Donald McCain: My Festival team
Donald McCain talks us through his team for the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.
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Son Of Flicka
He's in three handicaps this time and where we'll go I'm not quite sure. Probably to the Coral Cup. He's grand, but he's been disappointing this winter but he hasn't had his ground. He was the same last season before he won at the Festival so I'm hoping he turns a corner and comes to himself again. He seems to like the place so I'm looking forward to sending him. The owner, who likes a bet, won £960,000 on him last year but that was nothing to do with me, I knew nothing about it until the day of the race.
He was third in the JLT Specialty Handicap last year as a novice, making a couple of bad mistakes along the way. He missed the fence going away from the stands and lost his confidence a little bit but was still there with a chance two out, made a mistake two out and then ran a screamer. He was running a nice race at Cheltenham on trials day, upsides Katenko when Jason (Maguire) decided to jump off him! But he was running a big race on ground he wouldn't like and he hadn't really gone for him before the mistake so I'm sure he would've kept galloping up the hill. There's been nowhere to go for him since trials day - the two races he could've run in were the Racing Plus Chase and at Ascot but both races were the wrong way round for him so the obvious thing to do was to sit tight. A number of these will be going to Bangor after racing on Wednesday (February 27) and he'll be one of them. He's in great nick and I'm expecting a big run from him back in the same race (the JLT). He's not an old horse, he's still going the right way and he's still improving. He's tough. He was running so well at Cheltenham, if he'd jumped another fence he'd have gone up in the weights and he's a tough horse. He was only bred around the corner by Keith Benson, we've had all the family and he's leagues above the others, and it took some persuading Keith to not run him between trials day and now. He's the obvious one for the handicaps.
The Real Milan
The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a disaster to be honest. He slipped up at Ascot the other day and Jason pulled him up very quickly, and he was on his way up to Newcastle the other day when they abandoned it, so not a lot is going right for him. I'm a bit lost at the moment because I want to get another run into him. He's in the RSA and the four-miler and he too will go to Bangor tomorrow. We'll make a decision on his target then, I just want to get a gallop into him before I decide. It's up in the air but the target is still to take him to Cheltenham. He just overjumped at Ascot - he was a bit too safe if anything. He was a bit sore for 24 hours afterwards but he's fine now and he just needs to run. I won't do it for the sake of it though. He's a nice horse and he might just be an Aintree horse one day.
He was very impressive in a Wetherby bumper. He's a beautifully-bred horse, we've never been hard on him at home so I didn't know what to expect when we took him to Wetherby the other day. But he was so impressive we've got to consider him for the Cheltenham bumper. I don't know what he beat but he couldn't have done it any better. We don't find out what they've got at home, all their work is done on the bridle so the first time he was asked for an effort was at Wetherby and he was so professional. He was straight as a gun barrel, and Jason gave him one hit and he quickened right away. I know Timeform have him rated highly and the Champion Bumper is a serious option though it might come a couple of weeks too early. We'll wait and see before making a decision.
I was tempted to concentrate on the Kim Muir with him, but I'm seriously thinking of running him in the RSA. He's never had his ground this year, he's tough as nails and he gave 7lb to David Pipe's horse Goulanes at Wetherby. He's got Cheltenham experience and if you take out Dynaste it's a wide-open RSA Chase. He would have to carry top weight in the Kim Muir - we've done it before, it wouldn't unduly bother me - but I'm leaning towards the RSA. Cheltenham has been the plan for a long time and there's no reason to think he won't run well there, especially if he gets his ground. He got into a bit of a contest with Pentara at Wetherby and he got mugged late on, not getting chance to fight back at the winner. I did say after Cheltenham I wouldn't run him on bad ground again and it was horrible at Wetherby, but I think there's plenty of improvement to come from him if it dries up. His best run last year was at Aintree, the only time he's had his ground since his bumper days. I'm not saying he would've beaten Simonsig but he was still running his race and still finding plenty when he made a bad mistake at the second last.
Cinders And Ashes
The easiest thing for me would have been not to run him anywhere this season but that wouldn't have done him any good. He's got a beautiful pedigree and he needs good ground but I had to run him and the worst thing that could happen was that he would get beaten. He has been beaten, well beaten, a couple of times but I don't think he can be judged until he gets his ground. I'm very happy with him at home, he's coming to himself nicely and I'd like to think you'll see a different horse come the Festival. If you watch him at Kempton he's actually gone to pick up rounding the home turn but just couldn't do it out of the ground. We knew ground-wise he wouldn't like it but I thought the best thing for him was to go racing and to get some practice in, that's the way I do the job. For me, he has a massive each-way chance. The form is there when he's had his ground. People say he has heavy-ground form, but it's a different thing beating average novices than it is competing against championship hurdlers but there was no benefit to staying at home and not going racing. We got him for £4,500. He was a two-year-old colt, a Juddmonte cast-off and tried to shag everything that walked past him. We turned him out and halfway through the winter I said to Dad 'We'd best get that white-faced horse in, he's going to die'. So from being the toughest, bravest horse on the planet he went out with a couple of Dad's old stores and fell to pieces. But maybe it was the making of him. He's a three-parts brother to Sea Moon, a fantastic pedigree. I think you'll see a different prospect at the Festival. He'll go to Bangor after racing tomorrow.
It's been a long road back with him after a couple of niggles that aren't worth talking about. He's in great nick, and his work at home is as good as it's ever been. He went for a run around Kempton and that's all it was, he enjoyed it. Then he went to Musselburgh and I would be the first to say he wasn't as impressive as I hoped he would be, but Jason was shocked by my outlook as he was happy with him. He said he jumped really well, travelled really well and then idled in front. He did well to pick up again as Jason was hanging on to him in the straight, but he did pick up again at the end of 2m6f. When you think back he's always dossed in front. He did it in the Morebattle, we had to set him alight at the top of the straight in the Fighting Fifth and he dossed in front in the Neptune, going right-handed in the straight. It is a trait of his. Will he win a World Hurdle ? I've no idea. Nothing has changed homework-wise. He's the best work horse I've got and ever had. He's maturing and you can switch him off. His jumping has been exceptional. I would expect him to be travelling very sweetly come the second last and from there I wouldn't know. He won over 2m5f as a novice and at the time it was a big decision to drop him back in trip. It was a test at Musselburgh, but I guess we won't actually find out until Cheltenham.
He's taken to his job over fences better than we could ever have hoped and everything has gone very smoothly. We've got all the runs we've wanted to get into him and we've time to tune him up for the Festival. He's in great nick at home and all we need is a bit of nice ground on the first day, though there's nothing we can do about the weather. He's got the experience on a number of different tracks and he's been jumping great. At this stage I'm really looking forward to it. When he ran in the Champion Hurdle last year it was probably the only time I've seen him absolutely shattered, he was wobbling a little bit in the winners enclosure and we walked him out the next day and he wanted to go again. That's just him, he just can't get enough of the job. I think his way of racing could make it very difficult for Simonsig. We aren't going to have to change anything we do with him because he has his way of doing it and he's done it under all disciplines. It's a tough job to lead all the way in a Galway Hurdle under top weight and if someone wants to go quicker than us it's not an issue, we'll settle in second. He has his gallop and he'll go his gallop. If he goes there and does his stuff and jumps well, he'll be a very difficult horse to pass. I tweeted the other day he's rated 112 on the Flat, 166 over hurdles and 165 over fences - and 85 on the all-weather! It's a great credit to him and I think we still take him for granted a little bit to be honest as he just comes out every day and does his thing. I'd love him to have his big day in the sun over jumps. Simonsig has been very impressive, but he hasn't been second in a Champion Hurdle.
Best of the rest
Any Given Day is well and he'll run in one of the handicaps. Bourne is running consistently well too and I think he would've been second had he not made a mistake at the last at Ascot. He is where he is in the handicap and though he'll go to Cheltenham I'm not sure which one yet. I haven't many handicappers and I've a bit of juggling to do as I want to keep them apart. Counsel goes for the Fred Winter and he's taken to jumping really well, he had a confidence-booster at Sedgefield and I'm looking forward to it. Desert Cry had a little abscess in his foot after Musselburgh but he's back cantering now. We would be tempted to run him in the Jewson I think. Halogen will go to the Fred Winter but he needs to improve. Hollow Tree will go to one of the handicaps. He went to Ffos Las the other day and he goes on heavy ground but he couldn't run a yard on that so just put a line through it. Kruzhlinin runs in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap and he's been doing his job well, he'll appreciate better ground and he gets two-and-a-half. He needs to go left-handed too and though he'll be top-weight, I chose to get him there by giving him more experience so we'll see if I got it right. Lively Baron will run in the Kim Muir if he gets in. He's a bit of a monkey but he seems to be running better without the headgear. I've not been happy with Red Rocco for a couple of days so we'll see - he's in the National Hunt Chase. The obvious place to go with She Ranks Me is the mares' race. Obviously there's one mare head and shoulders above the rest and I would say she has an each-way chance. But I also have to consider the Neptune as she gets the mares' allowance so it's a little bit up in the air at the moment. She's in great nick, she couldn't get out of the ground at Sandown the other day and still run a nice race. She's done nothing wrong all year and I guess she'll go to the mares' race. Cloudy Lane's got an entry in the Foxhunters. If he's right he'll go - if he's not, we'll wait for the Aintree Foxhunters.