Saphir is back in the groove
View from connections ahead of the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot on Saturday.
Saphir du Rheu is back in the groove
Owner Andy Stewart is hoping Saphir Du Rheu can put the troubles of last season behind him when he reappears in the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot.
The Paul Nicholls-trained grey looked booked for the top over fences when he made a winning reappearance at Carlisle and while his subsequent fifth-place finish in the Hennessy was respectable, better was expected.
A breathing operation and a return to hurdles failed to rekindle the fire and he ended the season well beaten by Menorah at Sandown.
As a result, his handicap mark has dropped back down to one which makes him competitive in races like this and connections decided to head to Ascot rather than run in either the West Yorkshire Hurdle or the Charlie Hall at Wetherby.
"We could not understand last season because he looked like a world-beater first time out at Carlisle," said Stewart.
"We are back in the groove with him now and it will be interesting to see how he gets on at the weekend."
Stewart added that fencing will be the name of the game for Saphir Du Rheu from now on.
He said: "We just decided that's he's seven now, we need to stop messing about, he was bought to win a Gold Cup so he'll be staying chasing for the foreseeable.
"Paul said the horse wouldn't know what he was doing if we kept switching between hurdles and fences so we've taken a decision. The only horse who could manage that was Big Buck's.
"We've also got Nick Scholfield on him, who gets on very well with him. I hope Sam (Twiston-Davies) makes a swift recovery, but we've also decided that even when Sam is fit Nick will ride him, they just get on very well.
"If he returns to anything like the form he showed at Aintree a couple of years ago he looks thrown in off this mark."
Heading the weights is the Nick Williams-trained Tea For Two, who created history when helping Lizzie Kelly become the first female to ride a Grade One winner in Britain.
Tom George's A Good Skin brings Cheltenham Festival form to the table.
He was second to Cause Of Causes in the Kim Muir and ran well on his comeback at Chepstow recently, a run which George expects to have brought him on considerably.
"It was a nice first run of the season at Chepstow three weeks ago and he'll have come on a bit for that," said the Slad handler.
"He loves good ground, that is the most important thing for him. He's going there in good form and with conditions to suit.
"He's got no stamina worries, he stays three miles well so hopefully he should have a good chance.
"I'm pleased we got the run into him to bring him on and hopefully he'll run well."
Charlie Longsdon's Killala Quay was an impressive winner of the Pendil Novices' Chase at Kempton last season, despite jumping violently out to his left.
Longsdon has no worries about going right-handed once more with him, though, and feels the longer trip is much more in his favour.
"I think he's on a decent-looking mark on some of last season's form, he's a Grade Two winner," said the Chipping Norton handler.
"He likes decent ground so that's another positive.
"It's easy to put a line through his comeback when he was pulled up at Chepstow as he pulled a shoe off and his jockey briefly thought he had gone lame.
"He needs three miles these days so that's in his favour as well. If you look back to last season then he must go well, you'd think.
"I know when he won the Pendil it looked like he wanted to go left-handed but I've no worries on that score. He was only jumping out to his left that day because he was going flat out, over three miles he'll jump straight, I'm sure of that."
Davy Russell has been booked for the ride.
At the bottom of the weights is Gary Moore's Antony, an easy winner at Fontwell earlier in the month but his trainer is well aware this represents a step up in class.
"He's nicely weighted but this looks a competitive race," said Moore.
"He's in good form and he looks to have improved again since he won. He should give a good account of himself, I hope.
"As long as the ground is as they've described it (good) he should be fine but he wouldn't want it too firm."
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