Monday April 24
Alan, who hopes to sign off the jumps season with a winner at Sandown’s final meeting on Saturday, courtesy of either Fidux or Timoteo in the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle or/and The Unit in the last race, is readying himself for an all-out assault on the Flat through the summer, and victory for William Hunter in the Great Metropolitan Handicap at Epsom on Wednesday would be a good start.
For more than a century this once-prestigious handicap, now run over a mile and a half, used to be unique in that it was staged over two and a quarter miles of the historic Surrey Downs, starting at the winning post, travelling back down the track for three furlongs before taking a right-hand turn into the infield, crossing the centre of the downs before rejoining the main course a mile from home.
However, this trip will be much more William Hunter’s bag, and, assessing his chance, Alan said:”He will be a lot sharper for his comeback run in the Rosebery on the all-weather at Kempton. Following his winter break he had a good blow afterwards, and going back up to a mile and a half should suit him well.”
The Barbury team continue to run well, and The Tourard Man kept the jumping ball rolling when winning at Warwick yesterday.
Alan said:”The Tourard Man deserved that, having finished fourth in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham and then run creditably at the Aintree Festival. He had a decent break last winter so is still relatively fresh, and the key to him is good ground. For that reason, we’ll definitely keep him going through the summer, and Kevin Dowling has struck up a good rapport with him.”
Friday April 21
This week’s big Ayr meeting is close to Alan’s hearts for so many reasons, not least because of his roots, so if he could plunder the £105,000 Scottish Champion Hurdle for a second time tomorrow, with either Sceau Royal or Winter Escape, it would be the icing on the cake for what has been a terrific season for Barbury.
Reflecting on the season before he looked ahead to Saturday, Alan said:”Obviously, I would have loved another Cheltenham Festival winner, but we’ve won more than £1.34m in prize money and clocked up a 100 winners for the first time since 2009, so I have a lot to be thankful for.
“Maybe it was disappointing that we had only 13 winners over fences last winter, but we have plenty of potentially exciting novice chase prospects for next season, including Midnight Tour, who won so well over hurdles at Cheltenham on Thursday, so there are lots to look forward to.”
However, Alan hopes to notch up a few more winners between now and next Saturday at Sandown, where the curtain comes down on the season, and, assessing his quartet bound for Scotland, he said:”We won the Champion Hurdle up there with Raya Star five years ago, so it would be marvellous if we could pull it off again.
“Sceau Royal lost nothing in defeat in the Champion Hurdle, finishing sixth after travelling beautifully, but he probably doesn’t quite up the hill against that sort of opposition, so, despite co-topweight here, he might find things slightly less competitive.
“He is not the biggest, but he is very quick over his hurdles, and, though we have not schooled him over fences yet, I think he’ll take to them and the plan is to go novice chasing with him next season, too.
“Winter Escape receives a stone from Sceau Royal, and I would like to think he’ll be sharper than he was in the County Hurdle, in which he was only beaten two and a half lengths, having travelled and jumped well.
“After his long absence, Winter Escape was effectively making his seasonal debut at Cheltenham as no matter how much work you do on the gallops there is no substitute for match-practice, so he goes to Scotland fresher than most and hopefully the County will have put him spot on. Both of mine came out Chektenham very well.
“A bit of rain would help the chance of Label des Obeaux in the opening novices handicap chase. He runs here rather than in the Scottish National, and he, too, has come out of Cheltenham well enough to roll the dice again.
“Finally, Gibralfaro runs in the Land O’Burns Handicap Hurdle. He only got as far as the second in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham, but he has schooled since and seems ok.”
Thursday April 20
Alan has happy memories of the Scottish Grand National, having captured Ayr’s biggest race with Godsmejudge in 2013 as well as twice supplying the runner-up, and, though he is not represented in the Coral-sponsored marathon this year, he is still planning a strong raid on his “home” course, with three runners there on Friday.
Looking at the trio’s prospects, Alan said:”Sir Antony Browne has been crying out for the step up to two and a half miles in the opener. We knew the trip was on the sharp side at Newbury last time, but Wayne wound it up from three out to make is a proper test of stamina, and our horse won well. He is progressive and will hopefully go well again.
“Thomas Shelby runs in the three-mile handicap hurdle. He did not enjoy the soft ground at Newbury last time and for a big horse he actually prefers better ground, so fingers crossed the weather will be as good north of the border as it has been down here.
“Our other runner at Ayr is Cajun Fiddle in the mares handicap hurdle. She is a big strong mare who should do well over fences next season but she ran well again at Newbury last time so deserves one last roll of the dice over the smaller obstacles.
“We also Paddy Boss making his debut for us in the bumper at Southwell tomorrow, while we have two going to Newbury on the Flat, both in the two and a quarter mile handicap. Rainbow Dreamer was unlucky at Leicester a fortnight ago as he missed the break and was always on the back foot, so we are stepping him up in trip here before he has his summer holiday, while the marathon distance should also suit Oceane, who found a slow-run mile and five all against him last time.”
Wednesday April 19
We are back at Cheltenham on Thursday when we have four runners, and, casting his eye over their prospects, Alan said:”Dusky Legend runs in the Listed Mares Hurdle, having produced another sterling display to be placed at Cheltenham for the second successive year. There was more depth to this year’s race so I was delighted how well she ran, being beaten only by those two smart Irish mares, Let’s Dance and Barra.
“This race looks pretty competitive, too, but Dusky Legend deserves another shot and whatever happens she’ll make an exciting novice chaser next season.
“We run two in the mares Listed handicap hurdler. Midnight Tour belied odds of 66-1 when producing a career-best performance to finish sixth to Apple Jade in the Grade 1 mares hurdle at Cheltenham, and, though Miss Crick pulled up in the same race, her chance here will have been boosted by this week’s dry weather as she loves fast ground.
“Finally, we run Pique Rock in the mares bumper. She had two runs at the end of last year and has had a break since finishing fifth at Bangor in the soft in December.”