Keiran Burke is excited about the prospect of Hunt Ball stepping up from handicaps to the highest level in the Betfred Bowl Chase at Aintree tomorrow.
Burke, who changed his role from jockey to trainer this season, put the seven-year-old through his paces himself on Wednesday morning ahead of his big date on Merseyside.
Hunt Ball has gone up over 80lb in the ratings since November 28 with seven wins and a second in eight starts.
His latest success came in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase at Cheltenham where he carried 12st to victory.
“I’m looking forward to it and we’ll have to see what happens, I suppose,” said the Somerset handler.
“He’s been very good and we’ll see how good he is tomorrow.
“I rode him out this morning and he’s in top form. I couldn’t be happier.
“He’s had a long season but the first few races he won really easily, so they didn’t take much out of him.
“We’ll see about next season after his run tomorrow.”
Ryanair Chase victor Riverside Theatre heads a three-strong team from the Nicky Henderson and his jockey Barry Geraghty is confident the eight-year-old will be even better over this longer distance.
“There was a lot of talk beforehand about whether he’d handle the track (at Cheltenham),” said the Irish rider.
“He didn’t jump the first two well, he jumped OK during the race but never really travelled and he found everything hard work for a horse that’s won the Ascot Chase twice.
“Whether he slightly had an off-day maybe that was it. He was a different horse to what we saw at Ascot but I wouldn’t blame the track. Maybe he was just a bit flat having his second run back (after a long absence).
“His best runs might be right-handed but that’s just where he’s been, he’s won at Newbury so I wouldn’t read much into that.
“The first two fences were in a straight line and he didn’t jump or travel over them.
“I’d be more than happy over three miles, he looked like a stayer at Cheltenham, maybe he even wanted further.”
Medermit was only a length behind Riverside Theatre when third at Cheltenham, and his trainer Alan King is also pleased to have the chance to run the grey over further.
“I have been itching to run Medermit over three miles all season, and I finally get my way in the Betfair Bowl,” the Barbury Castle handler told www.alankingracing.co.uk.
“He has had a few tough races this season, but he always seems to bounce back better than ever and his close third to Riverside Theatre and Albertas Run in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham ranks among his finest.
“People say that if Medermit is going to stay the longer trip it will be on a track like the Mildmay Course, but as ’Choc’ (Robert Thornton) observed the other morning you need stamina as much at Aintree as you do at Cheltenham. He made the point that you can take a breather and free-wheel down the hill at Cheltenham, whereas at Aintree they are racing flat out a long way from home.
“True, Medermit had a hard race at Cheltenham, but he looks fresh and well and I am expecting another big run.”
Follow The Plan was third to Nacarat in this race 12 months ago and his trainer Oliver McKiernan is hoping for another decent effort.
“Aintree is a big galloping track with fences which suit him well and he has come on for his last two outings, though it is quite a hot race,” said the Co Dublin-based handler.
“We ran him in the race last year and it worked out well – he was third to Nacarat and he came out of it well.
“This would be half a prep for the Punchestown Gold Cup (April 25), which he won last year – it is hard to find a suitable race for him Ireland at the moment.”