Former Galway Hurdle hero could skip Ballybrit features
Rebel Fitz won't contest the Galway Hurdle but that doesn't mean that he will run in the Plate after Mick Winters revealed that he is considering a conditions chase for him on the final day of the week-long festival.
The 2012 winner of Thursday week's €300,000 Guinness-sponsored handicap hasn't run since hacking up at Tipperary last October, having been sidelined with a minor joint issue.
Rebel Fitz's only other outing since his 2014 Powers Gold Cup rout saw him canter up in a qualified riders' Flat race at Listowel in September. That means that Winters' prolific 10-year-old - first or second in 17 of his last 18 starts - is eligible for the €23,500 At The Races Chase over the Plate trip of two miles and six furlongs on Sunday week.
As things stand, Rebel Fitz would shoulder second top-weight of 11st 9lb in Wednesday's thetote.com Galway Plate, for which he is joint-second favourite at 16/1, so Winters is pondering if it might be more prudent to swerve the competitive €220,000 handicap.
"If he were to run in either the Hurdle or the Plate, it would be the Plate," the shrewd north Co Cork-based handler said of Rebel Fitz yesterday, "but there is a steeplechase there on the Sunday for horses that have won no more than €50,000 over fences since May 4, 2014; he is qualified for that.
It might be the sensible thing to go for that. There is no walk in the park, but the standard wouldn't be as high and, whereas in the Plate you'd have to sit up there in the first five to stay out of trouble, he might be able to doodle around in the race on Sunday.
"He'd really have to be dragging us around the yard for the Plate. He schooled over fences under (amateur rider) Ciaran Fennessy this morning and he was very good over them. He is in great form, and he does love Galway.
"That would be in our heads, too. Like, the Plate is a race that you mightn't have an entry in for years again - never mind with a horse like him. We are spoilt with him because he is nearly always collecting, and the temptation with a horse like him is that he is a class horse that just could do it in the Plate under a big weight.
"But, for his first run back, he'd want to be murdering us with his work, so we are 50/50 about what to do. There is no doubt, I suppose, that running in the Sunday race would be the proper thing to do, but we'll have to see."
With regular rider Barry Geraghty likely to be unavailable - for the Plate at least - due to his association with JP McManus, Davy Russell, who got Rebel Fitz home narrowly in the 2012 Hurdle, would have first refusal in his absence. The Kanturk trainer also indicated that Rebel Fitz could tackle one of the major autumn Flat handicaps.
"Davy would be our first choice to ride if Barry isn't available," confirmed Winters, who also won the 2013 Hurdle with Missunited. "If he isn't available, Johnny Burke has been doing well for us lately and has ridden the horse at home, so he would be another option.
"After Galway, the Flat race that Rebel Fitz won at Listowel last year or the Kerry National could be on the agenda. Then you have the Cesarewitch at the Curragh. The form of his Flat win last year worked out fierce well, so that's something we'll consider."
The going at Ballybrit ahead of Monday's opening salvo is good to yielding over jumps and yielding for the Flat. Gleneagles is poised to contest Goodwood's Sussex Stakes this day week, and Joseph O'Brien said yesterday that the four-time Group One winner is well ahead of his first clash with his elders.
"He's in good form," O'Brien said. "He seems to have come out of Ascot really well and we are hoping he can run another solid race. We've always held him in very high regard. He's never going to be a horse that wins by half a furlong, but he'll always get the job done."