Jer's Girl all set for Leopardstown litmus test
Gavin Cromwell has established himself as a trainer on the up over the past two seasons, but he is doing his best to keep a lid on expectations ahead of Jer's Girl's big Christmas assignment.
Along with Colin Kidd's Rashaan, Jer's Girl has added an increasingly rare element of romance to the season's juvenile hurdling division. Both are bound for the Grade Two Knight Frank Hurdle at Leopardstown with unbeaten records over flights to protect.
A sales reject as a yearling, Jer's Girl won for a second time on the spin when impressing from the front en route to a 10-length rout of Listed rivals at Aintree on December 5. On St Stephen's Day, she will step up in class to tackle Kidd's Graded Fairyhouse winner and Willie Mullins' runaway Gowran Park maiden winner, Footpad.
The bookmakers make Footpad a top-priced 13/8 favourite, with Jer's Girl next best at 2/1 and Rashaan 5/2.
Victory for Cromwell's exciting daughter of Jeremy, which still sports her breeder Eugene Bourke's colours, would give her upwardly mobile handler increased exposure, but the Navan man is simply eager to see how she fares in better company.
"We're aiming for the Knight Frank," confirmed Cromwell. "She's in good form and the race will tell us a lot - we'll know what we have after that. Soft ground suits her well."
As for a possible tilt at the Triumph Hurdle or the new mares' novices' hurdle at Cheltenham in March, Cromwell was similarly restrained. "That is too far away," he said of the Festival. "We're not even thinking about it at the moment."
Mullins, the Goliath to Cromwell's David, was a little more effusive about his stylish Gowran victor.
"Footpad looks very good and goes for the Knight Frank," the champion trainer (left) said. "I don't know what he beat at Gowran but I liked the way he did it, especially knowing how little we had done with him."
Mullins has also revealed that Sunday's facile Navan winner Bellshill would be aimed at Naas' two-and-a-half-mile Grade One on January 3.
"Bellshill will go for the Grade One in Naas, the Lawlor's Hotel," he said. "I think Yorkhill, Bellshill and Min could easily go back to two miles, while the rest of novices could be Neptune or Albert Bartlett horses."
The stable's rejuvenated Pont Alexandre will also skip the four-day festive fixture in Foxrock following his sensational chasing debut at Punchestown.
"I don't want to think about Christmas with Pont Alexandre, I'm going to see how he is," Mullins explained.
"He'd been off for long enough and I think it would be too soon. It was a huge performance after 998 days off - it was only the fifth run of his career and he jumped like a handicap chaser.
"He took it as if it was a schooling day. To me, that says a huge amount about his ability."