Jason The Militant settling in well with Phil Kirby

Thu 19 Jan 2023

Trainer Phil Kirby is hoping that new recruit Jason The Militant can rediscover his best form with a change of scenery - even if a stable debut may not be immminent because of the weather outlook despite three potential engagements this weekend.

The nine-year-old joined Kirby’s yard in North Yorkshire last month having previously been with top Irish trainer Henry de Bromhead in Knockeen, County Waterford.

Jason The Miliant has kept very good company throughout his career, contesting the Group One Irish St Leger on his latest Flat start in the autumn and running at the top level four times from 11 starts over hurdles - and coming within half a length of winning the 2020 renewal of the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.

While his last win over jumps was nearly two years ago in the Grade Three company at Fairyhouse, Kirby is hopeful that a change of scenery can help the Sans Frontieres gelding to rediscover his best form.

“He’s settled in grand and he’s been very straightforward," the trainer said. "He’s done everything he’s been asked to do and we were hoping for some soft ground this weekend. It looks like we’ve got it, so we just need the racing to be on somewhere.

“We’ve had him around a month or so. He’s an older horse so he was perhaps ready for a change of scenery. We’re going to try and freshen him back up and try and get him somewhere back to where he was.

“He hasn’t been running badly though and he’s almost exclusively been running in top level races. He’s a lovely horse and he’s got a nice rating, so these are the races he’s got to run in really. He’s got a great character and is great to deal with, we’ve just been trying to freshen him up and do some different things with him.”

"A lovely horse" - how top Irish Flat rider Billy Lee described Jason The Militant after Listed success at Naas in October 2021

Jason The Militant has three entries this weekend, including in Saturday’s Grade Two The New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock Park – a registered trial for the Champion Hurdle – though the meeting looks doubtful at the time of writing due to the weather, with an inspection planned for 12pm on Friday.

And while that engagement is looking unlikely, Kirby hasn’t ruled out a potential tilt at the Unibet Champion Hurdle at The Cheltenham Festival in March – which would be his first runner in a ‘Championship’ race at the meeting.

He continued: “The most important thing was trying to find some heavy ground for him. Ideally I’d rather not take on Epatante (at Haydock), but I think Goshen is at Lingfield on Sunday!

“We were always going to have to declare him first for Haydock anyway and we’re most likely going to have to take our chance there if it’s on.

“He’s got an entry for the Champion Hurdle and I thought if he’s not in it takes that option away, so we’ve put him in. If it came up soft at Cheltenham it gives him the opportunity to have a go there, but he’s a little bit ground dependant and wouldn’t want anything good really – he’s a soft ground horse.

“He’d be our first runner in a Championship race at Cheltenham if that happened, but we’ve just got to try and freshen him up and let him enjoy himself. He’s a really nice character to deal with and he knows how to race. He just wants freshening up and hopefully we can get him back towards what he was running like.”

When asked to comment on his season so far, he added: “We had a slow-ish start to the season and we’ve gone down the road of having as many Flat horses as jumpers now. Bushypark won well at Catterick the other day and looks as though he’s coming back into himself, so we’re getting there.

“It’s a bit of a rebuilding mission for us at the moment as some of our good horses are coming towards the end. Top Ville Ben was due to run at Lingfield on Friday in the race he won last season, which is a bit of a pain (the meeting having been abandoned), but we’re getting back to where we were hopefully.”

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