IN-FORM trainer Phil Kirby and jockey Tommy Dowson will hope to complete a hat-trick of high-profile successes in the county when Little Bruce lines up in Thursday’s Watt Fences North Yorkshire Grand National.
Victorious with Top Ville Ben in Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick Chase on Boxing Day before the Dowson-inspired Lady Buttons won Doncaster’s Silver Vase Trophy 72 hours later, Catterick’s feature race of the year is just a short canter away from Kirby’s stables.
And Little Bruce, owned by The Gps Partnership, heads to Catterick in fine fettle after overcoming a 256-day lay-off to finish a pleasing third at Doncaster 10 days over ago.
The contest on Town Moor was run over hurdles while the Catterick race, over a marathon three miles six furlongs, is a real stamina tests that has been dominated by the Sue Smith stable.
Her yard has won the last four renewals courtesy of Lackamon, who provided the trainer and her huisband Harvey with their 1,000th training success, Straidnahanna, I Just Know and Sharp Response.
I Just Know was set to be their representative this year, but a minor setback ruled him out of the eight-runner contest which features four Yorkshire horses – the aforementioned Little Bruce, Sam England’s Manwell, Peter Niven’s Brian Boranha and the Jo Foster-trained Chase The Wind.
However Kirby is optimistic that Little Bruce’s recent exertions have not taken their toll.
“He ran really well over hurdles. Ideally this is coming a little bit sooner than I wanted to run him, but I feel this is a race he should be running in, as it looks a nice opportunity,” said the trainer.
“He came out of his race really well, he obviously handles the track and the ground should be fine – he stays all day, so there are plenty of positives.
“In an ideal world I’d give him an extra couple of weeks, but the race is there and he had a nice blow around Doncaster when he just needed it.
“He just came in a bit later than the others after a very small blip at the end of last season, it was nothing really.
“He’d had a long season last year, so was a bit later getting going.”
He added: “It was good ground when he ran in the race last year and you’d think that would be a one-off, but they are calling it good again, which is weird.
“He handles all ground anyway, he just wouldn’t want extremes.
“There is rain forecast as well. He looks to have a really good chance, it’s just if it comes too soon – he’s a hardly little thing, though.”
Meanwhile Kirby’s Top Ville Ben is the sole Yorkshire representative in the 31 horses entered for the blue riband Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 13.
He is considering the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster or Cheltenham’s Cotswold Chase – both races are due to be staged on January 25 – for the soft ground specialist.
The last three winners of the Gold Cup – Jessica Harrington’s Sizing John, Colin Tizzard’s Native River and the Willie Mullins-trained defending champion Al Boum Photo – all feature as expected.
Ruth Jefferson is hoping plenty of rain hits Ascot over the next week, ahead of Waiting Patiently’s intended outing in the Matchbook Clarence House Chase on January 18.
The Grade One-winning nine-year-old returned to action with a staying-on third in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown last month, beaten just a length by Defi Du Seuil and Un De Sceaux.
With Altior ruled out on Tuesday by Nicky Henderson, the Clarence House looks like being a repeat of the Tingle Creek – and Jefferson expects her stable star to have sharpened up mentally more than physically for his first run of the season.
“Ascot is the plan, as long as we get enough rain – he needs soft ground,” said the Malton trainer yesterday.
“I took him to Richard Fahey’s this morning, we often take a few there as it just gets them away from home – out in the wagon and things for a change of scene.
“The way I see it is when you get to that level they are all very good horses. Not many expected us to run as well as we did in the Tingle Creek and it took people by surprise.
“Suddenly we are now back in their minds, as we’d been written off a bit. We can’t do anything about the weather. We’ve given him a lot of entries and we’ll see where we end up.”