By Graham Clark
Winning the Randox Grand National is an ambition that will ultimately elude most involved in Jump racing, however Ogbourne Maizey-based trainer Emma Lavelle hopes returning star De Rasher Counter can turn that dream into reality this season.
Since starting out 23 years ago, Lavelle has enjoyed plenty of big-race success together with her husband, and assistant trainer, Barry Fenton, largely thanks to the Grade One victories secured by leading staying hurdler Paisley Park.
While the popular nine year old will once again assume the role of stable flagbearer, it is De Rasher Counter that could provide Lavelle with her most notable success in the world’s greatest chase at Aintree in April.
Although De Rasher Counter was restricted to just one start last season after suffering a leg injury early in the campaign, Lavelle reports the 2019 Ladbrokes Trophy winner to be in a good place.
She said: “He came back in yesterday and it is hugely exciting having him back in. He has been in Wales trotting up hills hardening his legs off having picked up an injury last season.
“The plan for this season will be geared around the Grand National. We will scan his legs when he comes back in and if everything is all right, we will be able to start cantering with him.
“He will have a decent level of fitness from what he has been doing. If the ground is not bottomless, hopefully we can start him in January and have a couple of runs before the National.
“I think we will keep all options open and I’m not saying we won’t run him over hurdles but I think it will depend where the races are, what the ground is like and what makes sense. Everything will work back from the Grand National though.
“The ground in the Cotswold Chase was bottomless and he is a lovely moving horse and he probably doesn’t want it like that. We had to have a crack at it to see what the right route was.
“The Ladbrokes Trophy is a competitive handicap and they put a lot into running in races like that. He was a progressive novice the season before that and the Ladbrokes probably took more out of him than we gave him credit for.”
All roads will lead back to Wincanton and an outing in the 60th Badger Beer Handicap Chase on Saturday 6th November for Irish Prophecy, who demonstrated what he can do granted his perfect conditions at the Somerset track on Sunday.
She said: “I think it would make sense to go for the Badger Beer Chase but the ground is key. If it rains there, he wouldn’t have a chance.
“He is a smashing horse that is a great big proper staying chaser when he gets conditions to suit him.
“He will be given a break soon and when he comes back we can look at races like the Scottish National where you will potentially get what you want.
“After Chepstow we said there is a good handicap in him and that was a lovely race to win but there is a better one that in him.”
Jemima P has won four of her last five starts over fences since undergoing a wind operation 12 months ago and Lavelle hopes the seven year old mare can continue that run by securing some valuable black type this campaign.
She said: “She has had a great summer. She started off 105 and is now 142. Fences have been the making of her and we will try and get some black type.
“She probably wants nicer ground but there is that nice mares’ race at Doncaster in December where you have a chance of getting some decent ground.”
Killer Clown finished sixth in the Grade Two Jewson’s Monet’s Garden Old Roan Limited Handicap Chase at Aintree on his return on 24th October, however Lavelle believes a step back up in trip can help the seven year old fulfil his potential.
She said: “Watching it at the time he was always in top gear. His jumping is his trademark but he was never able to wing his fences the way he can because he was always going that bit quicker than his comfort zone.
“He will be better over two miles six and I think he will be a better horse full stop for the run. He wasn’t beaten miles and he will improve a lot for it but two and a half was just sharp enough for him against those horses.
“I think he could be really good, and I think he is well-handicapped, but I just haven’t nailed down all the ingredients yet.”
Light N Strike had to settle for second best on his chasing debut at Kempton Park this month, but Lavelle believes the five-year-old together with stablemate Red Rookie will be winning over fences in time.
She said: “Red Rookie is a lovely horse that will go over fences this season, but he is a proper soft ground horse.
“He will start over two miles as every time I ran him over further, he got beaten so we know which route to take.
“He jumps great and he really could be anything.
“It is tricky when you have a horse that keeps finishing second like Light N Strike. He jumped really well, and I was happy with that.
“If you stopped the race three out you would have said he was going to win and that makes me think I might be better dropping back to two miles.
“He has come out of the race well and will be out again fairly shortly. It is just about him getting there and doing it now which I believe he can.”
Lavelle could already be toasting a victory over the famous Grand National fences before De Rasher Counter tackles them after earmarking the Betway Grand Sefton Handicap Chase at Aintree on Saturday 6th November as a target for Manofthemountain.
She said: “I think he is a genuinely good horse. Paul (Jacobs) is a very patient owner and we wanted to give him time to mature into the horse we hoped he would be.
“Two and a half to two six on good ground is absolutely up his street. He loves his jumping and is very good at it.
“Cheltenham at the end of last season was brilliant, while I thought he would just need that first start at Chepstow as he is a very fresh and energetic horse.
“The plan is very much to have a go at the Grand Sefton if the ground is okay. He is entered in the Paddy Power as well, but I think jumping the National fences is what he is tailor made for and he has lots of potential.”
Throughout the campaign Lavelle will take the wraps off a number of promising novice hurdlers including Mumbo Jumbo, Flying Nun and Do You Think who are expected to open their accounts sooner rather than later.
She said: “Mumbo Jumbo ran a lovely race at Newbury when he was second in his bumper. He is a big good-looking galloper that wants cut in the ground. He could be anything at this stage. He just gives you a real good feel.
“Flying Nun was backward last season but is much stronger now. She will go novice hurdling, but she wants cut in the ground as she has got plenty of knee action. She will want a trip, but she is a smashing mare.
“Do You Think was good winning her bumper but is another that wants soft ground. She is an out-and-out galloper with a great attitude to life. She will go in mares’ novice hurdles now.”
Last season was one of both highs and lows for 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle hero Paisley Park, who having secured a second success in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in ended the campaign pulling up in the in the Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree.
Lavelle believes a line can be drawn through Paisley Park’s latest effort after reporting her stable star to be in great order ahead of his return to action which could come in the Grade Two bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby this Saturday (30th October).
She said: “It was a lovely comeback run last season. I was chuffed to bits as he didn’t have a hard race to do it and it was a super first run.
“His win in the Long Walk was amazing and it was a very emotional day for us. For him to come back and to tough it out the way he did was great.
“He is an older horse now and the big gap between the Long Walk and The Festival, having lost the Cleeve to the weather, certainly didn’t play to his strengths.
“I just think that he needed to have a run in between and a racecourse gallop was just not enough.
“Although I think he ran a great race at Cheltenham in the Stayers’ Hurdle where he made up so much ground to finish third ultimately that lack of match practice cost us.
“I think the effort he put into finishing where he did took its toll and Aintree was a race too far for him. He came out of the race really well and is absolutely fine in himself.
“The plan is very much to start over hurdles on Saturday at Wetherby ideally if the ground is safe and then see where we are after that. I couldn’t be happier with him at the moment.”
Should all not go to plan over hurdles for Paisley Park then a switch to novice chasing could be on the cards after the Andrew Gemmell-owned gelding impressed in a schooling session under Aidan Coleman.
Lavelle added: “We didn't tell anyone and Aidan came in and we went for a nip onto the schooling ground when no one else was around and gave him a pop over a fence.
“We thought if he was good it might open up a few ideas. He was so quick through the air, we couldn’t be happier with him.
“As things stand I envisage him staying over hurdles if he brings what he is showing at home to the races.
“What is exciting is that we have novice chasing if we need it.”
*One area Lavelle appears to have plenty of strength in this season is her novice chase team which is headed by Sam Barton, who could make his debut over fences at Ascot on Saturday in the colours of the late Trevor Hemmings.
She said: “Sam Barton is a smart horse. He loves his jumping and the plan is to start out at Ascot this Saturday.
“He is a typical of the type of horse the late Mr Hemmings had, and it was always about going chasing. We educated to set him up this season going over fences.
“The ground was just too soft for him in the EBF Final at Sandown Park. He is a good mover and, although I don’t think he wants it to be too quick, a bog dulls that ability to travel.”
Equally exciting recruits to the novice chase ranks this season are Shang Tang and Runswick Bay, both whom have already secured debut victories over fences with wins at Newton Abbot and Ludlow respectively.
She said: “We were marking time last season over hurdles with Shang Tang to go chasing this season.
“He hadn’t put a foot wrong schooling, but he got to the track and over-jumped the first and slightly scared himself.
“He is a natural athlete. He is only just starting to come to terms what he is capable of and putting all that energy in the right direction.
“He is not straightforward, but he has got plenty of ability. I think he is probably better on a flat track, but he is a quality horse.
“I don’t want to over-face him. They didn’t move his handicap mark for his last win so I would say we will stick to that for the time being.
“As for Runswick Bay, he was a little scary over the first three (when making a winning chase debut at Ludlow) but Tom (Bellamy) did amazingly well to keep the partnership intact. He then taught him all the way round and he got better and better. He needs nice ground but is a smashing little horse with a great attitude.
“He has got some decent form over hurdles, but he will be a better chaser and we will go through the handicap ranks.”
Thunderstruck has had to make do with the runner-up spot on his last two starts, but Lavelle remains optimistic a change of luck is not far away, which could come in the shape of a Pertemps qualifier.
She said: “We are so nearly barking up the right tree and I think it will fall his way.
“He jumped out to the right so I will probably run him right handed and that is where our improvement will come.
“He is a genuine staying handicap hurdler that benefited from having his wind done, there is no doubt about that.
“All things being equal races should come his way. We could potentially go for a Pertemps qualifier.
“He wouldn’t get in the final off his mark but if he could win a qualifier it would be a nice bit of prize money and it would keep all options open.”
Finding future stars is an important part of the business and Lavelle believes bumper horses Top Dog and Nollyador could be names we hear a lot of in years to come if taking the path she expects them to.
She said: “It was a bit frustrating at Cheltenham on Saturday as Top Dog should have won that bumper but a combination of stuff meant he went to the left and just got nabbed. It stamped him as a nice horse going forward.
“He won’t have a busy campaign but I will keep him over bumpers this season. We will have a look if we can win one of the good ones.
“The plan is to go to Ascot on Saturday with Nollyador. He does everything well, but he is a horse that will get stronger and develop in time.
“He is very natural and he finds everything easy and is one with a good mind. He gives the impression at home he is a nice horse. He is a good horse in the making.”Simply sign up and deposit (minimum £15) with one of our 18 betting partners, complete the form and we'll send you one of the new Racing TV Bomber Jackets for free!
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