Jonjo O’Neill is considering giving Sky Pirate the chance to prove himself at Grade Two level in the Agetur Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick on Saturday.
The hat-trick-seeking eight year old is among five entries in the two mile contest, alongside the likes of the Dan Skelton-trained Allmankind, winner of the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park on his latest start, in the feature contest on the seven race card.
Having scored impressively on his first start over an extended two miles at Cheltenham in December, Sky Pirate defied a lofty hike in the ratings to run out a ready winner of last month’s Edward Courage Cup over course and distance.
O’Neill said: “He has got three entries this weekend as he is in the Kingmaker, the Game Spirit and Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
“I’ve got to speak to Martin (Tedham, owner) to see which route he wants to go. It was a good performance last time out at Warwick and he seems to be going the right way.
“He jumped and travelled well last time and did everything right. On that note it might favour going to Warwick a little bit and I suppose back against novices he has that bit more experience. He seems to take his racing well and he is in good order at home. He is a grand horse with a lovely attitude.”
Though Sky Pirate failed to score in his first 10 starts over fences, O’Neill believes a combination of factors are behind his recent resurgence.
He added: “He came in this season a different horse. Horses can make fools of you and everybody thought he wanted a trip so we went down that route and it didn’t work out.
“He was called all sorts of names as he was arriving in contention and then not getting there so we dropped him back in trip and luckily it has worked out.”
Sky Pirate holds entries in both the Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase and Marsh Novices’ Chase at The Festival, as well as being favourite with most firms for the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase and whichever race he takes in this weekend will be a stepping stone towards Cheltenham.
O’Neill added: “Off his rating he would carry a lot of weight in a Grand Annual. Willie’s (Mullins) horse Energumene looked very special on Saturday as did Shishkin at Doncaster.
“It would be a dream to get close to them in an Arkle. He has a way to go to get there but the way he is progressing you don’t know where he will end up. We will take each race as it comes.”
The entries in the Kingmaker are completed by the Jennie Candlish-trained Cheddleton, Sacre Coeur from the Charlie Mann yard and Tamroc Du Mathan, who represents trainer Paul Nicholls.
Meanwhile Eglantine Du Seuil - winner of the 2019 Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival - could bid to claim her first victory since joining 11 times champion trainer Paul Nicholls in the Listed St Mary’s Lands Warwick Mares’ Hurdle.
The seven year old is one of two entries in the 2m 5f contest for owner Jared Sullivan, alongside Dolcita, who has recently switched from Nicholls to Fergal O’Brien.
Other notable entries include the Harry Fry-trained Whitehotchillifilli, who was a winner at the same level at Sandown Park last month, and the hat-trick-seeking Molly Ollys Wishes from the Skelton yard.
Also on the card the Amy Murphy-trained Kalashnikov, winner of the 2019 Grade One Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree, is the stand-out name among 24 received for the Paddy Power Warwick Castle Handicap Chase, which also includes the Gordon Elliott-trained Escaria Ten.