Graham Clark: John Ferguson eyes Cheltenham Festival first

If the betting firms are to be believed then this year’s Cheltenham Festival could well be the one which sees John Ferguson break his duck and saddle his first winner at the iconic meeting, writes Graham Clark.

Despite having sent several fancied runners down to the showpiece four days in the past, the team the Cowlinge-based handler has assembled this time round looks to be his strongest yet.

Spearheading his Prestbury Park-bound contingent is leading Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle contender Parlour Games.

Since finishing down the field in the Galway Hurdle, the seven-year old, who is as short as 11/2 to taste victory tomorrow, has flourished after winning both the Grade Two trial for this race over course and distance and the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury.

Ferguson said: “Parlour Games has done nothing wrong this season. Cheltenham does not suit everyone, but the fact that he has won there suggests he handles it fine.

“He has a leading chance and hopefully the bookmakers aren’t wrong. The most important thing now is that I have him spot on.”

While Parlour Games could hold all the aces in the Neptune, Ferguson is hoping that another of his young crop of talented hurdlers can make an impact in the equally-competitive Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle later that same afternoon.

Ferguson said: “Arabian Revolution has some very strong form to his name. He won at Kempton first time out, then was second at Ludlow behind Beltor, who is going for the Triumph Hurdle, before winning the Chatteris Fen at Huntingdon.

“The horse has come on since then and we are hopeful that he will run a nice race.”

Ferguson is not going to be restricted to just having runners in the juvenile and novice contests on what promises to be a big second day, with him firming up plans as to which one of his seven entries is to take their chance in the Coral Cup.

Ferguson said: “In the Coral Cup we will run Mijhaar. He has been screaming out for better ground and I think he will get it, while the trip will suit.

“This will be the first chance he has had to get decent ground and that will help him run a good race.”

The long-time bloodstock advisor to Sheikh Mohammed could well have hit the target before then, with the fast-improving Qewy set to tackle the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in today’s opening race.

Finishing third on his hurdling debut behind Aso at Haydock in January, the former John Oxx inmate then trounced a useful field at Newbury last month.

Ferguson said: “I was delighted with the way he came out of the race at Newbury. He beat Cardinal Walter in what was a decent race by six lengths and that form looks pretty rock solid.

“He travels and jumps well and he quickens up, which you need for a race like the Supreme. He has come to hand very quickly and appears to be going in the right direction.”

The bulk of Ferguson’s team will be made up of hurdlers, but there will be one exception with Three Kingdoms set to join Qewy on day one for a shot at the Arkle.

Although the six-year old would appear to have a bit to find, he is by no means a forlorn hope having won the Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster last time out.

Ferguson said: “Three Kingdoms won his first two novice chases before finishing second to Vibrato Valtat at Kempton. He has won a Grade Two race since then and is entitled to take his chance.

“Although he has won on soft, the quicker the ground the more effective he will be and hopefully he can give a good account of himself.”

The penultimate day of the meeting on Thursday looks to be a somewhat quieter affair for Ferguson with Aqalim in the Pertemps Network Final set to be his sole runner.

Ferguson said: “Aqalim will run in the Pertemps having finished second last time out at Haydock. He will wear a visor for the first time, just to help him focus that bit more.”

As in the Supreme and Neptune, Ferguson looks to have an intriguing runner in the JCB Triumph Hurdle on Friday in the shape of Devilment.

Ferguson said: “Devilment was second to Pain Au Chocolat first time out and that run pleased me enormously.

“He then progressed to win easily at Wetherby and I really like the way he won at Doncaster. He is progressing race to race and loves his jumping. He is ready for the Triumph Hurdle.”

Devilment will not be the only runner from Bloomfields to sample the cauldron of the Cotswolds on the final day, with Ferguson planning to have runners in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle as well as Bordoni in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle.

Ferguson said: “We will probably run Ruacana and Commissioned in the County Hurdle and possibly Zip Top.

“Commissioned won his first two races but got caught up in the soft ground at Chepstow last time out. If he gets his ground he will run well.

“Bordoni ran very well at Galway before disappointing at Aintree. He ran in the Betfair at Newbury, but it was clear that something was not quite right and we discovered he pulled a muscle. He is back on track now and we are looking forward to running him.”

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