey appears handicapped to the hilt following his wins in last year’s Rehearsal and Rowland Meyrick Chase, Kirby is hopeful there is more to come from Top Ville Ben, who runs in the colours of the Harbour Rose Partnership and has a pound less on 11st 11lb.
Only seven, Top Ville Ben was a wide-margin winner of two races at Wetherby last season before finishing third to Lostintranslation in a Grade One novice chase at Aintree’s Grand National meeting – the winner is favourite for the King George VI Chase at Kempton.
With Dowson, one of the Kirby team’s stable jockeys, taking over from Sean Quinlan in the saddle in the season, the trainer hopes Top Ville Ben’s improved jumping will pay off in a typically competitive race.
Rivals include the Nicky Richards-trained Guitar Pete, already a winner at Wetherby this season, as well as the Sue Smith runners veteran Wakanda, runner-up in both the 2016 and 2017 renewals of the Rowland Meyrick, and I Just Know, who is still on the comeback trail following a long-term injury.
Kirby also confirmed that next year’s Grand National will come under consideration for Top Ville Ben if he runs well on Boxing Day. “It is in the thought process,” he said. “I just want his jumping to be solid and consistent. It is looking like that it is going that way and it is good that Tommy has had a ride on him. The horse was just a bit novicey last year. He seems to have grown up and is more settled.”
Kirby’s stable star, Lady Buttons, is an intended runner in Sunday’s Mares’ Chase at Doncaster. A competitive field has attracted the Warren Greatrex-trained Grade One-winning mare La Bague Au Roi.