MALTON trainer Malcolm Jefferson has ruled out a trip to the Cheltenham Festival with Oscar Rock following his disappointing display at Haydock on Saturday.
A dual bumper winner for Harry Fry last season, the six-year-old looked destined for big things when making a scintillating jumping debut for Jefferson at Wetherby in early November. Things have not gone entirely to script since, however.
Oscar Rock was beaten narrowly by Ballyalton at Newcastle and although he was not disgraced when third in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury, he was unable to land any sort of blow in last weekend’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock.
Jefferson believes the testing conditions may have contributed to his demise and he is now keen on waiting for the Grand National meeting at Aintree.
Jefferson said: “He was a bit disappointing and we’re not too sure why. We expected him to run much better than that.
“Maybe it was the ground, a lot of horses struggled in the ground at Haydock the other day, we’ll just have to see.
“He is out of everything at Cheltenham – he won’t be going there. He didn’t run well enough the other day to be going to Cheltenham. We might look towards Liverpool with him. There are handicaps he could run in there. We’ll just see how we go.”
With Oscar Rock not heading to Prestbury Park, Jefferson will be represented by a maximum of three horses at the Festival next month.
Urban Hymn has won his last two and is bound for the Albert Bartlett, while previous Festival winner Attaglance and the consistent Firth Of The Clyde could run in handicap chases.
“Urban Hymn will go for the Albert Bartlett, all being well,” said Jefferson.
“I don’t think he’s done anything wrong and the other thing about him is, I think he’ll be a much better horse on better ground.
“He’s tough and he’s genuine and stays well, so I think he deserves to take his chance.
“Attaglance is in the two-and-a-half-mile novice handicap (Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase) and Firth Of The Clyde is in that and the Byrne Group Plate.
“If the ground is too soft for Attaglance, it will suit for Firth Of The Clyde, so we’ll see which way it goes.”
Willie Mullins is leaning towards letting Champagne Fever chase his Cheltenham Festival hat-trick in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy on March 11.
Winner of the Champion Bumper in 2012 before claiming the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last March, the seven-year-old has been ante-post favourite for the two-mile novice chasing championship event since the start of the season. While he remains among the latest forfeits for both the JLT Novices’ Chase over two-and-a-half miles and the RSA Chase over an extended three, Champagne Fever, who was partnered by stable jockey Ruby Walsh in a spin in front of the gathered media on Wednesday morning, is set to line up as favourite on the opening day.
Mullins said: “With Champagne Fever it looks like it’s going Arkle-wise. I think it has to be the RSA for Ballycasey and the JLT has to be the target for Felix Yonger.”