HORSE RACING: Hales is happy to hold his star back

Ben Case watches Cheltenham hopeful Midnight Jazz on the gallops, ridden by Danny Hannig

Ben Case watches Cheltenham hopeful Midnight Jazz on the gallops, ridden by Danny Hannig

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Little fish are sweet as the old saying goes and Edgcote trainer Alex Hales would settle for a Huntingdon double on Sunday while admitting his new stable star is likely to by-pass the Cheltenham Festival which now looms large on the horizon.

Duel At Dawn holds an entry in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle on the Friday of the Festival, but while his participation has yet to be ruled out, Hales is likely to adopt a more cautious stance with the seven-year-old who has twice raised significant eyebrows this term.

After turning over a 1/16 favourite in a two horse race at Doncaster in December, the son of Presenting then belied odds of 50/1 when finishing third at 50/1 back at Town Moor in the Grade 2 River Don Novices’ Hurdle.

Hales said: “We are not going to win the Albert Bartlett and while we have kept Duel At Dawn in the race at this stage I would like to go to Hereford on March 11 or Market Rasen a day later. There is also the possibility he might run in an Aintree handicap in April.”

He added: “The horse is a big raw baby who is going to come into his own as a chaser next season. I always remember what Nicky Henderson said about horses like this and not going for the Festival.”

No one can dispute the fact Hales’ runners have been performing consistently in their grade this season. The lack of another outstanding talent continues to gnaw away in the background, although Minellaforleisure would help to offset this irritation if he managed a repeat success in the Cheltenham handicap he won in April last season.

Hales said: “Minellaforleisure prefers the better ground so we have been aiming him for that.”

Of more immediate distraction is the planned raid on Huntingdon this weekend where Isaac Bell and Periquest could both strike.

Hales said: “Periquest just needed his last run at Wincanton and he has won at Huntingdon before. I would expect him to go close.”

Isaac Bell got stuck in the mud at Market Rasen and it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise to see him perform on top of his game.

Meanwhile, local trainer Stuart Edmunds could take the bumper at Huntingdon with either Maria’s Benefit or newcomer Tricky Silence.

THE appearance of Croco Bay in the concluding race of the four-day Cheltenham Festival is getting to be something of a habit and Edgcote trainer Ben Case again has cause for optimism in the 2017 version in a fortnight.

Lady Jane Grosvenor’s 10-year-old may be winless this season with some of his runs less than inspiring, but Croco Bay has performed with distinction at Prestbury Park before and is not weighted out of the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual over 2m.

The race has been the target all season and his recent third behind Gardefort at Wincanton was pleasing enough.

Case said: “He has had a few ‘nothing’ races this season and his form has not been as consistent as I would have liked but there have been excuses and he ran pretty well last time. Considering it was a small field he had quite a rough race and I am hoping he improves.”

Croco Bay finished third in this contest two years ago, beaten only six lengths by Next Sensation and Eastlake and is now back down to an attractive mark of 141.

Consistency is much more of a watchword for the Case-trained mare Midnight Jazz which has won six of her 21 starts, invariably finishing in the money on the other occasions.

She will line up for the Grade 1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day of the Festival on the back of an impressive run at Doncaster in January when she was just beaten a short head by the highly regarded Vroum Vroum Mag, a short priced favourite for this year’s renewal. At 25/1 there have worse each-way options

Case said: “She’s a tough, hardy mare and a couple of the times when she wasn’t placed, was either under the weather or things hadn’t gone for her. She has always run well at Cheltenham, we’re in a conditions race so she’s going to be up against some slightly higher rated horses. But from what she has done this season she deserves to take her chance and goes there in good form.”

Case’s ability to train mares with distinction was proven again by the 9/1 victory of Graceful Legend at Exeter last Friday and she now goes for either the mares’ final at Newbury this month or to Haydock in April.