JOHN Hales welcomed the appointment of Noel Fehily when Unioniste makes his comeback in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday.
The owner has been buoyed by the fine victory of Al Ferof in the Amlin Chase at Ascot last weekend as both horses had been suffering from ulcers which have since been treated.
And with Sam Twiston-Davies aboard stablemate Rocky Creek, Fehily has been booked to ride Unioniste for the first time.
The Paul Nicholls-trained grey put up a classy performance to defeat Wishfull Thinking by seven lengths in a Listed race at Aintree last December.
He never recaptured that form and after taking his chance in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, he was well beaten in competitive handicaps at Doncaster and Aintree.
With Unioniste’s problems reportedly behind him, Hales is optimistic of a good run.
“He runs on Saturday and it’s great that Noel Fehily rides,” he said. “Unioniste went the same way as Al Ferof. Al Ferof came out and won the Amlin Chase last year and Unioniste won a nice race at Aintree and then went downhill.
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“We then found out both had got bad ulcers. You can see what happened with Al Ferof. We put him right.
“Paul [Nicholls] worked out what was wrong with them.”
Tony McCoy is likely to turn to Merry King to give him that elusive first victory in the Hennessy.
It is one of the very few big races missing from the perennial champion jockey’s long list of successes and he gets the chance to put that right this weekend.
The Jonjo O’Neill-trained gelding was fifth behind Triolo D’Alene 12 months ago when Richie McLernon took the ride as McCoy was in action at Newcastle, steering My Tent Or Yours to victory for his boss, owner JP McManus.
McCoy said: “There are three or four possibilities, but it looks like Merry King at the moment.”
Yesterday, McCoy wasted no time in getting back amongst the winners after a three-week lay-off with victory on Southfield Royale at Fontwell.
However, despite taking his tally for the season to 153 on his only ride of the day, the 19-times champion jockey believes the dream of reaching 300 winners by the end of the campaign is out of the question.
McCoy showed no rustiness nor lack of fitness after recovering from rib and shoulder injuries as he gave the Neil Mulholland-trained four-year-old a typically strong ride to land in the Free Tips At raceclear.co.uk Novices’ Hurdle.
Coologue, the 1-2 favourite, looked to be going well for Noel Fehily, but McCoy asked his mount for extra and Southfield Royale (2-1) obliged to score by two and a half lengths.
“You can’t afford to miss any days and it’s impossible to ride 300 winners now. You’ve got to accept the fact,” said McCoy.
“You’ve just got to ride as many as you can and hopefully some good ones along the way,” he added.
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