Newbury Winter Festival Workouts: Five things we learnt

Paisley Park in action
Paisley Park in action

Matt Brocklebank was on hand at Newbury on Tuesday as Ladbrokes Trophy hopefuls strutted their stuff ahead of Saturday week.

If the Kap fits

You’ve got to scroll some way down the antepost Ladbrokes Trophy market to find a Paul Nicholls-trained horse, which is unusual.

The last of his three wins in the famous feature came via Denman in 2009 but he’s usually got at least one very likely-looking, second-season chaser in line for it.

After admitting that he wished he’d run Clan Des Obeaux in the race 12 months ago, perhaps RSA Chase winner Topofthegame was a potential candidate this year before the news broke that he’s been ruled out for the remainder of the season.

So no blindingly obvious contender this time around, but three entries no less – namely Secret Investor, new recruit Yala Enki and the 25/1 shot Kapcorse.

Harry Derham was on hand overseeing matters here on Tuesday and revealed Secret Investor was an “unlikely” runner and that Yala Enki was set to be aimed towards the Welsh National at Chepstow over Christmas.

But his eyes lit up a bit at the mention of Kapcorse.

“He’s a young horse with good course form,” the assistant trainer said.

That he is – a six-year-old to be precise – and clearly the type with plenty of potential for further improvement this time around. The course form (he’s been to Newbury three times in total) includes a 10-length win over the same stable’s BetVictor Gold Cup runner-up Brelan D’As on December 1 last year.

He ended last term back over hurdles but that move has consequently protected his chase mark of 141 and it’s the sort of rating from which Nicholls and the team seemingly expect to do some damage.

Pressure of Park life

Emma Lavelle seems like the kind of character who takes pressure pretty well. She’s a sensible soul to boot and adorned her customary bobble hat while watching Paisley Park put the finishing touches to his Long Distance Hurdle preparations.

He’d been to Newbury last month too and was said to have been extremely fresh and keen but had reportedly settled a lot in the interim, and it showed here.

Following a faultless campaign last year, in which he won five times from five starts and gave his trainer a first ever Cheltenham Festival success in the Stayers’ Hurdle, there’s no escaping the fact that Paisley Park has changed the course of Lavelle’s career.

But she’s clearly loving every minute of what she describes as the kind of story that could not have been written. And the plan for this wonderful horse is already mapped out; Newbury set to be followed by trips to Ascot, Cheltenham (Cleeve), Cheltenham (Festival) and Punchestown.

In addition, a little bit of the stable star’s magic dust appears to have rubbed off on his pals already this year, with Lavelle sending out winners – high-profile ones at that - with impressive regularity already this autumn and winter.

So it was encouraging to see the yard’s sole Ladbrokes Trophy hope De Rasher Counter finish upside in a relatively short, sharp gallop at the Berkshire track.

De Rasher Counter is a bit of a law unto himself by all accounts but comes to life on the track and showed himself to be in very good working order with an impressive piece of work alongside the 169-rated king of the staying hurdling division.

U Ok hun?

Nicky Henderson had tears running down his cheeks on Tuesday morning – not at the prospect of Altior stepping up in distance (“if you saw him work last week you’d think it’s the wrong move, he showed so much speed”) against Cyrname at Ascot this weekend, but just the chilly weather.

In fact he was in great spirits ahead of a local meeting he genuinely loves and gave positive mentions to Beware The Bear, Might Bite, Pentland Hills and Brave Eagle before almost bursting into laughter when asked for a reaction to Ok Corral’s rather laborious public workout.

AP McCoy, who was in the saddle of the Ladbrokes Trophy favourite, admitted that the horse “hadn’t blown any of us away” but had informed the trainer that he was “only just getting going and finished the gallop very strongly”.

It’s going to be fun watching how Ok Corral progresses this season and no doubt you can put a line straight through his Festival form when everything that could go wrong did go wrong in a crazy edition of the National Hunt Chase, but on today’s evidence he’s not a wildly appealing betting proposition.

Nothing to see here…

Buveur D’Air was pencilled in for a spin at Newbury but, like the mushy peas to accompany the beef pie, mash and gravy in the auxiliary press room, was conspicuous by his absence.

Fear not, says Henderson. Buveur D’Air, said to be a little stuffy and not the easiest to get fit in previous seasons, worked so well in his last serious gallop that an away-day was deemed to be unnecessary. Watch this space, I’d suggest.

Also not in attendance for a morning in front of the Newbury members was novice chaser Champ, but he’ll be back for the Festival itself where he’ll likely head for the Graded contest over two and a half miles before a crack at the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in the New Year.

So no Kempton outing for him on Boxing Day as things stand, but clearly a horse with the brightest of futures and one which namesake McCoy was happy enough to label “a future Gold Cup horse, with a bit of luck.”

Form is temporary

Final word to the legend Thistlecrack, who made his younger stable teammate Mister Malarky look like a Sunday League pub player as they sparred on the course.

That’s probably doing the Ladbrokes-Trophy bound Mister Malarky (spooked himself and needed the run on his comeback, according to Joe Tizzard) something of a disservice, but it’s hard not to look through rose-tinted spectacles when you get the chance to see Thistlecrack.

He pulled-up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup when last seen but it’s worth recalling he was a 12/1 shot that day having finished a gallant second in the King George last Boxing Day, the race in which he’d finished fourth and won in 2017 and 2016 respectively.

He’s got an entry again for the Kempton showpiece and it’ll be fantastic to see him have another go but first up a tilt at Paisley Park in the Long Distance Hurdle. And on this (misty-eyed, admittedly) evidence he goes there in rip-roaring form.

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