'Lieutenant' set to make last stand in Grand National
First Lieutenant is in line for the Aintree Grand National after trailing home last in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
The Mouse Morris-trained 10-year-old has been ever-present in some of the National Hunt calendar's top staying prizes for the last few seasons, but recent efforts suggest his talents may be on the wane.
He was well beaten at Down Royal on his seasonal re-appearance and in the Lexus Chase over Christmas prior to his recent no-show, and Morris is keen to freshen him up for a trip to Aintree in the spring.
"I think we'll probably go straight to the National with him now. I think he's probably more of a handicapper these days than that (Grade One) sort of level," the trainer said.
"He's had a lot of hard races over the years - he's a horse who gives himself a hard race every time.
"He won't go to Cheltenham this year. We'll cheer him up and look to Aintree with him. It will be interesting to see what mark he gets."
As expected, Rule The World has been ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival by Morris.
The eight-year-old looked a top-class prospect when runner-up behind The New One at Prestbury Park a couple of years ago, but suffered a fractured pelvis the following month and has not quite managed to reach the same levels since. He is yet to score in three outings over fences this season and finished down the field in the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
Gilgamboa is also likely to miss Cheltenham following his below-par performance at Navan.
Meanwhile, rookie trainer Robert Stephens hopes that Beltor, a former inmate of Mark Prescott which was an impressive winner on his hurdling debut at Ludlow last month, can put the cat among the Cheltenham Festival pigeons in the Betbright Adonis Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday.
The race is traditionally one of the strongest trials for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, although this year it is a week closer to Cheltenham than usual and, at the moment, the shortest-priced runner in the Triumph ante-post market is Top Notch, essentially Nicky Henderson's third string for the juvenile hurdling title.
Stephens (30), who was a conditional jockey for Philip Hobbs for four years before spending two years assisting Prescott and four with William Haggas, needs to get this second run into Beltor to find out if he is good enough for the rigours of the Triumph.
"My gut feeling is that he is ready," the trainer said. "But Saturday will tell us a lot more and he has got to step up on what he did at Ludlow.
"That race has worked out well (the runner-up Arabian Revolution and the well-beaten third, Sebastian Beach, have both won since, the latter impressively at Chepstow).
"The Fred Winter isn't an option because he won't have had three runs but if we didn't go to Cheltenham, Aintree would suit him."
Last year, in his first season with a licence, Stephens, who is based on the family arable farm in Monmouthshire, sent the then unbeaten Modus, a 10/1 shot, for the Festival Bumper and that again will be the five-year-old's target.
However Modus, which carries the Al Kazeem colours of John Deer, will have to do a Quevega and go to the Festival without a run this term having had four of his five allowed starts in bumpers last season.
"He was a four-year-old and finished eighth," Stephens said. "He was out the back, a bit wide, a bit keen and rushed down the hill but he was still only beaten 10 lengths.
"I'm confident I can get him there ready first time out and I'm very pleased with where he is at the moment. He's been slightly forgotten about but it's one of those races; it's never the easiest."