It is not argued that King Harald was a tired horse after his seasonal reappearance in a Grade Three chase at Cheltenham 12 days ago.
What is disputed is the level of the Cheltenham Festival winner's condition at the end of his foray. Some consider King Harald left the scene of battle in much the same state as his namesake was carried from Hastings. These members of the press are in hiding from the team at Old Manor Stables in Letcombe Bassett as the seven-year-old is readied for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday.
"There was quite a lot of crap talked about him at Cheltenham," Sara Bradstock, wife of trainer Mark, said yesterday. "It was an enormous dramatisation."
The great point of debate concerning King Harald was his jump at the last, which was barely a jump at all after a round of slick vaulting. He landed like a figure on a plinth and from there it was a struggle. The gelding was diagnosed as distressed by a course vet, which is distressing in itself for connections.
"What people have forgotten to mention in their great drama-queen analysis of his run is that from being at a standstill he went on and galloped up the hill," Sara Bradstock added. "He just got leg weary in very tacky ground. But he wasn't exhausted, he didn't lie down in the stables, and I don't think he was distressed.
"We were very upset that it was made out as though we didn't care. They don't get up in the middle of the night when it's freezing to put a rug on him. We only train a few horses and we know every hair on this horse. We would not run him if we thought it was going to be detrimental."
Now it is the Hennessy, the race the Bradstocks have stalked all along, even if the build-up has not gone according to plan. "We didn't choose to run him over three and a half miles two weeks before [the Hennessy]," Sara said. "We didn't have any choice.
"Six weeks before the race there was something at Stratford but that was too firm, then there was Aintree but that would have been against specialist two-milers. Then another meeting was bottomless and another was off. We have had plans A, B, C, D and we had to go for E because he just needs to switch into top gear before running in a race like the Hennessy.
"Now we're excited and terrified. It's particularly exciting because we have got just 20 horses and none of them cost very much. King Harald has just been messing about the place until he got fresh again. We schooled him on Monday and he jumped spectacularly well and he worked very well yesterday.
"There are no obvious signs of ill-effects and so we will not know until the race whether he has had the time to improve for the run."
Another Hennessy horse coming back from a blemish is Redemption, whose jockey, Carl Llewellyn, believes will go close if he puts in a clean round of jumping. In Redemption's case though, this is an "if" writ in the gigantic letters of the Hollywood hillside.
Nigel Twiston-Davies's 10-year-old has not won since January 2004, but was travelling well towards the head of affairs when falling two fences from home in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham two weeks ago.
"He would have a good chance barring accidents," Llewellyn said. "He was going very well [at Cheltenham] until he fell. He won impressively at Newbury in a decent race a few years ago and that was the last time he won in fact, so hopefully he will remember."
l Bruce Hobbs, the youngest jockey to win the Grand National when successful as a 17-year-old on Battleship in 1938 and later an outstanding trainer of Flat horses, has died aged 84. Hobbs, who rode his first winner at the age of 15, was also the tallest jockey to win the Aintree race. Among the horses he trained were the 1980 Irish Derby winner Tyrnavos and champion two-year-olds Jacinth, Tromos and Cry Of Truth.
Nap: Turpin Green
NB: Silver Knight
(Carlisle 2.25)Reuse content