In his riding days, Conor O'Dwyer had as safe a pair of hands as any jockey round Cheltenham. Many who cherish the memory of Hardy Eustace in the Champion Hurdle, or War Of Attrition in the Gold Cup, will be gratified to see his horsemanship telling in a new career. Certainly, Folsom Blue looks his best chance yet of training a Festival winner, having handled a step up in class in style at Clonmel yesterday.
Now a steady gallop in heavy going is not a stampede over spring ground at Cheltenham, but the way Folsom Blue opened up in the straight suggests he would relish a stronger pace in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle, for which he is 12-1 from 20-1 with Stan James.
Those honouring a debt to O'Dwyer include Michael O'Leary, owner of War Of Attrition, who picked out Folsom Blue for him after he had shown promise in bumpers for Pat Doyle last spring. Having really come into his own when raised in trip at Thurles last time, the five-year-old was eased down to complete his hat-trick by nine lengths.
"I was a bit worried about the ground, but he did everything nice and easy," O'Dwyer said. "He's laid-back and at home you wouldn't know how good he was. But he looks a proper horse. He takes his races well, but he's not over-big. If he's going to Cheltenham, then he'll go straight there."
The card also featured The Midnight Club's latest preparations for the John Smith's Grand National. Though sent off odds-on against one or two deteriorating types in a conditions chase, he was badly outpaced before staying on for third behind Leanne. As at Tramore on his previous start, he clearly found two and a half miles an inadequate test and Paddy Power might have been premature in pushing out his Aintree odds from 16-1 to 25-1.
Ruby Walsh, who felt his mount struggled in the conditions, had already endured a vexing day. Making an early start in London, he not only failed in his appeal against the three-day suspension he picked up for careless riding at Cheltenham last Saturday – his first such misdemeanour in over 700 British rides – but forfeited his deposit.
With winter biting here – tomorrow's card at Sandown is already subject to an inspection today – it is easy to envy those at Meydan to see the classy Gamilati in the UAE 1,000 Guineas. Having won a trial, she should have a fitness edge over her stablemate Pimpernel.
Chris McGrath's nap
Indian Groom (2.15 Catterick)
Not long with this yard and travelled well for a long way before fading late last time, so with this sharper test looks well treated on the best of his form over hurdles.
Alben Star (4.20 Wolverhampton)
Lightly raced and perhaps unlucky not to follow up comeback win over course and distance when flying home late at Lingfield. Could prove much better than this grade in time.
Where the money's going
Junior, last seen at Royal Ascot, is 12-1 from 16-1 with William Hill for the John Smith's Grand National.
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