Cheltenham Bumper talking horse yet to emerge

How strange is it to look at the programme for today and to see the King George and the Christmas Hurdle being run at Kempton?

I can’t get my head around it at all but the way it has worked it, it really seems to signal the beginning of the build-up to the Cheltenham festival.

Of course this is all happening because of the hold-up caused by the weather and that has caused trainers to change their training routines and programmes. The likes of Kauto Star and Binocular are leading fancies for the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle but haven’t run in longer than might have been expected. With the priority being that they’re spot on for March but with trainers also wanting to win these big races, it will have been a delicate exercise overseeing their preparation.

The Christmas Hurdle (it just doesn’t sound right at all) is a fascinating race with the champion, Binocular heading the betting. Khyber Kim was second to Binocular in the Champion Hurdle before going on to win the Aintree Hurdle. Then you have Overturn, who won the Galway Hurdle, and Starluck, who finished four lengths clear of Binocular when second in the Fighting Fifth at Newbury.

There was talk that Dunguib would be re-appearing in the Limestone Lad Hurdle in Naas today although that isn’t the case now and Philip Fenton is aiming at the Irish Champion Hurdle. But it is clear that starting today and over the next couple of weeks, the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle picture will become a lot clearer.

Of course apart from those that have been mentioned, you still have the likes of Menorah, Oscar Whiskey and Peddlers Cross of the English in the mix, while Hurricane Fly is our leading hope but this will certainly be an informative weekend.

On paper, the King George (it’s not Stephen’s Day, is it?) looks a shoo-in for Kauto Star but you do have Tom Cooper sending over Forpadydeplasterer, who never runs a bad race. Long Run is a contender and I know Tom George is very keen on Nacarat. I think Riverside Theatre is very talented but the ground would be a worry. Kauto Star, on the other hand, doesn’t mind soft ground and has a brilliant record around Kempton so it’s very hard to see him being beaten.

Remaining on the Cheltenham theme, one thing that struck me during the week is that we haven’t had any real talking horse for the Champion Bumper yet. Normally at this stage, there is one that really has stood out. Maybe this goes back to the hold-up at Christmas and a lot of the good ones haven’t been out yet. Having said that, I was interested to see Dermot Weld saying that his winner of the Leopardstown bumper on Sunday, Waaheb, wouldn’t be going to Cheltenham. Of course he might change his mind between now and then.

I was delighted with The Bull Hayes winning his maiden hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday. He had been second in his first two outings but seemed to spit the dummy out in Cork after that.

When a horse wins a maiden hurdle by 12 lengths, it looks very good. I was talking to Barry Geraghty in Thurles during the week and asked him what he thought. He said he was going so easily the whole way that it almost felt too simple and he just didn’t know what to make of it.

I was wondering was it because it was a bad maiden hurdle but you don’t get too many of those at this time of the year. So we just have to take it on its merits, and go from here.

I was thrilled with Got Attitude who finished a two-length second to Rare Bob. That was a much better run than previously. The cheek pieces made him concentrate more and he’ll run next in the Mick Holly Memorial at Leopardstown again at the end of February.

While his jumping was a little better, I’m still going to do plenty more work with him. He’s fine if he meets one right but if he gets in too tight he tries to bulldoze his way through the fences. He doesn’t bother trying to shorten his stride or anything like that.

Espresso Lady – a half-sister of Saludos – ran well to finish third in Saturday’s Punchestown bumper. It was her first outing and thankfully she behaved herself. Like her half-brother, she likes to do things on her own terms at times but looks like being one to look forward to.

Starling Lady needed the run and will come on a lot for finishing sixth in the maiden hurdle. She’s a hard one to get fit. Chaperoned probably would have won if she had just been a bit quicker away from the back of the second last, as she was only beaten a neck and 1½ lengths in the end and stayed on really well. I was thrilled and rightly or wrongly, have put her in the juvenile Grade 1 in Leopardstown.

Having had 16 runners last weekend, I’ve only one tomorrow. I’m hoping the ground won’t turn up too heavy but Wood Lily is entitled to step up to Listed company after her win the last day, especially as the second that day, Gift of Dgab, had previously been second in a Grade 2. Our Girl Salley is a very good mare, there’s no doubt about that but we’re getting five pounds. Like Chaperoned, if we could get a bit of black type for her, it would be great.

On Thursday, Hume River runs in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran. He’ll get in at around 10 stone and we’ll probably put blinkers or a visor on him. Hopefully he’ll run better than the last few times. I think he’s always taken a few races to come to himself and as he gets older it’s taking a little longer. It should suit him being back over three miles and they’ll go a good gallop.

More in this section

Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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