Whatever his perceived imperfections as a jockey, nobody can question Sam Waley-Cohen as a horseman. In the spring of last year, he nearly pulled off a double that would have crowned the riding career of any professional, never mind an amateur confined to a handful of different mounts every season. Three weeks after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Long Run, Waley-Cohen rode Oscar Time to be foiled only by Ballabriggs in the Grand National itself – a performance that capped his remarkable record of wins and completions over the big fences at Aintree.
Martin Lynch, Oscar Time's trainer, and Waley-Cohen were suitably dismayed, then, when a setback ruled the chaser out of another crack at the race last season. And they are both anxiously hoping that Thurles passes an inspection this morning, so that the 11-year-old can start making up for lost time – especially so in the case of his rider, whose flight from England will already have left the ground.
"When we began his build-up to Aintree in January, we found a slight bit of heat in his leg," Lynch said yesterday. "With tendons, you never know, it's a day-by-day thing. But the injury looks very good and he is training very well. Age is not in his favour, but he's been lightly raced over the years and you can see that in him. He certainly doesn't think he's old."
Lynch has very few runners under Rules, instead concentrating on bringing through young stores and point-to-pointers to sell, but is certainly relieved he kept this one in his Co Westmeath yard. "For a horse to have as good a trip round the National as he did, and as hassle-free, must stand him in good stead if we can get him back there," Lynch said. "I just hope we can get a clear run with him. We used to pick and choose between hurdles and fences, but now he needs to get a few chase runs under his belt, and, hopefully, get back to where he was in April last year."
Difficult conditions underfoot have not discouraged several interesting prospects, meanwhile, convening for the start of the three-day Hennessy meeting at Newbury – notably in the GPG Novices' Chase. Highland Lodge produced an exuberant exhibition at Towcester earlier this month and looks as promising a horse as Emma Lavelle has handled.
"It's one of those exciting moments," the Andover trainer said. "He came out of his race at Towcester really well and I hope he'll handle the ground all right. I can't believe it's not going to be tacky, having been so wet and then dried out a bit, so it's going to be a big test of stamina."
Aaim To Prosper, who won his second Cesarewitch at the age of eight last month, becomes a rather elderly jumping debutant earlier on the card.
Conversely, another veteran dual winner of a great Flat race yesterday came to the end of the road when Borderlescott was finally retired. Now 10, the 2008 and 2009 Nunthorpe Stakes winner's continued enthusiasm had been a tribute to his trainer, Robin Bastiman. He was still able to win a Listed race at Beverley in September, the 14th success of a career that generated just over £775,000 in prize-money, but his form tapered off in the autumn and he is to be pensioned off.
"We were a bit worried after his last run, he wasn't quite right," Bastiman said. "He was probably telling us in a way. The owners have given the horse to my daughter, Rebecca. He'll be staying with us – he's part of the yard. It's a sad day, but he has done us proud."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Arctic Lynx (7.05 Kempton) Trapped wide last time but had retrieved earlier promise for his new stable.
Kaylee (7.35 Kempton) Has looked well up to surpassing this kind of rating.
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