Fago takes to fences with aplomb and is now on Arkle Trophy trail


RACING:Paul Nicholls used a Newbury novice chase to unveil a little-known French recruit called Kauto Star some eight years ago, so plenty of attention should be taken of the impressive debut made by Fago at the Berkshire course yesterday.

While there was no suggestion Graham Wylie’s purchase will become such a decorated hero of Ditcheat, Fago took to British fences with aplomb and connections immediately nominated him for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.

Sent off a well-backed 5 to 4 favourite for the Betfred Double Delight Novices’ Chase, the darkly-coloured five-year-old was dropping back in distance from recent tries for Guillaume Macaire but displayed the requisite speed to complement his tidy jumping as Ruby Walsh pushed him three and a half lengths clear of Ohio Gold.

“We haven’t had him long and he jumped much better than you might expect for a horse that we thought could find improvement from what we’ve seen at home,” said Nicholls’ assistant, Dan Skelton.

“He has done all his schooling in the school, as the weather has meant he could not go outside. Better ground and a bit more time with us should see him improve, too. He’ll be entered in the Arkle and the obvious step up would be the Kingmaker at Warwick, although that’s not set in stone.”

Seventh Sign (7 to 4 favourite), a useful staying handicapper for Tommy Carmody, just survived a furious late challenge from another promising newcomer Veauce De Sivola in the Betfred Mobile Lotto Juvenile Hurdle. New trainer Alan King said: “We gelded him in December and it has been the making of him. He was only just ready but I wanted to get him out with the weather that’s about at the moment.”

Trainer worried

Scudamore kept Vieux Lion Rouge’s unbeaten record intact in the Betfred Hat Trick Heaven “Junior” bumper, but received a four-day whip ban in the process. Trainer David Pipe said of the 7 to 4 favourite: “I was worried this trip would be a bit short as he’s an out-and-out galloper. He might get an entry at Cheltenham (Champion Bumper).”

In other Cheltenham news Sizing Europe is set to take in either the Tied Cottage Chase or the Hennessy Gold Cup ahead of his fifth trip to the festival in March. Although now an 11-year-old, Henry De Bromhead’s stable star has appeared as good as ever in winning his three starts this season, completing the hat-trick with a typically sure-footed round of jumping in the Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

He holds entries in the two-mile Queen Mother Champion Chase, the two-mile-five-furlong Ryanair Chase and the three-and-a-quarter-mile Cheltenham Gold Cup at the festival. “He’s great, he’s in good form and the plan is to enter him in the Tied Cottage and the Hennessy,” said De Bromhead.

De Bromhead is in no rush to decide on Sizing Europe’s Cheltenham target, with ground conditions in March bound to be a huge factor. “He’s entered in all three races and again it will be about seeing what the ground is like and what the competition is like in each race.”

Willie Mullins’s Hurricane Fly heads 10 potential Irish challengers and is 7 to 2 favourite with sponsors Stan James for the Champion Hurdle following his emphatic win in the Istabraq Festival at Leopardstown last month with Darlan next best at 4 to 1. Titleholder Rock On Ruby is one of the last four winners among 34 entries for the race on March 12th.

Stan James Champion Hurdle, sponsors bet: 7-2 Hurricane Fly, 4-1 Darlan, 7-1 Zarkandar, Grandouet, 10-1 Rock On Ruby, 16-1 Oscar Whisky, 18-1 Cinders And Ashes, 20-1 bar.

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