Here's a good April Fool's Day joke. You have a top-class horse who has suffered a serious foot injury. Your trainer retires, her talented son, with a track record of success, takes over her stable. You then move your horses, including the recuperating star, to a yard that has produced the grand total of two jumping winners in the previous three seasons, a yard that happens to be run by your retired trainer's and racing manager's sister. But Mandy Bowlby is hoping that she will indeed have the last laugh, though she admits it may not be today.
Her charge Princeful, the high-class staying hurdler who broke a hind pedal bone on his chasing debut 14 months ago and whom she acquired when Robert Hitchins transferred much of his string to her Gurnsmead Farm near Wantage from her nephew Mark, returns to the fray in the Long Distance Hurdle at Ascot.
Bowlby is, understandably, somewhat defensive about the criticism aimed in her direction when Hitchins acted. True, this latest campaign has yielded just two winners, the last one a month ago. But her last 12 runners have not only included the two successes but six places. ''People can say what they like, but we've never had many horses, let alone good ones,'' she said yesterday, sounding alarmingly like her redoubtable sister Jenny Pitman. ''But now we've got the goods hopefully we can show what we can do.''
Princeful, winner of the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham two years ago, would be a match and more for this afternoon's rivals at his best. His injury appears behind him; the pin that repaired the bone was removed in early January and he worked well at Newbury a week ago. Bowlby said: ''He will of course win if he can, but he will not be given a hard time. He's a lovely horse to train, so enthusiastic about his work and if he comes through this test we plan to take him to the Stayers' Hurdle at Punchestown before he resumes novice chasing.''
Princeful's presence brings much interest to an otherwise fairly routine marathon, but for the winner it may pay to look at more battle-hardened contenders.
Teaatral is on a hat-trick while the improving handicapper Rubhahunish is also in flying form after his record-breaking Cheltenham win. But it may be worth taking a chance with Deano's Beeno (3.05), reverting to hurdles after a successful chasing debut and proven at this Grade Two level.
Today's jumping fare is a way of marking time before the last of the major domestic festivals starts at Aintree on Thursday, but Enrique (2.00) is shaping into the sort of horse who can continue his progress up the ladder in Ascot's opener. The following handicap chase can go to bottom-weight Lord York (2.30), who trotted up at Newbury last week after a mid-season refresher break.
The Flat, off to its usual stuttering start at Doncaster last week, shares the bill at Haydock, where Atlantic Rhapsody (nap, 4.15) can justify his trainer Mark Johnston's high opinion of him. The son of Machiavellian disappointed when he was beaten in all his four starts last year, though with an aggregate losing distance (for three runner-up spots and a third) of only a length and a half it was hardly a catastrophic failure.
Over the winter he made the physical progress a May foal was entitled to and a wide-margin confidence-boosting all-weather win in a minor maiden at Southwell 12 days ago over today's mile can prove the stepping stone to better things.
Lightly-raced Toni's Tip (3.45), undone by fast ground at Cheltenham, can take the preceding three-mile handicap chase.
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