Polly Gundry has described training Santini as like “an out of body experience” as he prepares to enhance his Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials at the Home of Jump Racing later this month in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase.
Victory in the extended 3m 1f contest would not only see him become the third dual winner of the Grade Two prize - after success in 2020 - it would also be the biggest win of trainer Gundry’s career.
Santini finished runner-up in the 2020 Gold Cup – when trained by Nicky Henderson – but has struggled to rediscover that form in his five outings over fences since.
However, Gundry believes there was enough to suggest that enough of his old enthusiasm still remains in place when he finished fourth in a Grade Three contest at Cheltenham last month – his first appearance for her yard.
Now a third outing in the Gold Cup for the Richard and Lizzie Kelvin-Hughes-owned 10 year old hinges on how he performs on his next start.
Gundry explained: “We’ve entered him in the Gold Cup but he will aim for the Cotswold Chase first and if he runs well there then we will go for the Gold Cup.
“We knew he was a bit short (of fitness) and he was going okay until Venetia Williams’ horse (Commodore) quickened and we tried to go with it, but he has come on for that run.
“He was just a bit too burly last time but if we can get him leaner and if he gets a bit of luck in-running he could go well.
“There were a few other options but Richard (owner) wasn’t keen on going back in a handicap and he has run some good races around Cheltenham so we saw no reason why not to go back.
“We are very excited about having him here and the whole thing is a bit of an out of body experience.”
Gundry also admits that when she received the call from connections asking her to train the Grade One-winning gelding that it caused her to have a number of sleepless nights.
She added: “It is a great honour to have him as he is the most gorgeous horse and is a real gentle giant. He has been very well looked after by Nicky Henderson.
“I had four sleepless nights when Richard called me asking if I wanted to have him here. I nearly had a fifth but thought, ’no let’s get on and enjoy it’.
“It is amazing to have such a lovely owner like Richard to send me a horse like him. It is very trusting of him to allow me to train him and I’m very grateful of the opportunity.”
Unlike most horses which switch yards during their careers Gundry already knew plenty about Santini before his permanent arrival last year, having helped train him during his younger days together with her husband Ed Walker, whom he won a point-to-point for in 2017.
She said: “When he went to Nicky Henderson’s as a four year old he came back to us without running in that November (2016).
“Nicky said he was a big raw horse that wasn’t really galloping. Sometimes being in a big yard doesn’t really suit a four year old like him.
“He won a point-to-point for us and we always adored him. You didn’t have to be Einstein to see why Richard sent him here to have him in the right place mentally.
“We did all the pre-training with him as a five year old and when we sent him back to Nicky he said he was much better as he was much more grown up.
“He has always been a big, burly relaxed character and that can be why he is so difficult to get fit.
“He is a horse that needs a lot of mileage but you don’t want to dull him at the same time. He has had three days out hunting recently and the fitter and leaner he has got the more enthusiastic he has become.”
It can sometimes takes horses time to acclimatise to new surroundings, but Gundry claims Santini was made to feel at home immediately by her stable stalwart Dawson City and describes the pair as “great mates”.
She added: “Santini and Dawson City have really taken to each other and as the walls here are quite low between the boxes they can reach over and groom each other. They are great mates.
“Santini has come back here a few times so they have got to know each other and they are real pals now.”