The Cheltenham Festival is now just two-and-a-half weeks away, and all across the UK and Ireland trainers will be making the last minute preparations to have their charges spot on for a crack at the Prestbury Park bonanza.
Trainer Ben Pauling is a man who has the privilege of sending out the favourite in one of the 28 events in Gloucestershire next month in Barters Hill.
We caught up exclusively with Pauling for his thoughts on the Albert Bartlett jolly, which you can read here.
But it’s not all about the six-year-old hurdler in the Bourton-on-the-Water yard, with the up-and-coming handler set to send out five others for an assault on Cheltenham.
He gave Ladbrokes News the lowdown on their chances.
“I’d say he’s more likely to go for the Kim Muir, it all depends on who goes where.
“He’s a horse that is on a crest of a wave at the moment in that in his races he just doesn’t look like he is going to get beat at the moment as he’s on a bit of a roll.
“We all know that at some point that will come to an end, but I wouldn’t say he’s finished yet and if he can find a bit more from somewhere his running style would be very suited to Cheltenham in that in those big handicaps they’ve got to travel and jump [well] for the first circuit to have an opportunity to get into the race thereafter.
“Half the field will be strung out like the washing by the time they come round for the second circuit, and if he can be there in the first three, bowling along and jumping, he’ll keep going as he’s as hard as they come.
“He’s a horse that doesn’t want it soft, despite the fact he’s won on it. He’s a great, big, old fashioned chaser and will just bounce off the better ground.”
Local Show – National Hunt Chase (12/1)
“He’s a nice horse that has done everything I’ve asked of him so far. All he does is stay so the four-miler looks to be a very good option for him.
“He came to us on a mark of 125 and I knew he was held in high regard, but is now rated 147 so I suppose he’s already excelled what the owners were hoping for.
“He goes to there with a decent chance and it is exciting to see how he goes around Cheltenham.
“I think he will be a better horse on a sounder surface. He doesn’t necessarily want it quick, but he’s not a horse with a high knee action as such, so I don’t think he’s one that relishes the wet, he has simply handled it so far.”
A Hare Breath – County Hurdle (16/1)
“Unintentionally we’ve ended up with a very nice mark. Obviously he won first time out [at Cheltenham] which was great.
“The whole of the racing industry seemed to be backing him and I was delighted that he won for them, as well as being delighted for the owners and myself as that was my first win at Cheltenham.
“We went back there and nothing went right. He didn’t jump as well as he did previously, he got stopped coming down the hill and when Barry [Geraghty] got after him, he had already given his all.
“After that we took him to Kempton because I didn’t know if he was a two-and-a-half mile horse or a two mile horse. He ran in soft ground that day, but over two-miles-five he although he won as he liked, he got very tired.
“He told us that day that he is a two miler, but only went up three pounds in the handicap so could be off a very good mark.”
Cyrius Moriviere – County Hurdle (20/1)
“I’d put [his Tolworth Hurdle disappointment] down to the ground because he actually pulled up first time out at Stratford on soft ground where he stopped very quickly down the back straight to nothing.
“If he had been outclassed [that Sandown] he would have got tired in the last two furlongs, but once again, like at Stratford he just stopped dead three out.
“I just don’t think, even though he’s French-bred, that he handles the heavy ground at all.
“We switched him to a sounder surface up at Doncaster, and I don’t know what kind of race it was, but to win a Novice Hurdle under a penalty by 20 lengths on the bridle has got to be good in anyone’s book.
“He’s got a mark of 136, has the profile of an improving novice, he’s very tough, jumps well and deserves his place. Whether or not he will be troubling the judge is another matter.
“I think he’ll need 12 or 14lbs in hand to be winning a handicap at least. I couldn’t say he doesn’t but it would be more of a surprise if he won it than A Hare Breath.”
Raven’s Tower – Grand Annual (25/1)
“He had a great juvenile year, but he was all at sea last season. He pretty much led to last in the Greatwood Hurdle and then got swallowed up.
“He then ran in the Imperial Cup and actually started bleeding, so I started training him differently.
“He ran really well at Bangor, beaten by Long House Hall of the Skeltons, but after his race a Fontwell next time out he bled again.
“I didn’t expect him to win first time out [this season], as he wasn’t 100 per cent straight. Unfortunately he got a nasty cut that day and had to have six-to-eight weeks a box.
“Knowing that he’s best fresh, I’ve decided not to run him and have him spot on for the Grand Annual. He’s a hardy sort that doesn’t mind getting bumped about so he’s probably got the right sort of aggression and attitude for the race.
“It will be great to have him back there. He’s a bit of a star of our yard and flew the flag for us in our first season and I just hope he runs a good race.”
All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing.