Weatherbys Champion Bumper – 2m N.H. Flat. Cheltenham March 16th
First run in 1992, it has been a contest dominated by Irish stables, who have won seventeen of the twenty three renewals, with that man Mullins hitting the back of the net on eight occasions. It usually takes a very decent animal to win, and the roll of honour features some really outstanding horses, such as Florida Pearl and Cue Card to name but two. Last years hero Moon Racer did this column a favour, so let’s hope we can keep the ball rolling and point us in the right direction again.
Top rated of the Mullins brigade (eight entries at the time of writing) is the 6yo Avenir D’Une Vie and with four runs under his belt is one of the more experienced. A winner at Navan in December he was beaten by Jessica Harrington’s contender, New To This Town, in January by 1 3/4L, but was conceding 10lbs. He was impressive last time winning by 14L from the well fancied Tamlough Boy, and if owners, Gigginstown stud allow him to take his place he must be a serious contender.
Not far behind on the ratings is the second highest of the Closutton troops, the 5yo mare, Augusta Kate, owned by a syndicate formed at “The Masters” and including the soccer pundit Alan Shearer, and those two mainstays of “Get me out of here” Ant and Dec. Augusta Kate is out of that superb Grade 1 winning mare, Fethard Lady and by the redoubtable sire Yeats, so certainly lacks nothing on the breeding front, and she fully lived up to her stellar pedigree when hacking up in a listed contest at Listowel on her debut last September. She followed up two months later at Navan in equally impressive fashion, and was then wisely put away, avoiding the attritional heavy ground that we have been racing on for all of this “Monsoon”winter. She is reported to be a very lazy worker at home but obviously retains her best for the racecourse. She will arrive at the post a fresh horse on Wednesday and looks the one to beat.
Having won a modest Class6 Worcester number in October, the Twiston-Davies trained 5yo Ballyandy went to post an 8/1 shot to win a much hotter Class1 contest at Cheltenham twenty five days later. He stayed on well up the hill and won comfortably. He was a 7/2 shot to repeat the dose at Ascot five weeks later, and, while running well, couldn’t quite manage the concession of 10lbs to another of next Wednesday’s opponents, Coeur Blimey, losing by a length. He may well have been in front too long at Ascot but made no mistake a Newbury two months later winning comfortably carrying his penalty. With four runs under his belt, he goes to post one of the most experienced in the field, a definite advantage in a race that can be pretty rough, with inexperienced young horses rolling about on Prestbury Park’s undulations. One for the shortlist!
Multitalented John Ferguson went close to winning this in 2012 when his New Years Eve came second to Champagne Fever, and fields an interesting runner in the 5yo High Bridge. He was second to O’K Corral on his debut at Kempton in February 2015, and third behind Aurillac at Cheltenham last October. He then won nicely at Huntingdon in November showing plenty of pace over the 1m5 1/2f course. He really seemed to step up a gear last time at Catterick when hosing up by 13L and 3L from the two subsequent winners, Atomix and Shambourg. He again showed plenty of pace in a race that was run in a decent time for the conditions. The form looks solid and it would come as no surprise to see those famous black colours well to the fore at the business end of Wednesday’s contest.
With New To This Town having already taken the scalp of Avenir D’une Vie, Jessica Harrington must be harbouring hopes of adding to her success with Cork All Stars in the 2007 renewal. It can be argued that the Mullins horse was giving weight, but equally the Harrington animal did seem to run a little green under his claiming rider, and ran on with some resolution to win totally on merit.
Selection. : Augusta Kate
E.W. : High Bridge (if abs) New To This Town