Kirby may wait with Top Ville Ben
Trainer Phil Kirby is erring towards the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Top Ville Ben, while suggesting it could be another year before he takes aim at the Randox Health Grand National.
The eight-year-old was an impressive winner of the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day, prompting Kirby to suggest he was a ‘Grand National type’ in the making.
He’s re-assessing however and may head for the Cotswolds in March as the main priority this season.
Maturing all the time
In the past Top Ville Ben has been headstrong, tearing away with his rider in races. There was clear evidence at Wetherby over Christmas that he’s maturing however.
Thomas Dowson was able to anchor his mount at the rear of proceedings in the three-mile soft-ground Grade 3, which came off the back of a narrow defeat in Newcastle’s Rehearsal Chase in November.
Racing off a handicap mark of 154, Top Ville Ben put eight-lengths between himself and the pack at Wetherby, having moved to take up the running late on with an impressive and much more restrained display.
Afterwards, Kirby revealed his pleasure in seeing Top Ville Ben race under restraint to such good effect, admitting “he’ll have learned more today than he’s learned in his whole life”.
Cheltenham entry is worthwhile
While not willing to nail his colours to the mast just yet, Kirby is content that entering Top Ville Ben in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup was the right move.
His new handicap mark of 164 leaves little room for manoeuvre in that sphere, ensuring the Green Oaks handler is prepared to challenge his stable star in graded company before the Cotswolds extravaganza in March.
“I think he had to have an entry [in the Gold Cup] – we’d have been silly not to put him in, and we’ll see what it looks like nearer the time,” said Kirby.
“He’ll have another run before it – in either the Cotswold Chase [on Trials Day] or the Denman [at Newbury], I would think – and that will make my mind up.
“If he can hold his own at that level then he’ll probably go and take his chance. I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t have the opportunity.”
National aspirations on ice for now
Having just turned eight-years-old on New Year’s Day, Kirby is fully aware there is no panic in getting to the Randox Health Grand National with Top Ville Ben.
He’ll be nine when the 2021 renewals rolls around and that now appears to be something Kirby has fixed as a longer-term aspiration. For now, the Blue Riband in March is very much the race in full focus.
“We can see if he’s a Gold Cup horse this year, and if he’s not we might have a National horse for next year,” added the trainer.
“He’s going the right way. He probably has to improve another 10lb, because he’s on 164, but if he gets towards 170 then he’s got a realistic chance [in the Gold Cup].”