Monday 18 December 2017

Richard Forristal: Grade One number two awaits Kelly on 'Tea'

Inside track - History-making rider's mount sets standard in Sandown chase

Tea For Two and Lizzie Kelly are taken to maintain their winning ways in today’s Scilly Isles Novice Chase at Sandown Photo: Getty
Tea For Two and Lizzie Kelly are taken to maintain their winning ways in today’s Scilly Isles Novice Chase at Sandown Photo: Getty
It was very interesting to hear Willie Mullins raise the possibility of Felix Yonger tackling the lucrative Nakayama Grand Jump in Japan on April 16 Photo: Sportsfile
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Today's cross-channel fare is far from enticing from a punting perspective.

Willie Mullins elected not to send anything to Sandown, which, in light of last week's reversals, isn't at all surprising as the clock ticks feverishly towards Cheltenham.

The champion trainer felt that his Doncaster runners might have caught a chill on the way over and Djakadam suffered a laceration that needed stitching, so don't expect too much more in the way of significant cross-channel forays from Closutton before March.

Peace And Co will be long odds-on to get back on track in the Contenders Hurdle, but that is a race to watch.

If there is one to keep on side at the Esher venue, it might be Tea For Two in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase.

Nick Williams' charge etched its name in the history books when Lizzie Kelly became the first female jockey to win a Grade One over jumps aboard him at Kempton in December.

The Kayf Tara seven-year-old is dropping from three miles to two-and-a-half here, but he has an abundance of form over shorter distances.

You'd struggle to pick holes in either of Tea For Two's efforts over fences, and, while the likes of Bristol De Mai and As De Mee have it within their range to at least make things interesting, he appeals as being a pretty solid 6/4 shot.

In the Heroes Handicap Hurdle, Saddlers Encore might be worth an each-way venture at odds of up to 7/1.

The Philip Hobbs-trained son of Presenting returned from a long lay-off to run really well to be fifth at Wincanton on St Stephen's Day. Over two miles and five furlongs, he raced on the heels of the leader all the way, before understandably tiring late on. Richard Johnson's mount steps back up to nearly three miles now, which should suit him better.

Previously, Saddlers Encore had won two novices' hurdles on the bounce in the spring of 2014, when he looked a useful prospect.

If he comes on as much as you might reasonably expect for his comeback, then, there is every chance that he will begin to fulfil that potential off a low weight of 10st 5lb.

Up at Wetherby, Native River warrants a look in the Towtown Novices' Chase. Blacklion, Definitely Red and Bitofapuzzle are all players in this three-mile Grade Two, but Native River has been progressing steadily.

Colin Tizzard's six-year-old was a three-time winner over flights, including once in Listed company.

On his fencing bow in a decent contest at Chepstow in October, he jumped indifferently, yet still managed to split As De Mee and Blacklion, which has since done plenty to complement the form.

Native River, for his part, was generally more fluent when he went to Exeter next time, eventually stamping his authority all over the race.

He stepped up again when putting Un Temps Pour Tout in its place in a Newbury Grade Two, before basically getting outpaced around Kempton behind Tea For Two and Southfield Royale.

There wasn't a whole lot of shame in that, and he kept at it all the way to the line to be closest again at the finish. Soft ground at Wetherby should provide a more suitably thorough examination, and it is worth noting that he is the youngest in this six-runner field, having only just turned six years of age.

In short, Native River has the scope to keep improving, so odds of 7/2 about him getting back to winning ways under Brendan Powell look quite generous.

Watching Brief...

It was very interesting to hear Willie Mullins raise the possibility of Felix Yonger tackling the lucrative Nakayama Grand Jump in Japan on April 16.

Three years ago, Mullins masterminded one of his most exquisite international conquests when saddling Blackstairmountain to victory in a Grade One that had a winner's purse of €565,000 - still the single most valuable win in the champion trainer's illustrious career.

The temptation to go to Cheltenham in March with a horse in such a rich vein of form as Felix Yonger is obvious.

At the same time, it's hard to see him winning either the Champion Chase or the Ryanair Chase, so Japan has to have appeal. At the risk of oversimplifying things, if Blackstairmountain, which was rated 147 over fences at the time, was good enough, Felix Yonger should be more than good enough.

After Sunday's Tied Cottage win, Felix Yonger now has a mark of 162, so the chances are that he would be by some way the best horse in the Grade One.

On the likely quick surface, two miles and five furlongs would suit Felix Yonger ideally. If he is a good traveller, then, it would surely be worth a sally.

Irish Independent

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