Activial will not be going to Cheltenham for the Triumph Hurdle on Friday. We are thinking of the bigger picture for him and are happy to sidestep the Festival and wait instead for the Grade 1 four year old hurdle at Aintree.
I hinted after his recent victory at Kempton that we were thinking of missing the Triumph and the drying ground at Cheltenham has helped make up our minds.
Although Activial looked very professional at Kempton he has run only three times in his life and is very much a horse for the future. So we did not want to risk him having hard race in the Triumph against seasoned horses from the flat.
Even without Activial we are taking four horses to Cheltenham which is very exciting for me when you consider I have been training for barely 18 months. It is great for such a young, small team to be having runners with a chance at this meeting.
After such a wet winter it is a relief to see the ground coming the way of Rock On Ruby who is always a better horse in the spring. Drier ground is a huge positive for him in the Arkle Chase as he seeks to add to his excellent record at the Festival.
He looks fantastic, his summer coat has come through and he is in the best form I’ve seen for a long time.
My fiancée Ciara O Connor, who is also my assistant, spends hours with Ruby each day and could not be happier with him.
Highland Retreat, bought cheaply by Richard Barber, has been a revelation this season and has fully earned her chance against the mighty Quevega in the OLBG.com David Nicholson Mares race. It is fair to say she may not appreciate the drying ground as much as some and it is a big ask to bring her back down in trip.
But she is tough, consistent and much improved. We’ve freshened her up since her last success at Ascot and she is bouncing now. Hopefully she will be the one to chase Quevega up the hill.
And if the favourite has an off-day then maybe we will be bang there.
Assam Black goes for the Champion Bumper on Wednesday in which the Irish seem to have a very strong hand. This will be his first run since he had a little problem after winning at Taunton in November.
We realise it is a tall order for Assam Black as he has to step up enormously on what he’s shown so far. But we think he is still improving and can improve again at Cheltenham and hopefully finish in the first half of the field.
Our final Festival runner is Vukovar in the JLT Novices’ Chase on Thursday and I don’t mind saying we think the world of him. He came over from France with a big reputation and has done everything we’ve asked of him. He won with total authority at Newbury and has continued to please at home.
The JLT is looking really competitive this year so it looks like a few bubbles are going to be burst but we are encoured that Vukovar’s homework has been of a very high order since he came here earlier in the season. It is great to have a horse with his profile in the yard so early in my career.
Although he is stepping up in trip to two and a half miles I’ve always felt this was the right race for him at Cheltenham as I see him as a stayer in the making. Nor am I worried about the drying ground.
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