First lot at Down Farm and Tom George marshals a posse of horses made up solely of those heading for the Cheltenham Festival.Galileo in 2002 remains Tom George's only Cheltenham Festival winner (PA)
George has every right to be proud of a team that, in different ways, has the potential backed with form credentials to give him a meeting to remember.
That would be a perfectly apt outcome considering a couple of near-misses last year, including the crunching fall two from home in the Albert Bartlett of The Worlds End, now with his compass set firmly on the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle.
George, whose horses broke through the £1million prize-money barrier for the first time in the 2016/17 season, believes The Worlds End will put a couple of disappointing runs behind him by reaching his peak at the Festival, while also harbouring high hopes for novices Summerville Boy and Black Op.
He explains: "The Worlds End came on from his run in the Long Walk to the Cleeve Hurdle, in which he was placed despite finding the ground too soft. He's improving all the time and crying out for the better ground that I'm hopeful he'll get in the Stayers'."
George can point to the extraordinary statistic that Tolworth Hurdle winner Summerville Boy and the hugely attractive Black Op are by a little known sire and are, to date, his only winners.
He continues: "Both are owned by Roger Brookhouse and both are by Sandmason, who is a former Henry Cecil-trained stallion that stands in Ireland.
"And it's hard to knock their form, which is as good as it gets from the novices trained in England.
"Summerville Boy beat Kalashnikov (who then won the Betfair Hurdle) fair and square at Sandown and that in spite of the ground. He certainly doesn't want the soft and if it's good ground in the Supreme, it will suit him more.
"Black Op is one of the best-looking horses I've trained and since his narrow defeat by Santini at Cheltenham, he's done nothing but please me. He will probably head for the Ballymore. I respect the fact we will be taking on Samcro, but you should never be frightened of one horse."
George's elder son Noel rides Black Op in much of his work and father sees son as an integral part of the Down Farm operation.
Noel George, 18, left Eton with A Level grades to be proud of - two As and an A star - and is enjoying a gap year before deciding whether to take up a place at Exeter University.
His father observes: "Noel is enjoying riding as an amateur and has ridden out for us since the age of eight. He's worked for Joseph O'Brien and Sir Mark Prescott and I see him as a very safe pair of hands if ever I'm away. Looking to the future you've got to have the next generation bringing owners in."
George places a lot of emphasis on having jockeys and experienced work riders partnering the horses on work mornings. On this bright February day Paddy Brennan, James Best, Noel George and Ciaran Gethings were on hand as well as assistant Ciaran McKee and Danny Burton.
He says: "I think it's vital you invest in it. Today Paddy was on Seddon, James on Bun Doran, Noel on Black Op, Ciaran Gethings on Summerville Boy and Danny on Singlefarmpayment. The jockeys have to be paid well, but it's worth every penny."
The 20 horses out first lot initially loosened up on the Wexford sand circle that George installed 12 years ago. This is a facility that is now hugely popular among the high echelons of the training fraternity, demonstrating how much he was ahead of his time.
Then the horses traversed the steep sand and carpet hill. For faster work they are galloped on the impressive woodchip gallop.
George is in charge of a 300-acre property and says he is very hands-on with the running of the farm, which is primarily sheep, while wife Sophie oversees the books and runs two holiday-let cottages on the estate. She is also a constant partner of Wild West Wind, another who is Cheltenham-bound.
George comments: "He looked a big runner down the back at Haydock (in the Grand National Trial) but was in front too long and didn't get the three and a half miles, so the plan is to cut him back in distance for a shot at the Kim Muir."
Now in his 24th season with a licence, and with 83 stables including the three he started out with when his horses were brought back from the injury list in a valley where Fred Winter conditioned many horses, George named a handful of other potential runners with chances at Prestbury Park.
"Double Shuffle goes for the Gold Cup. He hasn't run since the King George because he wants better ground. That run to come second to Might Bite was no fluke because he was in the first three throughout the contest. He finished his race and wasn't picking up the pieces.Double Shuffle chased home Might Bite at Kempton at Christmas (PA)
"God's Own gave it away by making a mistake in the Queen Mother Champion Chase last year and he will be back for another crack. He's in great form and pleasing me.
"I'll have two going for the Champion Bumper. Seddon won well at Musselburgh where we went for the better ground and deserves to take his chance. The Big Bite is by Scorpion and won nicely on his first start for us.
"Bun Doran ran well to finish second at Cheltenham in November and since a blip at Wetherby, I've freshened him up for the Grand Annual.
"Rocklander has won two competitive chases and from his rating of 139, will go for the novices' handicap chase or the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase."
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