Kelso ‘perfect timing’ for National fancy Monbeg Genius

Jonjo O’Neill: ‘He’s in good form, so we’re as hopeful as we can be.’

Jonjo O’Neill views Saturday’s bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso as an ideal stepping-stone to Aintree for his leading Grand National contender Monbeg Genius.

The eight-year-old has not been seen in competitive action since finishing third in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury in early December, subsequently missing planned engagements in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow and the Classic Chase at Warwick.

There was concern his season could be curtailed after assets linked to owners Baroness Michelle Mone and her husband Doug Barrowman were made the subject of a restraint order, but the British Horseracing Authority subsequently confirmed Monbeg Genius would not be affected and he is able to travel to the Scottish Borders this weekend as he looks to enhance his National claims.

Jonjo O'Neill has high hopes for Monbeg Genius
Jonjo O’Neill has high hopes for Monbeg Genius (John Walton/PA)

“He’s had a few little issues, nothing serious but they were enough to make us miss the Welsh National and the Classic Chase at Warwick. He’s back on track now and hopefully all goes well,” said O’Neill.

“This looks a nice race for him, the conditions suit and it’s perfect timing with Aintree in mind – and he’s in good form, so we’re as hopeful as we can be.

“It’s a great race and the rest of the card is brilliant, fair play to Kelso for putting on a card like this.”

Monbeg Genius won three of his five starts as a novice over fences last season and also finished third behind Grand National hero Corach Rambler and leading Gold Cup contender Fastorslow in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

He again holds an Ultima entry but appears unlikely to turn up at Prestbury Park in less than a fortnight’s time.

O’Neill added: “He wouldn’t go to Cheltenham now. If everything goes according to plan, it will be straight to Aintree. He’s been left in just in case he tips up early or something on Saturday.”

It is 14 years since the Jackdaws Castle handler claimed Grand National glory with Don’t Push It, who memorably provided perennial champion jockey Tony McCoy with his first and only victory in the race.

O’Neill feels Monbeg Genius ticks plenty of boxes in terms of the world’s most famous steeplechase, even if his stamina needs to be taken on trust.

He said: “You can’t be confident a horse is ever going to stay the National trip until they try it, because there’s no other race like it, but he’s the type to do it if there is one. He’s a grand, simple horse, who just gallops and jumps.

“He might get to the Melling Road and run out of air, as they say, but you take your chance.

“He’s a different type to Don’t Push It, he had a touch of class, whereas this lad is a grand, honest to God horse who just might lack a bit of class, but what he lacks in class, he puts in through energy and he jumps well. You need a good horse now to win the National.

“We were disappointed when he didn’t win the Ultima last year, but it didn’t work out too bad did it!”

The admirable Aye Right is shooting for Kelso glory
The admirable Aye Right is shooting for Kelso glory (PA)

Monbeg Genius’ rivals include the admirable veteran Aye Right, trained in partnership by Harriet Graham and Gary Rutherford.

The 11-year-old has been placed on each of his three starts so far this term and another bold bid is anticipated from his connections.

“He’s in good form and he likes Kelso. It’s not quite level weights, but he’s much better off at the weights against other horses than he normally is, so it will be interesting,” said Graham.

“I’m quite excited about it, no doubt there’ll still be one too good for us – there’s always something!

“I think he has only run two bad races and it’s fairly obvious he likes to dominate the race and make a good pace. We won’t be changing anything on Saturday, as we’ve tried other things like holding up out the back and he does not have much speed at the end of a race, but is fairly relentless through it.”

Thunder Rock represents Olly Murphy
Thunder Rock represents Olly Murphy (John Walton/PA)

Nick Alexander saddles his five-time course winner Elvis Mail, while Olly Murphy is looking forward to giving Thunder Rock another opportunity to prove his stamina over this three-mile distance.

He said: “I’m not so sure he stays three miles, but we want to give it one last go, hopefully on a bit of nicer ground in a smallish field.

“He’ll be dropped in and ridden to run well. If he stays the trip, I think he’ll run well and he’s overpriced, but we’re kind of having a go more so than knowing he’ll definitely stay.

“The way he finishes off over two-and-a-half, you’d think he definitely would stay the trip, but I don’t think he has the couple of times we’ve tried thus far. Maybe he’s a year older and a year stronger and maybe he might do now, and I don’t think the ground is going to be too bad up there.”

Minella Drama (Donald McCain), La Renommee (Dr Richard Newland and Jamie Insole) and Cooper’s Cross (Stuart Coltherd) complete the field.

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