Patience is key for trainer Jefferson at Ascot

RUTH JEFFERSON understands the meaning of the word patience more than most – it was a characteristic associated with her late father Malcolm, who died just over a year ago.

Brian Hughes and Waiting Patiently pictured winning last year's Ascot Chase.

She has had to apply it in abundance this season with her stable star, the aptly-named Waiting Patiently, who is due to attempt to defend the Grade One Betfair Ascot Chase today.

This, believe it or not, will be the horse’s second run since a dramatic win – on a tide of emotion – over the now retired Cue Card in the corresponding contest 12 months ago just a day after the funeral of the trainer’s much missed and much respected father.

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A slight injury setback ruled out Cheltenham and Aintree before a long-awaited comeback in Kempton’s King George VI Chase on Boxing Day when Waiting Patiently, still travelling well under Brian Hughes, was effectively brought down by Bristol De Mai with a circuit to go.

Trainer Ruth Jefferson.

Since then plans by Malton-based Jefferson to find suitable races have either been scuppered by the ground – the going was unsuitably quick at the recent Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown – or the equine flu outbreak that led to the cancellation of Newbury’s high-profile meeting last Saturday.

Even now Jefferson intends to walk the course at Ascot to satisfy herself that conditions are right for the Richard Collins-owned eight-year-old, who had won six successive steeplechase races before the King George mishap. Drying ground at the Berkshire track is another worry for connections.

But, as she knows all too well, trainers do have to be accepting – and understanding – of such matters ahead of a high-class two-and-a-half mile race that is due to see Waiting Patiently line up against the Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue and Cyrname, Kim Bailey’s Charbel, Aso from Venetia Williams’s yard and Colin Tizzard’s dual Grade One winner Fox Norton.

“He seems fine and he schooled well last week. He worked well and seems happy,” Jefferson told The Yorkshire Post. “It’s easy to see why he has been made favourite.

“Bar Politologue, he has the strongest form in the book – and he has also beaten Politologue before. There are no easy Grade Ones. The intention is to run. I wouldn’t run if I didn’t think it was safe. He is a horse with a high knee action – as long there is soft, he will run. If we didn’t think it was right for him then he wouldn’t.”

The one consolation for Jefferson is that Waiting Patiently maintains a high level of fitness. “He’s not a stuffy horse who you have to keep working,” she said by way of explanation.

It was also a relief that the gelding emerged unscathed from the King George mishap. On the afternoon of a dramatic race ultimately won by rising star Clan Des Obeaux, who completes his Cheltenham Gold Cup preparation in the Denman Chase at Ascot today, Jefferson’s first concerns on the day were for her horse and rider, whose understandable frustration was plain to see.

“About three days later you take stock and think, ‘how did that happen’?” she explained. “You’re happy the horse and jockey are alright and then it hits you. It was strange.

“He liked the track, he was jumping well. You don’t know if he had won – there was still a circuit to go – but it was his first time over three miles, we would have found out if he stayed or not, and then been able to make a plan for the rest of the year. And then a horse falls in front of him.”

The consequence is an entry in the two-mile five-furlong Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival rather than a Gold Cup entry against the likes of Clan Des Obeaux, Thistlecrack and Native River – the first three home in the King George.

And that entry is a speculative one.

“He’s still in it,” added Jefferson. “It depends how he gets on at Ascot and how he comes out of it.

“I’m not ruling it out, but I’m not going to hold my hands up and say we’re definitely turning up. If you watch him on undulating tracks, he doesn’t jump as well.”

Catterick trainer Phil Kirby’s Top Ville Ben lines up in the Reynoldstown Novices Chase at Ascot today. Unbeaten from two starts over fences, Sean Quinlan’s mount holds an entry in the RSA Chase, the three-mile championship race for novice chasers, at Cheltenham.