Weatherman cements Festival claims

A review of Thursday afternoon's action from Wincanton, where Ask The Weatherman boosted his claims for the Foxhunter Chase.

Ask The Weatherman boosted his claims for the Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival with a straightforward success in the Stewart Tory Memorial Open Hunters' Chase at Wincanton.

Jack Barber's eight-year-old has made giant strides in the point-to-point world and was sent off the 4/9 favourite to make his mark on his first start on the racecourse proper.

Given a confident ride by the experienced Will Biddick, a feature of his performance was his foot-perfect jumping and the one-time smart handicapper Rebel Rebellion, having his first run for 649 days, had no answer to him in the home straight, finishing six lengths adrift.

Already the shortest priced British-trained contender, he is now as low as 5/1 for the the big race next month, behind general 3/1 favourite On The Fringe.

"That was perfect, he just knuckled on landing at the first and that made him concentrate more on the rest," said Barber. "We'd have preferred a bit of company, but he was in front the whole way really.

"When they came to him down the back straight he just took off and was really impressive. That will do him now, it will be straight to Cheltenham."

Oliver Sherwood has had a trying week but was able to enjoy a winner through Hitherjacques Lady (8/13 favourite) in the EBF Mares' 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle.

The Lambourn trainer, who tragically lost Grand National hero Many Clouds at Cheltenham on Saturday, said: "It took a while for the penny to drop – when she won her bumper I don't think she learnt a thing, she just jumped out and galloped.

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"She was a bit timid with horses around her to start with, but she's really cottoned on to it and is enjoying it. As you can see from her size, hurdling is just a stepping stone to chasing really."

Of the aftermath to Many Clouds, Sherwood told Racing UK: "Monday was pretty grim, but yesterday and today was schooling, Leighton (Aspell) was in, the banter was back, a few jokes were fired. It's been tough, but we've had so many emails and letters, I almost need to employ a secretary for 10 days to answer them all, which says a lot for what the horse meant to the racing public.

"We will reply to every single one, I promise you that. We have to move on, never forget but just enjoy the memories."

Alan King quickly recovered from the setback of not being able to run Yanworth this weekend by saddling the first two home in the Carling Novices' Hurdle as Sir Antony Browne led home Midnight Maestro.

King rated the winner as one of his brightest prospects this season but he returned from his summer break with a breathing problem and nearly threw victory away with a slow leap at the last, but Wayne Hutchison was able to gather him up to win by three-quarters of a length.

"He got to the front and had a look at the hurdle which gave me a fright, but at least I had the second and one of them was going to win," said King of the 5/4 favourite.

"We thought last year he was one of our best bumper horses and we had great hopes for him, but unfortunately when he came back in his wind had gone wrong so we had to do a tie-back. But for that he was potentially top class, he still probably is a decent horse. He was ready to run two or three weeks ago, but then he got ringworm.

"He's got a Cheltenham entry so I'm going to have to get him out again and see, he's in the Supreme and the Neptune and that might be flying a bit high, but he'll certainly have another run."

Tornado In Milan (16/1) made nearly all the running in the Fortress Home Insurance Handicap Hurdle to give 10lb conditional Cian Maher just his second winner.

Maher is based with winning trainer Evan Williams and said: "He travelled well the whole way and just kept finding. He's very consistent and very genuine. I had no problems with him the whole way round."

Baby King (9/4 joint-favourite) came with a late run to nab Astre De La Cour right on the line in the Ryan Direct Group Chase for Tom George and Adrian Heskin.

"Over hurdles he wasn't getting home, but he's always schooled well," said George.

"Adrian said he wasn't going to have a go until after the last and it worked to perfection."

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