Dreaming of a first Festival winner

  • By: Jack Nicol
  • Last Updated: March 6 2014, 10:26 GMT

Jack Nicol talks to five trainers dreaming of sending out their first winner at the Cheltenham Festival next week.

Knockara Beau (left): Bidding to give George Charlton his first Festival winner
Knockara Beau (left): Bidding to give George Charlton his first Festival winner

We'll start with the man who nearly gained that elusive Cheltenham Festival success as a jockey, James Evans, who finished third in the Triumph Hurdle during his days in the saddle but could go even closer this year as a trainer.

The Broadwas-on-Teme handler is double-pronged with Softsong and Trackmate as his first runners at the Festival and they head to Prestbury Park in good order.

Trackmate's only start this season came when he won the first of the eight qualifying races for the Pertemps Final earlier in the season, a victory which saw his handicap mark rise from by a modest 5lb to 137.

Softsong, like his stablemate, has only had the one start over hurdles this season but made that a winning one on what was his first start for current conections.

The six-year-old has since had a nice spin on the Flat when finishing third in a two mile handicap at Kempton last month and could be fairly treated off a mark of 134.

Evans said: "Trackmate took a little knock when he won at Cheltenham back in October and was out of action until around Christmas time.

"He's been in full work since and is very well. We're hoping the ground dries up in time, as he would head to Aintree if it came up soft or worse.

"Softsong is also in good order and goes on any ground, he's in both the Coral Cup and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' race but he is likely to head for the Coral Cup if we're lucky enough to get in."

Another trainer heading to Gloucestershire with high hopes is fledgling trainer Robert Stephens, who has leading Weatherbys Champion Bumper fancy, Modus, in his care.

Modus is owned and bred by John Deer, whose colours are more commonly associated with the Flat and the Motivator gelding made a serious impression when destroying a decent bumper field at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.

Stephens - who only took out a training licence six months ago - reported: "Modus is in very good form, we're really looking forward to the race and - touching wood - we can get him there and do what we want with him.

"Tom O'Brien will take the ride and we will make a decision after Cheltenham as to whether we send him for a Flat campaign in the summer."

Up In Northumberland, Karen McLintock is readying former Coral Cup winner Carlito Brigante for a tilt at the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' race.

The Haafhd gelding won at the Festival back in 2011 off a handicap mark of 142 and comes into this year's meeting rated 2lb lower on 140.

Originally purchased by Gigginstown Stud for 250,000 guineas, the eight-year-old was then sold to current connections for £32,000 last August but has only had the one run due to the prevailing testing ground this winter.

"We're hoping he'll get into the race as we've freshened him up since his last run back in October having been a busy horse for Gordon Elliott in 2013," said McLintock.

"He's well in himself and has had a few racecourse gallops as we were unable to get a race in to him - the drier the ground the better."

Just down the road from Mclintock is trainer George Charlton and he is preparing Knockara Beau for another shot at Gold Cup glory having finished a creditable sixth in the race back in 2012.

The 11-year-old gelding ended the winning streak oif Big Buck's in the Cleeve Hurdleat Cheltenham and January and will be lining up at the Festival for the seventh consecutive season.

Indeed Cheltenham has always been a popular port of call for the Knockara Beau, having been placed seven times from 16 starts at the track in addition to his famous recent success.

"He slipped a little bit on landing down the back straight at Kelso but did well to finish a close second to Long Run," said Charlton.

"It's not what you needed at this time of the season but he is spot on now, loves Cheltenham and is very well."

Jamie Snowden is another trainer yet to break his Festival duck, but the former assistant trainer and amateur jockey to Nicky Henderson has leading claims with the exciting chaser Present View in the Rewards4Racing Novices' Chase.

Snowden is based at Folly House Stables, the same yard from which Noel Chance sent out Looks Like Trouble to Gold Cup success back in 2000.

Present View appreciated the return to two and a half miles last time out when he won easily at Kempton, also looking the likeliest winner the time before at Bangor before getting tired after the last having shouldered a big weight in soft ground.

The Presenting gelding has always been highly regarded and still looks open to further improvement off a mark of 137.

Snowden revealed: "Present View is doing great. He did his last bit of work on Saturday and then scoped well on Monday.

"He's spot on for the race with Brendan Powell taking the ride again and its fingers crossed from now until then."

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