Though every twig between Henrietta Knight's Oxfordshire yard and Cheltenham was thickly sugared in frost, she returned from a trip to Ireland yesterday afternoon to learn that a return to top-class jump racing is still thought highly feasible this weekend. As a result, the recent frustrations she has shared with so many other trainers may yet be redressed by potentially her best horse since Best Mate.
After a light but stirring novice campaign, Somersby might seem to stand at something of a crossroads. The way he stormed up the hill in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham last March, all but running down Sizing Europe, permitted no doubt that he is every bit as talented as Knight had believed. But he could not match that form when turned out again at Aintree, three weeks later, and managed only third when sent off favourite for a valuable handicap at Exeter last month.
On closer inspection, however, that was a perfectly satisfactory resumption. He went sweetly for a long way, just seeming to lose his rhythm as he tired, and Knight expects him to prove sharper when he returns to Cheltenham for the Keith Prowse Tingle Creek Chase, salvaged from snow-bound Sandown last weekend.
"He ran perfectly OK at Exeter," she said. "It was just those fences along the top there. He didn't so much miss them out, as get too close to them. He wasn't very fluent, and you do really need to flow along those fences there. He was a bit careful, perhaps, and we felt he needed that run to get his confidence back – not because he'd become windy in his jumping, but because he had to get his technique back."
With a rejuvenated Master Minded in opposition, Somersby's performance should at the very least help to establish his best distance. "We've always thought he would stay, but every time we've put him farther he has rather disappointed," Knight said. "So we'll keep at two miles for the minute. I do think he's a very good horse." Somersby will again be ridden by Knight's new stable jockey, Hadden Frost.
Chris Mcgrath's Nap
Franco Is My Name (3.20 Kempton) Ran up sequence of four last winter, improving from base of 60, and success off 78 last month suggests he could resume upward curve.
Azlaa (4.20 Kempton) Maintained progressive profile at Lingfield last time, only mugged late on by one finishing well up the middle.
One to watch
Grey Missile (J Scott) Qualified for a rating with a third spin over hurdles at Exeter on Sunday, gaining well for a close third.
Where the money's going
Dave's Dream is 5-1 from 6-1 with Paddy Power for the Vote AP Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.