Cheltenham is top priority for Donald McCain

Donald McCain: Strong team. Picture: PA
Donald McCain: Strong team. Picture: PA
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TIMES have changed at Bankhouse, Cholmendeley, with trainer Donald McCain admitting the Cheltenham Festival is now top of his priorities.

While the McCain name will forever be synonymous with Aintree due to Donald’s late father Ginger’s affiliation with the Grand National, the burgeoning empire in Cheshire has attracted higher-profile owners and a better calibre of racehorse.

“From Christmas onwards, you are starting to think about getting horses ready for Cheltenham,” said McCain. “We were lucky to have a winner with our first runner there [Cloudy Lane, 2007 Kim Muir], which was great, but things have been a bit tougher since. Aintree is obviously a special place for us, but we almost look at having winners there as a bonus. I’m looking forward to Cheltenham but, in ten days’ time, I’ll be dreading it. You just want everything to go right.”

McCain again has a strong team assembled, with the Arkle-bound Overturn and World Hurdle contender Peddlers Cross joined by a band of hopefuls for the lesser races.

McCain said Our Mick is his best chance of winning one of the handicaps. “He was third in the JLT last year as a novice and made a couple of bad mistakes on the way round, but ran a screamer,” said McCain. “He’s in great nick and I’ll be expecting a big run from him.”

Super Duty was only narrowly denied by Goulanes in the Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby last time and, although he has handicap engagements at Cheltenham, McCain is leaning towards a tilt at the RSA Chase.

“I’ve been very tempted just to concentrate on the Kim Muir, to be honest, but I’m starting to think strongly about running him in the RSA,” said the trainer.

Son Of Flicka won part-owner Phil Williams the best part of £1million when landing last year’s Coral Cup and is set to defend his crown. Real Milan is not yet certain to make the trip to Cheltenham, having almost fallen on his latest appearance at Ascot, but is described as a “fairly useful tool” by McCain.

Runaway Wetherby winner Diamond King could head for the Champion Bumper. “He was highly impressive at Wetherby and a beautifully bred horse,” said McCain. Any Given Day, Bourne and Hollow Tree are all set to run in handicap hurdles, while juvenile Counsel has the Fred Winter on his agenda.

McCain is “tempted” by a tilt at the Jewson Novices’ Chase with Desert Cry and Cloudy Lane is in contention for the Foxhunter Chase. She Ranks Me appears likely to take on the mighty Quevega in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.