Nacarat has spring in step
Stable form going into Cheltenham is a much-prized commodity, if only for a trainer's peace of mind. So, among his profession, few would have slept as soundly as Tom George last night after Nacarat won his second Racing Plus Chase and Baby Mix had regained Triumph Hurdle favouritism by winning the William Hill Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton.
Nacarat might have won a King George in his pomp if Kauto Star had not been around but he has compensated by triumphing in this £100,000 contest twice.
The grey's first victory in it was in 2009 but soft ground thwarted his next two attempts. However, instead of rain greeting George on his arrival, this time it was the sunshine of spring and Nacarat relished conditions to beat Hector's Choice by 11 lengths.
"The one mistake we made was to run him at Aintree [on heavy ground] this season," admitted George. "Without that, Paddy Brennan said he'd have been placed in the King George. We've taken him away a couple of times and with old horses like him, while they need to be fit, it's almost more important to have them happy."
Cheltenham is not on Nacarat's itinerary but his local spa town is the destination for the juvenile Baby Mix which, conceding 3lb, beat Sadler's Risk by two lengths. It looked like it would be further between the last two but, having been in front a while, Brennan had to remind him what it was all about in the last 100 yards.
Explaining the poor run behind Grumeti at Cheltenham last time, George said: "It was the fault of the trainer and the jockey. He was too fresh, too free and wasn't fluent and we went back to basics this time."
After Grumeti had beaten Paul Nicholls's less experienced Dodging Bullets by a heavily eased length and a half in the Dovecote Novice Hurdle, bookmakers seemed to disagree about whether to make Alan King's four-year-old or Baby Mix favourite for the Triumph. Both are available at around 6/1.
Nicholls has plenty of high-profile runners at the Festival and I would not be in a hurry to oppose one of his lesser-known charges, Cristal Bonus, in the Jewson Novice Chase after he landed the Pendil Novice Chase in style.
"I was desperate to give him another run before Cheltenham and he'll now go for the Jewson," Nicholls said.
Hunt Ball's phenomenal progress continued as he bolted up in the William Hill App 25 Sign-Up Bonus Handicap Chase -- from a mark 58lb higher than the start of the season. It was the 13/8 favourite's sixth win in seven outings this term.
Meanwhile, Prince De Beauchene, one of 12 Willie Mullins entries in this year's Grand National, was promoted to clear 10/1 favourite for the Aintree marathon after hacking up in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse.
Sunday Indo Sport