HARRY Topper’s return to his very best in the Newbury mud served to confirm Kim Bailey’s position of only heading for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup if conditions are similar on 14 March.
The trainer has long regarded the seven-year-old as his best horse since his only Gold Cup winner to date, 1995 star Master Oats, and treads particularly carefully with him.
After a successful reappearance in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, Harry Topper’s jumping had deteriorated in two further outings but he simply coped with the ground far better than 5-4 favourite Al Ferof in the Denman Chase and trampled him by 25 lengths.
“We’ve believed in him from day one. He loves this ground and that makes a huge difference,” said Bailey of the 7-2 winner. “I know he dropped the bit but, once he gets going, he’s as tough as they come.
“We schooled him this morning over five fences and the last time I did that was when Master Oats won the Gold Cup all those years ago. They are similar horses with similar attitudes. He proved when he ran at Sandown he doesn’t go on good ground and he won’t go to Cheltenham for the Gold Cup unless it’s very soft.”
The sponsors offer 20-1 about Harry Topper, while Paul Nicholls said of Al Ferof: “Daryl (Jacob) said he travelled very well but ran out of stamina.”
Module (11-8 favourite) narrowly overcame Nicholls’ novice Dodging Bullets in a hammer-and-tongs battle for the Betfair Cash Out Chase, better known as the Game Spirit. Trainer Tom George said: “He’s in the Queen Mother and the Ryanair. I’m starting to get interested in the two-mile race.”
Nicholls’ Calipto (4-6 favourite) is safely in the Cheltenham reckoning after looking just as impressive in the Cash Out Your Saturday Multiples With Betfair Novices’ Hurdle as when making a winning British debut at the Hennessy meeting.
“He’ll go straight for the Triumph,” said the trainer. “He’s National Hunt bred and it’s hard for them in the Triumph, but it’s the obvious race and then he could have one more run at Auteuil.”
Jonjo O’Neill had Tony McCoy to thank for the long drawn-out success of Upswing (11-4 favourite) in the Read Nicholls And McCain Exclusively On Betfair Handicap Hurdle.
Smad Place (9-4), another mud-lover who was placed in the last two Ladbrokes World Hurdles, is converting that ability to fences as he held off Sam Winner by two lengths in the IJF 50th Anniversary Novices’ Chase.
Definitly Red (6-1) gave trainer Steve Gollings some food for thought after defending his unbeaten Rules record by splashing home first in the Betfair Commits 40 Million To British Racing Bumper.
Splash Of Ginge put up a game front-running display to spring a 33-1 surprise in the Betfair Hurdle. Ryan Hatch made the most of his 7lb claim and his horse’s light weight to land the spoils for the Nigel Twiston-Davies team, by a length and three-quarters from Dell’ Arca (15-2).
Irish Saint (6-1 favourite) was third and Cheltenian (8-1) fourth.