GIFFORD CALM ABOUT EXCITING FESTIVAL PROSPECTS
Nick Gifford is hoping that he does not have to wait as long as his
father Josh to enjoy his first Cheltenham Festival success, as he looks
forward to saddling leading hope Straw Bear in the Anglo Irish Bank Supreme
The Sussex trainer, who also plans to run Wee Robbie in either the Royal & SunAlliance
Novices’ Hurdle or the Brit Insurance Novices’ Hurdle, would
love to break his Festival duck in his third season with a licence, but
he is not unduly worried.
Gifford commented: “My old man took 17 years before he had his
first winner, but you cannot beat yourself up about not having trained
a winner at The Festival.
“Cheltenham is not the be-all and end-all but, having said that, it is a wonderful place to have a runner, especially if you go with a chance. When you’re only a small yard it’s just nice to have one good enough to go there.”
Gifford senior endured several near misses before Golden Minstrel landed
the 1988 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup, and the trainer, famous
for his handling of the likes of Aldaniti, Deep Sensation and Brief Gale,
proceeded to rattle off 10 Festival wins in eight years.
Gifford recalled: “I think Aldaniti winning the Grand National
helped a lot because then my father was suddenly training for the likes
of Jim Joel and he could buy the better class of horse. He was going
to war with better ammunition, so the Festival success followed.
“I was away at school and Cheltenham was always during term time,
so I was in my 20s and at university before I went to The Festival.
“I remember being there when Deep Sensation won the 1993 Queen Mother Champion Chase and that was an absolutely fantastic day. It probably wasn’t the strongest Queen Mother Champion Chase in terms of depth, but he was very talented. You can only beat what’s in front of you and the fact is he won one.
“The atmosphere of the place is terrific and that’s what makes Cheltenham so great.”
Straw Bear, who also holds an entry in the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle,
is held in high-regard by Gifford, who took over the licence from his
father at the famous Findon yard in April, 2003.
The J P McManus-owned gelding won his first two over hurdles, including
an impressive debut at Leicester in January where he had Acambo eight
lengths back in third.
The handler noted: “The ground was soft at Leicester and I think it looked more impressive than it actually was. Horses don’t keep winning like that.”
Gifford was more impressed by Straw Bear’s last start when the
five-year-old saw off Classic Role at Folkestone at the end of January.
He revealed: “We deliberately wanted to drop him in at Folkestone and Tony McCoy held on to him all the way round. Even approaching the last he still had hold of him. The other horse winged the last and we didn’t. I was very pleased with the way he then quickened up without being hit and won a shade cosily. I was very impressed with him.”
Despite his satisfaction with that win, Gifford believes that Straw
Bear’s prominence in the betting is unjustified.
“In my eyes he’s still no way a 10/1 shot for the Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. It’s a ridiculous price with horses like Noland, Natal and Boychuk in there. They’ve won round Cheltenham or they’ve won on good ground. We haven’t achieved anything like they’ve achieved and Acambo certainly didn’t frank the form at Musselburgh. We know Straw Bear’s a nice horse but whether he justifies being the price he is, that’s doubtful.”
He continued: “I think we’d be going to Cheltenham as a live each-way chance, providing the ground was suitable. I’m under no pressure to run him and, if the ground was quick, we could give it a miss.”
Wee Robbie won a two mile, three furlong novice hurdle at Newbury in
December and will go to The Festival without another run but connections
have yet to decide which race to target.
Gifford revealed: “Wee Robbie runs well fresh. At the moment it
would be 50-50 between the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle
and the Brit Insurance Novices’ Hurdle.
“If it was genuine good ground, he might go for the three-mile
race because I think they may go too quick in the Royal & SunAlliance.
It was soft when he won at Newbury and all he did was stay on. If it
was on the softer side, then the Royal & SunAlliance would be more
The six-year-old is a scopey type but has already shown useful form over hurdles, including a second to the smart Be Be King at Huntingdon in November.
Gifford reported: “He is an archetypal chaser and it’s that old cliche that anything he does over hurdles is a bonus. We looked after him last season in bumpers and he ran very well when 13th behind Missed That in the Festival Bumper.
“He was a baby and didn’t really know what he was doing but Leighton Aspell looked after him and he ran a cracker against precocious horses with gears. One thing he hasn’t got is gears but he is a relentless galloper.”
Gifford has 37 horses in his yard at present, including Joly Bey, who
will once again be aimed at the Grand National, but who could also take
in The Festival along the way.
“He’s had a wind operation and he’s back cantering now. He needs a run before Aintree to find out if that has worked so plan A is the Vodafone Gold Cup at Newbury, but I’ll be making three entries for him at The Festival in case we need to fall back on plan B.”
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