HARRY Fry has revealed that his lightly-raced stayer Mendip Express will bypass the Cheltenham Festival and will instead be aimed at the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.
Mendip Express had been talked about as a contender for the Terry Biddlecombe National Hunt Chase Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase, despite his distant third behind Smad Place at Newbury earlier this month.
But Fry said: “It didn’t go to plan at Newbury, he was put in his place by two good horses. I’ll give him more time, and would like to see better ground so we’re going to target the Scottish National.”
Aside from Rock On Ruby in the Arkle, Fry intends to take on Quevega with the prolific Highland Retreat in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, while Vukovar is still on course for the JLT Novices’ Chase. Fry has also not yet dismissed the possibility of Activial lining up in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, although, after the French import’s commanding win in last weekend’s Adonis at Kempton, jockey Noel Fehily warned his trainer Activial was not necessarily a Cheltenham horse.
Fry said: “I was very pleased with what he did last Saturday and we haven’t made up our minds yet. It’s high in our thoughts, although there’s Aintree to think about.”
Staying with Cheltenham, owner Barry Connell has confirmed Mount Benbulben will be supplemented for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
Although the Gordon Elliott-trained nine-year-old is a Grade One winner over fences, jumping problems have prevented him from realising his full potential. He made a number of mistakes on his way to finishing fourth in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and was far from foot perfect when runner-up behind On His Own in last weekend’s Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse.
While he has a clear preference for going right-handed, Mount Benbulben’s owner is hoping that will be less of a problem over the smaller obstacles and plans to add him to the World Hurdle field next week at a cost of £13,750.
Connell said: “There is nothing much for him between the Fairyhouse race and the Punchestown Festival, so we thought we’d give the World Hurdle a go. Big Buck’s is there and, if Annie Power runs, they are the big two, but we’d like to think Mount Benbulben could run into a place. His jumping has been letting him down over fences. He made several mistakes at Fairyhouse the other day, which probably cost him, and I think he would have been a good third in the King George if his jumping had been better. It’s frustrating as, when he puts it all together, he’s a very talented horse.
“I don’t think there is any harm in running him back over hurdles at Cheltenham and, if he were to run well, it would open up other avenues for him. He could go back over fences at Punchestown. The Punchestown Gold Cup is an obvious target.”
Meanwhile, Planet Of Sound, White Star Line and Merry King are three of the 15 horses to have been taken out of the Crabbie’s Grand National at the latest forfeit stage.
The Philip Hobbs-trained Planet Of Sound was unplaced in the BetBright Chase at Kempton last weekend and Jonjo O’Neill’s Merry King ran no sort of a race in the Grand National Trial at Haydock, while the Dessie Hughes-trained White Star Line has lost his race to be fit for Aintree. Hughes said of the Kerry National winner: “I wanted him to have two races and we’ve run out of time. He might make the Irish National now.”
Rubi Light, Midnight Appeal, Away We Go, Renard, Highland Lodge, Ikorodu Road, Liberty Counsel, Rockyaboya, Up The Beat, Orpheus Valley, Quel Espirt and Ringa Bay were also taken out. Teaforthree is currently 12-1 favourite with Betfred, with Tidal Bay next at 16-1.