Rule in line for Festival bow
IMPRESSIVE Slaney Hurdle winner Rule The World is unlikely to have another outing before the Cheltenham Festival in March.
The Mouse Morris-trained six-year-old had appeared to have plenty on his plate stepping up to Grade Two level for last Sunday's Naas contest, tackling two horses which had already proven their worth at the highest level – Cheltenham bumper winner Champagne Fever and Dessie Hughes' Minsk.
Champagne Fever was subsequently found to be suffering from a respiratory tract infection, but there did not appear to be any excuses for Minsk, which finished 16 lengths behind Rule The World.
Rule The World is now a prominent figure in ante-post lists for two of the novice hurdles at Cheltenham, but Morris is in no rush to confirm his participation in either race.
"It was a very good performance on the day," said the Fethard handler. "I know there were excuses for Willie's horse, but we still beat Dessie Hughes' horse 16 lengths and he'd shown some good form. I don't think the ground really matters to our horse, but he might be a bit better on better ground. We haven't made any definite plans – I'll talk to the owners (Gigginstown House Stud) and we'll see where we are in a couple of weeks.
"I wouldn't say at this stage he'll definitely go to Cheltenham, but if he does he'll be going straight there. He'll probably be entered for the two-and-a-half-mile race (Neptune) and the three-miler (Albert Bartlett), so we'll see.
"He is still quite an immature horse and if we decide not to go to Cheltenham, there is always Fairyhouse and Punchestown at home."
Meanwhile, Aintree have decided to reshuffle their Festival programme for the Grand National meeting with their big hurdle race now being moved to Thursday from its traditional Saturday slot to become the highlight on the first day.
Prize money has also been increased for the Aintree Hurdle by £40,000 to £200,000 – a race which has been won by Nicky Henderson's Oscar Whisky for the last two years.
"We are confident this switch will strengthen Thursday's card and thereby provide a big additional star attraction on the opening day," said Aintree clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch.
Moving in the opposite direction is the three-mile Grade One John Smith's Liverpool Hurdle, which will now be the third race on Grand National day, with prize-money increased £20,000 to £120,000.
The John Smith's Melling Chase has been boosted to the tune of £25,000 and now stands at £200,000, while the Topham Chase over the National fences has gone up £20,000 to £120,000.