Five things you need to know from this weekend’s action – including what happened to two Randox Health Grand National hopefuls.
GALWAY GO THE EXTRA MILE TO AID PERCY’S GOLD CUP BID
We suspected that clues for The Festival™, presented by Magners, might be thin on the ground now that the event itself is looming so large.
What we weren’t expecting was for a great story to emerge from a racecourse which wasn’t even holding a race meeting.
Racecourse gallops are commonplace for the fine-tuning of Cheltenham prospects, and only last Tuesday Nicky Henderson took a team of 12 hopefuls, headed by Altior and Might Bite no less, to Kempton Park for a series of three-horse gallops in the hands of Nico De Boinville, Aidan Coleman and Daryl Jacob.
However, Galway took it to a whole new level in order to accommodate the connections of Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup co-favourite Presenting Percy in a racecourse school, flipping the fences the reverse way around in order to make a right-handed track left-handed and, if that was not enough, further replicating Cheltenham by repositioning one of them so that it was taken downhill.
Presenting Percy has not jumped a fence in the heat of battle since he won last year’s RSA Chase, and for one reason or another he has sidestepped a series of opportunities since his winning return in the Galmoy Hurdle. However, trainer Patrick Kelly and owner Philip Reynolds know exactly what they are doing and this was the eight-year-old’s second school at Galway in a fortnight.
Not since Easter Hero in 1929 has a horse won the Gold Cup without racing over fences in the same season, so Presenting Percy must buck a 90-year trend.
You wouldn’t bet against it though.
SCHOLFIELD AND SAN BENEDETO BACK ON TRACK FOR AINTREE
Nick Scholfield’s comeback from last month’s leg fracture could hardly have gone any better at Newbury, and having spent weeks worrying he might not make it back in time for Cheltenham, it can’t come soon enough now.
Scholfield had his former Aintree Grade 1 winner San Benedeto ideally placed and travelling well throughout in the Greatwood Handicap Chase, and the pair looked the likely winners long before they hit the front after the last and quickened away for a two-and-a-quarter length defeat of Gala Ball.
The Greatwood has been kind to Scholfield, as this was his third win in the race, but it has been even kinder to his former boss Paul Nicholls, who was winning it for the ninth time.
San Benedeto likes a flat track, so he’s not even entered at The Festival, but Aintree suits him fine and this time he will be given his chance over the big fences. He would not get the four miles plus of the Randox Health Grand National in a horsebox, as some like to say, but the Topham Chase, over little more than a circuit of the course, is a different matter.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD FOR KING ARTHUR’S CONNECTIONS
The weekend had promised to offer some decent Grand National clues. However, veterans’ chase winner Carole’s Destrier looks highly unlikely to make the cut at Aintree on April 6 and unsuitable ground denied 2017 winner One For Arthur a last opportunity to get his career back on track at Kelso.
Neil Mulholland suggested the Scottish and Irish Nationals as more likely targets for Carole’s Destrier, although he will run at Aintree if he gets in.
But trainer Lucinda Russell and One For Arthur’s owners ‘the Golf Widows’, are in the unenviable position of having to commit their hero to the National’s 30 formidable fences without him having completed the course since his win there two years ago.
FAMILY REVEAL THE TOOTH BEHIND LAUGHING LUIS’ NAME
Former Coventry manager John Sillett has always had a passion for racing, and he has been a long-standing owner both on the Flat and over jumps. So it was a shame he missed the Newbury hurdles success of Laughing Luis, who he named after Luis Suarez.
Sillett played more than 100 times for Chelsea and was managing Coventry when they won the FA Cup in 1987. He is 82 now and was unfortunately in hospital with an infection at the weekend. But his family were out in strength to greet Laughing Luis after this fourth win of the season.
It was his wife Jean who told reporters how he came to be named. “He used to bite as a baby,” she revealed.
FESTIVAL FEARS ALLAYED AFTER INJURY SCARE FOR JOHNSON
Champion jockey Richard Johnson had a pre-Cheltenham scare when taking a heavy fall in the opening race at Newbury. The racecourse doctor stood him down for the remainder of the day and he missed a winner, which inevitably added to the pain, but luckily no bones were broken.
Barry Geraghty stood in as the progressive Crooks Peak took the 2 mile handicap hurdle and picked up the penalty he is likely to need to get into the County Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Johnson was merely ‘sore’ and should be back in action long before The Festival starts on March 12.