Ben Pauling has Barters Hill fit and firing for Cheltenham chasing bow
Trainer Ben Pauling is relishing the prospect of seeing stable star Barters Hill make his debut over fences in the Steel Plate And Sections Novices' Chase at Cheltenham.
The two-and-a-half-mile contest has an illustrious roll of honour, with Cheltenham Gold Cup heroes Denman and Imperial Commander having landed successive renewals. Grade One winners Grands Crus, Dynaste, Taquin Du Seuil and More Of That have also struck gold in the race.
A quality field of seven runners has assembled for the latest running, with Barters Hill perhaps the headline act, having won seven of his eight previous starts. Pauling had been aiming his charge at next week's Hennessy meeting at Newbury but decided to let him line up at Cheltenham following significant midweek rainfall.
"With March in mind, I don't think you can have too much experience of the place, really," said the Bourton-on-the-Water-based trainer. "If we'd been forced to go to Newbury next week, I was considering bringing him here at Christmas for the Dipper.
"Now we're getting a run here it means we can also consider the Feltham (Kempton). It just opens up options for us. At Newbury, we'd have been taking on horses who had managed to get a run under their belts at level weights, but by running here those that have won already will be giving us weight.
"As ever, he will come on a good deal for his first run but he's as fit as we can get him at home. I'm just so glad it's rained, we can finally crack on with him. It's a relief all round, for me, his owners and everyone in the yard as we were getting frustrated."
The Philip Hobbs-trained Rock The Kasbah made a fine start to his chasing career at Chepstow a month ago but must concede 8lb to Barters Hill as a result.
"With Barters Hill in the race, it will be interesting," Hobbs told At The Races. “He was very safe with his jumping at Chepstow, which is probably a good thing for a first-time novice chaser. He's got the penalty to carry, which might not be easy against some of these ex-hurdlers, but hopefully, he's a very decent horse and probably our best prospect for novice chasing."
O O Seven won three times over hurdles last season and was twice runner-up in Grade One company. Trainer Nicky Henderson, who also saddles Theinval, said: "O O Seven is a novice to look forward to - he is a pretty talented horse. He has schooled very well and his technique looks very good.
"We are not as forward as some people at this time of year. The horses are winning what they are capable of winning, getting away with it, but when you get into this sort of standard of races you need to be a little bit riper than we probably are."
Dan Skelton's high-class hurdler Its'afreebee made a smart debut over fences at Fakenham last month, while the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Flying Angel won at Perth before falling when beaten in the race won by Rock The Kasbah at Chepstow. Sizing Tennessee from Colin Tizzard's yard completes the line-up.
Grade Two honours are up for grabs in the Neptune Investment Management Hyde Novices' Hurdle.
Wholestone and Thistlecrack's half-brother West Approach do battle for the second time within the space of three weeks, having finished first and second respectively at The Showcase fixture last month.
The Skelton-trained Spiritofthegames, Baden from the Henderson yard and Paul Nicholls' Pilansberg also feature in a nine-strong field along with two Irish challengers in Crosshue Boy and Peregrine Run. The latter steps up in grade, having won his last three starts for trainer Peter Fahey.
He said: "I can't say I have got a reason why he has improved - maybe he has just taken time to mature. Since he won his maiden hurdle, he has been thriving and improving with each run. Once the ground softens, we might try him over two miles and see how he gets on but we won't keep him too busy him over the winter. We will have him back for the spring festivals."
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Source: At The Races