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Press Release 16th December 2023 Cheltenham

By Graham Clark

Jonjo O’Neill knows what it takes to win the Ultima Handicap Chase and he believes Are U Wise To That could be the horses to give him a record-equalling fourth success in the Premier Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival in March following his latest victory over fences. 

Having won the three-mile one furlong prize with Wichita Lineman (2009), Alfie Sherrin (2012) and Holywell (2014) the Jackdaws Castle handler feels the progressive six-year-old could be suitable for such a test after landing the John Wyke Memorial Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at the track today,

Turning for home all six of the runners held some kind of chance in the extended three miles and a furlong prize, however between the final two fences it soon become apparent that victory was heading the way of either Are U Wise To That or Midnight Our Fred.  

Although Midnight Our Fred looked to have moved into a race winning lead over the last he was soon reeled back in with Jonjo O’Neill Jnr finding extra stamina reserves aboard the 5-1 chance, who eventually prevailed by a length and three quarters to make it two wins from three starts over fences.

The winning trainer said: “When he missed the second last I thought he was beaten to be honest. Then he jumped the last okay, but he stuck to his guns well to be fair so we are happy. 

“He travelled sweetly and did everything nicely so we are very happy with him and a winner is a winner. 

“His jumping was average, but he has got around. He does it in his own fashion, but he won nicely. 

“He jumped really badly left-handed at Ascot on a right-handed track and he threw his race away. He had been schooling lovely and straight at home.  

“It is nice to know that he can get around Cheltenham. It definitely helped him going back left-handed, and with that you have a rail all the way around as well.

“I’d say going up in trip today has helped him get into more of a routine. 

“You would have to look at an Ultima with him. Let’s hope he is that type of horse. We have always liked him, but we were very disappointed after Ascot but that is the way it goes.”

Sophie Leech celebrated saddling her first winner at Cheltenham in a little over seven years after Madara (9-1) built on his previous sixth placed finish at the track after staying on best of them all in the Quintessentially Handicap Chase. 

Although the Westbury-on-Severn handler had to shelve an outing in the Virgin Bet December Gold Cup with the four-year-old her decision to change to Plan B paid off after the gelded son of Doctor Dino made the most of his allowances when claiming the extended two-mile test by three and a quarter lengths. 

Leech said: “I’m absolutely delighted. He is a lovely young horse to have and he is very straightforward. He is just a joy really. 

“We really felt after his last run that he needed further, and we were really keen to run in the December Gold Cup, but because of his four-year-old allowance Fakir D’Oudairies put us so far out of the weights it just wasn’t worthwhile. 

“He ran well over a similar trip last time and we were happy enough to come again. He had a good pull in the weights, and I think the race panned out well as they went hard in front. 

“As he just stays it really showed him to his best capabilities. 

“When you get them from France they are so experienced. We just really felt that he had good form over fences at Auteuil and Compiegne and places like that and we just thought we would try and make use of his four-year-old allowance. 

“Harry (Cobden) was fairly keen to ride him with the connection of Bryan (Drew, part owner). He was brilliant on him, and you can’t beat having someone at the top of their game.

“I think we just wanted to get today out of the way and see. We do think he will stay further, but he was quite effective over this trip today.  

“Hopefully he will be back here in March somewhere.”


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