Martin fancies luck in Newbury muck
It seems trainers on both sides of the Irish Sea are inclined to think that things aren't nearly as bad with the neighbours as they are on home soil right now.
Just days after Lambourn-based Nicky Henderson revealed plans to enter horses for Leopardstown's four-day festive gala that begins on St Stephen's Day in the search for some decent ground, Tony Martin sends Benefficient (pictured) to Newbury this afternoon with a similar longing.
The going at the Berkshire venue is described as soft, heavy in places, but the Co Meath handler is hoping that his Grade One-winning six-year-old will find things less testing than he might on this side of the water.
"He's a good ground horse really, which is why we are travelling over with him," Martin said ahead of this afternoon's targeted Grade Two novices' chase. "I know it's not going to be good ground, but it should be better than we've got here in Ireland."
It's hard to know who is more desperate – the English trainer expecting to find good ground in Ireland in the thick of winter, or the Irish trainer prompted to send a good ground horse on a cross-channel trek in the belief that going comprising of the word heavy will be worth the journey. Desperate times, you suppose.
The grass, after all, is always greener on the other side, and an indication of how bad things are here is evident from the latest update from Fairyhouse ahead of this weekend's two-day fixture. Horse Racing Ireland has relayed, without a hint of irony and no doubt accurately, that ground conditions had "dried slightly" to heavy, soft in places.
For all that Benefficient's Deloitte Novice Hurdle triumph came on decent going, he isn't without form in the mud, readily losing his novice status over flights on heavy going at Navan a year ago. He got off the mark over fences with a polished performance at Down Royal at the beginning of the month, and AP McCoy takes the reins now on Benefficient's first stab at three miles since landing a Bandon point-to-point for the John O'Brien/ Debbie Hartnett Donoughmore training alliance in February 2011.
If Benefficient is to prevail, he will have to account for a number of potentially smart rivals that also began their careers between the flags on Irish soil in 2011.
Hadrian's Approach, representing Henderson and Barry Geraghty, is unbeaten in two completed starts at Ascot since obliging at Dromahane for Tom Lombard, who is based in Ballyhooley in north Cork.
The Emma Lavelle-trained Towcester victor Highland Lodge started out with a win at Kilworth for Piltown's David O'Brien, while the Paul Moloney-ridden Makethe Mostofnow landed a Punchestown maiden for Dublin's Oliver McKiernan.
Benefficient faces a real test in the six-runner affair, Martin admits: "It's a hot enough race, but, hopefully, he will put up a good show. He's a horse who should stay well."
Despite having earlier said that Roberto Goldback would run at Newbury tomorrow rather than in Saturday's Hennessy Gold Cup, Henderson has stated that Dessie Hughes' former inmate, impressive on his stable debut at Ascot, will now join ante-post favourite Bobs Worth in the showpiece handicap.
"We've had a slight change of heart and we have decided Roberto Goldback will run in the Hennessy after all," he said.
"He's a stayer and while it will be testing ground, he's not a two-and-a-half-miler. It's not going to be easy as he has a lot of weight, but we are happy with him."
Tom Gibney, meanwhile, is concerned a lack of match practice may catch out Lion Na Bearnai. The 10-year-old gave his little-known trainer a major victory last spring when winning the Irish Grand National, but a minor setback meant he has not been able to have an outing beforehand.
"He's all set to go," said Gibney. "He was due to have a prep run, but unfortunately that didn't work out because we had a bit of a hold-up with him about a month ago."