While it seems by no means obvious that a change of jockey might provide the necessary impetus, it is certainly time for some kind of fresh start for a horse who arrived at the Cheltenham Festival last March as one of the hottest favourites of the week. Time For Rupert goes to Newbury today with his career at an unmistakable crossroads.
A top-class hurdler, he had been so impressive in his first two steeplechases that he was sent off as short as 7-4 for the RSA Chase, only to break a blood vessel. He made a promising return when second to Weird Al at Wetherby in October, as usual jumping well for Will Kennedy, but then produced a lifeless exhibition when pitched against Kauto Star and Long Run just three weeks later. By that stage, Kennedy's relationship with Paul Webber already seemed under strain, with the Oxfordshire trainer increasingly turning to Dominic Elsworth. And even with Elsworth committed elsewhere – all being well with both horses, Somersby might well meet Time For Rupert later in the season – Webber this afternoon turns to Denis O'Regan as his stable star drops in class for the Betfair Graduation Chase.
Kennedy is understandably devastated, having shared the mutual highlights of their careers with Time For Rupert. One way or another, however, Webber and his owners have clearly agreed the horse needs to regroup. With just three rivals, officially rated between 10lb and 25lb his inferior, Time For Rupert could ask for no better chance to restore lost momentum.
"He had a tough old time at Haydock," Webber said yesterday. "I hoped he might finish a bit closer than he did, but things didn't go exactly to plan. Denis has schooled him a couple of times and everything has gone well, so I hope they enjoy themselves together tomorrow."
Another of Webber's best horses must also regroup after a frustrating fall at Newbury last time. Sarando may now be aimed at the Betfair Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day. "He got a bit of a trampling when he came down in the Hennessy," Webber said. "He was going terribly well at the time, so it was disappointing. He bruised a hind leg, but has been cantering the last few days."
Today's card features several informative races for younger horses, though conditions are likely to be pretty unsparing. In these short, wet days, the 2012 Investec Derby seems depressingly remote, never mind the 2013 one. Even so, the publication of 442 yearling entries for the 234th running provided an instructive measure of the balance of power in European racing.
The Maktoum-Godolphin and Coolmore combinations have much the biggest presence, but Sir Henry Cecil has nominated 10 colts even before his principal patron, Prince Khaled Abdulla, had distributed his 16. Sir Michael Stoute has made 14 entries as he builds to the future after a pretty wretched 2011. Mikel Delzangles confirms his continued rise as an international force with nine, including several for the Aga Khan. After Pour Moi gave France its first Derby winner for 35 years, Delzangles has contributed to a total of 48 cross-Channel entries this time.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Aachen (2.20 Bangor) Shaped nicely on his Sandown return. Record as stayer on the Flat suggests he will enjoy first start at this trip.
Colour Squadron (1.10 Newbury) This impressive bumper winner has found another hot maiden but shaped so well on his first hurdling start over course and distance that he will surely repay fidelity sooner rather than later.
One to watch
Corkage (Keith Reveley) looked as though he would be hard to catch when falling two out at Catterick yesterday.
Where the money's going
Giles Cross, runner-up last year, is 8-1 from 10-1 with the sponsors to go one better in the Coral Welsh National on 27 December.Reuse content