Harry Fry: Rooneys' Cheltenham boycott takes pressure off us
The Betway ambassador discusses the owners' decision, and previews all of his weekend rides at Wincanton on Saturday and Plumpton on Sunday.
As we head into the new year, the task in hand is always to better last season’s tally.
We had 53 winners last season and we’re on 32 at the moment, so hopefully we can beat that and maybe get a little nearer to where we were the season before on 67.
Some of the horses didn’t run as well as we hoped over Christmas, but then again some of them ran blinders. The yard seems in good form on the whole and, with a bit of luck, we can be back with plenty of winners again soon.
Wincanton on Saturday
Opening Batsman kicks things off for us at Wincanton in the 2m 4f chase (15:15) at the ripe old age of 13.
Three miles is right at his limit these days and we think this drop back in trip should suit. Over three, we have to drop him in and he seems to switch off a little bit too much, whereas we can ride him a bit more positively over this shorter trip.
Mike Legg has built up a good rapport with him over the course of the season and takes off a valuable 5lbs too.
Winston C makes his second start over obstacles in the maiden hurdle (15:50).
He made a pleasing debut at Huntingdon, finishing behind Brewin'Upastorm who went on to run fourth in the Grade 1 Betway Challow Hurdle, and the horse behind us, Flash The Steel, has come out and won, too.
He’ll have learned a lot for his first start over hurdles and has to rate as my best chance of the weekend.
Plumpton on Sunday
Onefortheroadtom runs in the Bonus Series Chase (13:10). It looks a hot race but this is all valuable experience for him.
It’s no surprise that there are plenty of good horses involved, not to mention a French raider, with the winner set to pick up a £60,000 bonus if going on to win at the Cheltenham Festival.
For us, it’s a case of getting a bit more experience over fences, but hopefully he’ll put up a good effort.
In the same colours of JP McManus, Phoenix Way runs in the 2m 4f novice hurdle (13:40).
We think he’ll appreciate the step up in trip and the form of his last race at Sandown looks pretty good.
He was second to a nice-looking horse of Nicky Henderson’s who went on to win a Listed contest at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, while the third and sixth have both come out and won since, too.
Thoughts on Sandown
Rathhill is obviously a hot favourite for the Tolworth Hurdle, but I’m of the opinion that it can never really be one horse’s to lose.
It looks a small but select field and, like we saw with Kalashnikov, who was beaten last year, it might not just be about following the winner of this race.
We did consider Momella for the Listed Mares’ Hurdle but we thought it would be better to give her a bit more time to get over Kempton and aim her at Ascot in a fortnight’s time.
Taking on Laurina would have been some task, too!
The Rooneys Cheltenham boycott
I’ve got four horses in training for Paul and Clare Rooney at the moment, including If The Cap Fits and The Last Samuri, so have obviously been listening to their concerns over running at Cheltenham.
Deciding to not run horses at the track is absolutely their prerogative and, in many ways, it makes things easier for us. It’s black and white, we can plan for other races, and it may even take the pressure off a bit.
There are plenty of other good races and festivals that can be targeted and, though having winners at Cheltenham can be hugely rewarding, you can get more disappointment there than at any other racecourse.
Everyone wants to win at Cheltenham, there’s no better feeling in the sport, but that’s why we always see maximum fields with everyone pushing that little bit more.
It’s a very hard place to have winners.
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