Kirby fastening Aintree plans for Top Ville Ben

Trainer Phil Kirby is now pointing Top Ville Ben firmly in the direction of Aintree’s Grand National Meeting, after all but ruling out the Cheltenham Festival.

The Randox Health Grand National itself or the Grade 1 Betway Bowl are both under consideration for Top Ville Ben at this stage.

Signs of maturity

The eight-year-old, who won the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on his penultimate start back on Boxing Day, was far from disgraced when third in the Cotswold Chase behind Santini and Bristol De Mai on Cheltenham Trials Day last month.

Kirby is though reluctant to put the Gold Cup on the table as a next port of call.

Having previously displayed tendencies of being a bit of tearaway, Top Ville Ben is clearly maturing well, given the manner of his Wetherby success at Christmas.

There was further evidence of that maturing attitude at Cheltenham last time behind a pair of top-tier rivals.

Aintree experience in the bag

Top Ville Ben ran at Aintree last season, when a close third behind Lostintranslation in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase.

That form has worked out very nicely, with Colin Tizzard’s charge banking the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November.

Taking on the likes of Lostintranslation and Santini in the Blue Riband next month doesn’t really appeal to Kirby, who suggests he’ll be keeping his powder dry instead for Aintree.

“He ran well enough in the Cotswold Chase against some good horses,” said Kirby. “He’ll probably wait for Aintree and run in either the Grand National or the Betway Bowl now.

“He’ll most likely skip Cheltenham, skip the Gold Cup and go to Aintree. Not definitely, but most likely, that’s the plan anyway.”

Relaxed Wetherby performance bodes well

Thomas Dowson was able to anchor Top Ville Ben at the rear of proceedings in the three-mile soft-ground Grade 3 Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby in December.

Racing with such restraint was at odds with his previous modus operandi and it was noticeable that Top Ville Ben made smooth progress to win that race.

He put eight-lengths between himself and the chasing pack at the winning line; a career-best effort.

He was no match for the front pair subsequently at Cheltenham, but he stuck to his task no less and took third spot from Ladbrokes Trophy winner De Rasher Counter as they battled up the famous Prestbury Park hill.

Patience key for National tilt

The new-found patience of Top Ville Ben at Christmas wasn’t lost on his trainer.

Kirby is all too aware that his front-running tactics would unlikely yield rewarding dividends if deployed in the four-mile plus journey around Aintree in the Grand National.

To that end, he was pleased to have seen a new string to the bow of Top Ville Ben.

“You can’t keep making it every time. He’s grown up so much now and he’ll have learned more today than he’s learned in his whole life. That’s massive for the future,” he remarked at the time.

“He used to be a runaway, he used to be free and run away every time. Because he was so talented he got away with it in the old days whereas now you can’t do that.”

Like so many more, Kirby will await with intrigue as the Grand National weights are announced on 11 February in Liverpool as he continues to ponder which target to go after at the Merseyside venue in April.

Having suggested last month he might wait until 2021 for a Grand National challenge, it seems Kirby is deviating towards a change in tact now.

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