Chasing plan for As I Am
A review of Thursday's action at Cheltenham, where As I Am was on target for trainer Don Cantillon.
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As I Am is set to strut her stuff over fences this summer after signing off over the smaller obstacles in magnificent fashion in the Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Returning after a 108-day absence, the admirable one-eyed six-year-old jumped with aplomb and galloped her rivals into submission to register her seventh victory since June.
Emily Gray did her best to make a race of it in the straight, but 7/2 shot As I Am produced a mighty leap at the final flight and stormed up the hill under Conor Shoemark to seal a three-length triumph.
However, trainer Don Cantillon revealed As I Am was nearly withdrawn from the Listed contest.
"She was almost a non-runner because of a hip injury she had very recently, but luckily the vet passed her fit," said the Newmarket handler.
"The rider said she didn't overlove the ground yet she was just amazing. She jumped so high at the last hurdle.
"She's had her holiday. That's why she hadn't a run for 108 days.
"She's going to go summer jumping. Her next race might be a two-mile beginners' chase at Worcester on May 14.
"I've been schooling her over fences, which is why she's given her hurdles so much daylight."
Shoemark swiftly completed a double as Me And Ben (9/1) opened her account over fences in the EBF/Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Mares' Novices' Chase Finale.
Fergal O'Brien's seven-year-old overtook the always prominent Possibly Flora after jumping the second last and plugged on stoutly to score by two lengths.
"That surprised me. We thought we might nick third. We ran her at Towcester last week, this race reopened so we popped an entry in. The owner was keen and Conor's 5lb claim brought her into the weights properly," O'Brien told Racing UK.
"We thought if she could get third and a bit of black type we'd have done our job.
"She'll stay in training through the summer."
Kingsmere (12/1) blew away the opposition in the Barbury International Supporting The IJF Handicap Hurdle.
Andrew Tinkler brought the Henry Daly-trained bottom weight to lead before the final flight and he bounded clear to win by 10 lengths from Ballyculla.
Daly said: "He ran here in November and it was too soft and we thought we'd wait for better ground.
"Eventually we sent him home and then when he came back we tried to get him ready for Aintree, but he just wasn't quite there so we waited to come here.
"He got himself quite well-handicapped because he lost his way over fences and he just lost his confidence. He's a timid horse and it suited him what he did today.
"We'll see how he is and think about Ludlow on Tuesday, but doing that wouldn't be top of my list. I suspect we'll go to Haydock for a three-mile race."
Polly Peachum (9/1) came out of the pack to claim the OLBG.com Supports Mares' Jump Racing Mares' Handicap Hurdle.
Barry Geraghty delivered Nicky Henderson's runner after the last hurdle and she pulled right away up the hill, passing the post five lengths clear of L'Unique.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Mon Parrain (14/1) secured his first victory in over three years in the Auriga Network Handicap Chase, collaring Forgotten Gold by a short-head under an excellent ride from Nick Scholfield.
First-time blinkers worked the oracle as Lamb Or Cod (8/1) got off the mark over fences in the Nicholson Holman Novices' Limited Handicap Chase for trainer Philip Hobbs and jockey Richard Johnson.
The Warren Greatrex-trained Miss Estela (9/2) followed up her Taunton debut triumph with a smooth win under Gavin Sheehan in the "Kingsway Claims" Mares' Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.