Cheltenham takes toll on some Grands plans
Many horses went to Cheltenham's Trials Day on Saturday hoping to stamp their credentials for the Festival in March, but some have been licking their wounds from the experience.
David Pipe's Grands Crus is one such after pulling up in the Argento Chase. The grey is now at a crucial point in his campaign, but the trainer did not know last night whether the gelding would even line up at Cheltenham in six weeks. He had been 7/1 for the Ryanair Chase.
"Everything is on hold," Pipe said. "He's been very quiet since the weekend, and we haven't done a lot with him. We'll monitor him closely and see what happens, but at the moment, he may go to Cheltenham or he may not. We just don't know."
Grands Crus (pictured) was sent off the 5/2 favourite on Saturday but was pulled up before the fourth-last fence when tailed off. He had travelled at the back of the field, made some progress at halfway and then started to struggle.
"Tom (Scudamore, the jockey) said he was never happy with him, he wasn't travelling," Pipe said.
The gelding had run a good race in the King George at Kempton and the stable had expected an improved run in the Argento.
"Whether the race came too quickly after a tough run at Kempton, or possibly he wanted better ground than that, though I don't like to use the ground as an excuse," Pipe said. "We don't know. It's back to the drawing board."
The Argento turned into a gruelling test in heavy ground, with only four finishers. The third, Hunt Ball, was 36 lengths behind the second, Imperial Commander (which lost a thrilling duel with Cape Tribulation), and might not return for the Festival.
Trainer Keiran Burke feels Hunt Ball's lack of stamina caught him out, but his only entry at the Festival is in the Gold Cup, which is over a furlong more than the Argento.
"He's absolutely fine, but obviously he's a little tired," said Burke. "He ran a blinder, but I don't know what the plan is now.
"There's a chance he may not go to Cheltenham. We've got to be realistic – it looked like he just didn't stay. On the day the trip and ground found him out."
Another horse which has been ruled out of a trip to Cheltenham is Noel Meade's novice chaser Texas Jack. Following his battling success in the Grade Two novice chase at Leopardstown on Saturday, Meade is going to aim his charge at the Punchestown and Fairyhouse Festivals.
Meanwhile, trainer Harry Fry said that last year's Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby was unlikely to take up his engagement at Sandown on Saturday.
"Not in that heavy ground. We'll have a look at Wincanton (the Kingwell Hurdle on February 16), but again that will probably be ground dependent," he explained.
"We're very reluctant to run on that sort of ground between now and the big day in March.
"It wouldn't be ideal (if he did not run before the Festival) but I'd far rather go for a racecourse gallop than really test him in heavy ground. He's in great order and whatever we do will be a stepping stone to March."
Nicky Henderson has used this race in the past for Binocular but this year it is his Christmas Hurdle winner Darlan which has the option. Henderson has also entered Grandouet, which had been due to run in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock and then the rearranged event at Doncaster, but has been thwarted by the weather.
A cracking contest looks on the cards in the Scottish Future Champions Novices' Chase at Musselburgh on Sunday with the 19 possibles spearheaded by Donald McCain's Overturn. Lucinda Russell has entered the promising Tap Night. In the same JP McManus ownership is the Charlie Longsdon-trained Vulcanite, while Henderson could run Tetlami.