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Press Release 28th January 2023 Cheltenham

By Graham Clark & Nick Seddon

Back On The Lash (6-1) repeated his success of last season in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham today, Festival Trials Day. Today’s race was due to be run at The November Meeting earlier this season but was rescheduled due to the lack of rain.

Racing in the colours of part-owner and former football manager Harry Redknapp, saw off all challengers on the run-in to take the honours by three-quarters of a length.

Martin Keighley, the winning trainer, said: “He loves it here doesn’t he? If anything Sean (Bowen) got there too soon! It was a great ride. We were so gutted to lose the first two races around here this season, he ran a good solid race here at the November Meeting (when third in the Jewson Handicap Chase) and we’ve just kept him for this race since. It’s worked out well and we’ll keep him nice and fresh now and come back for The Festival. It will be level weights there but he seems to be improving for every run around here and hopefully he can still be in the mix.

“He just loves his jumping and he’s such a strong stayer, as he showed today. He’s tiny and you saw a couple of times today he lands quite steep as he’s so small, but he’s got loads of scope and he’s hard as nails. Coming into these Cross Country races just seems to have improved him, similar to Any Currency. He rocketed just because he took to the course so well and this horse has done the same.

"Delta Work ran a good race in third and we were getting just over a stone today, so he’s going to have to improve again in March. Today the ground was probably a bit too good for him so hopefully we’ll get faster ground and we’ll see how it goes.

“We love having winners here, all the locals love a local winner so it makes for a really good atmosphere. Harry (Redknapp, joint owner) is down in London today opening something, so he’s gutted he can’t be here!”

Philip Hobbs, trainer of runner-up Deise Aba, said: “He has run great and jumped beautifully.

"Unfortunately at the second last he was a bit slow and lost some momentum at it but he has run really well. It maybe cost him first place, but I’m not totally sure that it did.

"He hasn’t been around here instead we went to a cross country course near us which were allowed to go and get qualified. He was good down there. He had totally lost his way he just needed something to spark him up a bit. There is nothing wrong with him as he has always had plenty of ability. I think a change of scenery and the different obstacles have helped him.

"We might come back here for the Festival but that is off level weights and will be a different job.”

Gordon Elliott, trainer of third-placed Delta Work, said: “I’m delighted with the run. He gave the winner and the second horse a lot of weight and we knew there would be plenty of improvement after today. He has only had one run over the banks around here so that is why we wanted to get more experience into him.

"I’m looking forward to coming back here off level weights. That will be his Gold Cup when he comes back here for the Festival. If you look there how he jumped the second last and last you can see he just needed that bit more experience of the track so that will do him no harm. He galloped all the way to the line so we are very happy.

“Mortal is a good fun horse and I’m very happy with him as well. He will come back here for The Festival as well.”

Delta Work's jockey Rob James added: “It was a big weight he was carrying and that was a good performance as he was giving a lot of weight away to the first and second. I’m delighted.

"I got a lovely position and he jumped well so I was happy the whole way. He just got a little bit tired going to the line. He will be back here at the Festival off level weights. That is where he will be at his best. He gave me a great spin.”

Charlie Longsdon, trainer of sixth home Snow Leopardess, said: “It was a massively promising first run over the fences. They always say they improve loads and she was upsides turning in. It is work in progress and she will improve a lot for it.

"I’m delighted with that and hopefully we will think about coming back here in the spring. I’d be happy to come back for the Cross Country Chase. That was a good starting point and she had only schooled around here once before because of the frost otherwise we would have gone again.

"There is plenty more to come and she showed she enjoyed it.”

Top-weight Stage Star (11-4 Favourite) defied 12 stone to come home the ready winner of the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase over an extended two and a half miles.

A winner of the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury last season, the now seven year old was subsequently disappointing at Cheltenham and Aintree. However, his chasing career has started well and today was his third success in four outings over the larger obstacles. Making more or less all of the running today, the Fame And Glory gelding came just had to be out to come home three and three quarter lengths to the good over Datsalrightgino.

Winning trainer Paul Nicholls said: “He has shown what he is made of today. It has just taken him a little while to get right.

"He won the Challow last year and we thought he was good. He was very good at Warwick then it all went wrong at Newbury. I think that day several horses didn’t enjoy the ground and he hung. He had a nice confidence booster at Plumpton and he has done that very nicely.

"It is a big weight to carry around there and do that well. I’m thrilled with that. I thought he was nicely in off 142. He is only a novice and he has a bit of experience around here and it means we can come back here in March if we want to in one of the novice chases’. He was a Grade One winner last season and he is obviously a very nice horse, 142 was a very nice mark if he put it all together.

"That (the Cheltenham Festival) is a long way off. He would get three miles but it depends on the ground and opposition. He will be well worth running. He is only a novice once.

“I thought the ground was that bit softer how he likes it today and he is a novice and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go three miles at Newbury as I have something else for that anyway. There are not lots of options for horses like these. The top weight should be the best horse in the race if it all goes right and I think 142 was a fair mark. He is a Challow Hurdle winner and he should be a 150 horse in time. He will be a smart chaser. He is just getting his act together and we are learning how to train him. The day at Newbury he was beat the ground was very quick. He is much better on that ground.”

Harry Cobden, the successful rider, added: “It was a brilliant performance. He is not an easy horse to ride. He is always lugging left everywhere you go and everytime you pick up the reins it makes it worse but he is a graded horse in a handicap.

"The wheels fell off at the back of last season. We had a good start this season at Warwick then he hung quite badly at Newbury and when he had to come across to the cut over there he probably threw the race away but he got his confidence back at Plumpton last time.

"He was absolutely brilliant today. I’d be very surprised if we didn’t see him here in March. I think he could run over two and a half or three as he definitely stays. He is a brilliant jumper and he is definitely improving with age. He has got a little niggle where he hangs left but apart from that he is very straightforward.

"He is just a lovely horse and one that is progressing. Funnily enough I thought he would either come into the race and go win like that or not get around. I thought it would be one or the other. He just enjoyed that today and I had him in quite a nice rhythm and that is probably me learning to ride him a little bit. He was a bit long one but he has made his mind up at the top of the hill. I wouldn’t have wanted to come here with him straight to the Festival over two and a half miles (without running around here before). Now we know he can act around here you can ride him normally.”

The bumper nine-race card on Festival Trials Day began with the Grade Two JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle in which the 2-1 market leader Comfort Zone got up on the run to defeat Scriptwriter (5-2) by three quarters of a length.

Winning jockey Jonjo O’Neill Jr said: “I was happy with that performance.

"Scriptwriter was a non-runner on the day (at Chepstow in last month’s Grade Two Finale Juvenile Hurdle) so that form today is probably a bit better. I think the track probably suited him and maybe riding him like that was a bit more sensible.

"I’ll leave future plans to the trainer (Jonjo O'Neill) and connections (the winner is owned by JP McManus), they know more than me about that stuff but he definitely deserves his chance at Cheltenham in whatever race he ends up in.

“He was in a little bit short at a couple of his hurdles, but he was otherwise grand. The ground is quite dead and he might be better on better ground, but he handled quite soft at Chepstow so I’d say he’s versatile in that respect.”

Betfair make Comfort Zone 10-1 for the JCB Triumph Hurdle and 7-1 for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at The Festival.

Milton Harris, trainer of the runner-up Scriptwriter, said: “I think Paddy (Brennan, jockey) will be the first to admit that if he could ride it again he would ride it different.

"The horse does nothing in front but that is just him. Unfortunately he has asked the horse to go forward and the horse has got there too quick. We don’t want to be poor losers but it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest taking on the winner again. We just got there too soon. He is a very quick horse that just wants to be delivered as late as possible. That happens as it is horseracing. He is a good horse. We will come back to fight another day and take the winner on in March.”


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