Redknapp and Owen aiming to emulate Ferguson in Bahrain

By Sports Desk December 05, 2023

Hot on the heels of Sir Alex Ferguson tasting success with Spirit Dancer, Harry Redknapp and Michael Owen are now setting their sights on winning in Bahrain.

Former Manchester United manager Ferguson won the biggest race Bahrain has to offer in the International Trophy with a horse he also bred as the Richard Fahey-trained gelding streaked to glory.

Now Redknapp is targeting victory in the Bahrain Turf Series with Moktassab, trained by Phil McEntee, while Owen is sending over the Hugo Palmer-trained Box To Box.

Redknapp, who has been an owner for many years, said: “I am really looking forward to Moktasaab running in Bahrain. The horse has had a nice break since his last run in August and I think, like a lot of us, he will appreciate a bit of winter sunshine. Phil is very pleased with him and we hope he is back on a winning mark, having dropped a few pounds this year.

“I had a runner (Wonder Elzaam) in the first Bahrain Turf Series back in 2021, which was a lot of fun, and we will be heading out to Bahrain during the series to watch Moktasaab run.”

Owen is one of the owners of Box To Box, who finished second to Spirit Dancer at York in the summer.

“Box To Box arrives off the back of a really good season in England and he has travelled well to Bahrain,” said Palmer, ahead of the series, which starts on Friday.

“Physically the horse thrived in Bahrain last year, but he did his chances no good by being slowly away on a couple of occasions, which is unlike him. If he jumps well, then he has a lot in his favour.

“He is set to meet a couple of his former stable companions, Mr McCann and Chronograph, both of whom are now based in Bahrain, so it will be interesting to see how he gets on against them.”

Roman Dragon is another for Owen and Palmer to be making the journey.

Palmer said: “To date, all five of Roman Dragon’s wins have come around Chester’s tight turns, so the straight 1000m will be a slightly different challenge for him, but he will love the fast ground and he is fit and ready to run well. His owners were keen to experience the Bahrain Turf Series having heard good things about it.”

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  • ‘Very talented’ Sir Gino primed for Triumph tilt ‘Very talented’ Sir Gino primed for Triumph tilt

    Sir Gino does not fit Nicky Henderson’s typical template of a juvenile hurdler – but the giant four-year-old looks so good he has somewhat forced his trainer to go down a tried-and-tested route.

    On his arrival from France, Henderson had an inkling he was something out of the ordinary, although his size and shape made connections think he would be more of a longer-term prospect.

    Victory on his British debut at Kempton confirmed first impressions that he was very talented but some sloppy jumping still had Henderson thinking he might not be a JCB Triumph Hurdle type.

    However, the way he disposed of previous Triumph favourite Burdett Road at Cheltenham soon meant there was only one way to go.

    “He’s a lovely big horse. I think we always thought he was very good but didn’t want to get too carried away before we got to see it. Luckily, the spies hadn’t really latched on to him before Cheltenham but we thought he was pretty smart,” said Henderson.

    “He’s only had two races for us and one in France, he’s a very talented horse.

    “His jumping wasn’t very good at Kempton and he was babyish, he got a bit of a fright when he hit the front. He’d missed a couple on the way, was very good at a couple but he got very goofy on the run-in.

    “Normally, we’d expect the French horses to do it in their sleep, as they start with them as yearlings, whereas we chuck them out in the field. The French can normally all do it (jump) blindfolded but he didn’t do it at Kempton, so we did do quite a bit between Kempton and Cheltenham.

    “He beat a good horse, but was it the real Burdett Road that showed up and he wasn’t 10lb below his best? We’d have still won but we’re assuming Burdett Road ran to his previous form.”

    Usually, Willie Mullins dominates the Triumph Hurdle, but while he did saddle the first four in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown, Henderson was not left having sleepless nights after it.

    “I think he’s very good. It will be an interesting race. What surprised me most at the ‘Willie Mullins Festival’ was the race I was watching most carefully, the juvenile, they all finished in a heap,” said Henderson.

    “I was expecting something to jump out from that race but it didn’t look obvious. There’s some nice horses, don’t get me wrong, but nothing to do what Sir Gino did at Cheltenham.

    “The Triumph is a tough race and this is a big, scopey horse who will jump a fence, he’s not your typical Triumph horse. Sometimes you might have decided to wait another year with him but we’ve got this far, so we may as well keep going.

    “We won’t think about next year, let’s get through this year first. He’s only had two runs, one was a very moderate race at Kempton, so you’d hope he could do that, you have to judge whether Burdett Road ran to his best – he was rated over 100 on the Flat.”

    Running through some of his other Festival hopefuls, Henderson said: “Marie’s Rock will run in the Mares’ and I couldn’t be happier. Obviously, Lossiemouth is in the way but she’s in great form. It’s where she’s got to go, it’s the sensible race. She was much better last time and moved much better.

    “Under Control might go for the Morebattle (March 2), I want to see what the ground is like at Kelso and then when she’s won that, she’ll have to go for the bonus at Cheltenham – that will be easy!

    “We turned her around in nine days last year from Cheltenham to Sandown. I don’t know if she’s well handicapped but she doesn’t need to run in a non-handicap. Something went very wrong in the Gerry Fielden, I never found out what, but she finished very strongly at Doncaster, which was encouraging.

    “Jeriko Du Reponet has been in good form. I think the two-miler (Supreme) is going to be the hot one. I just need to persuade Ronnie Bartlett (owner of Ballyburn) to run his over two and a half because he promised me he would about Christmas time but they seem to have changed their minds, which is very inconvenient.

    “Iberico Lord will have to think about coming out again. I wouldn’t say he’s a step ahead because he’s won two very good handicaps, he looks really well and he’d be in the County, we’ve several in there. Under Control and Impose Toi could also run in it.

    “Doddiethegreat won’t get in the Coral Cup I don’t think, and it’s hurting me because it’s the race for him. It would be really sad because he’s crying out for another half a mile.

    “I’ve no real novice chasers, we’ve got good novice hurdlers this year but the novice chasers are weak.

    “I’ve got four for the Pertemps; Chantry House, Bold Endeavour, Walking On Air needs to finish in the first four at Chepstow on Saturday and Mill Green, who has been third in it twice.

    “Shanagh Bob (Albert Bartlett) had a dirty scope and was wrong over Christmas, he schooled this morning and looks a bit sharper than before Christmas.”

  • Jonbon ‘in good form’ ahead of El Fabiolo Festival clash Jonbon ‘in good form’ ahead of El Fabiolo Festival clash

    Nicky Henderson is unconcerned that Jonbon is heading for his big clash with El Fabiolo in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on the back of a defeat.

    For a horse who has won 12 of his 15 races under rules, the Seven Barrows handler also reads nothing into the fact that all three of his defeats have come at Cheltenham.

    Stablemate Constitution Hill beat him in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle two years ago, while El Fabiolo saw him off in the Arkle last term. Most recently, in a performance littered with jumping errors, he was beaten in the rearranged Clarence House Chase as the 1-4 favourite.

    He did begin this season with a comfortable win at Cheltenham, though, and that is why Henderson sees no reason to worry.

    “He’s schooled this morning, AP (McCoy) was here to see him. He’s in good form, very good,” said Henderson.

    “We’ve done nothing different (since the Clarence House). You just put it down as one mistake. You’ve got to. He schooled this morning and jumped more than he will in the Queen Mother.

    “He won the Shloer, that proves he goes around Cheltenham, I’ve no worries on that front.”

    With Alan King’s Edwardstone looking a reformed character having adopted front-running tactics in the Game Spirit Chase, Henderson feels the Queen Mother will be run to suit Jonbon.

    He said: “They’ll go some gallop and I think that suits him. It looks as if Edwardstone has come into pace-making duties and he looked good at Newbury, but in some ways, I don’t think that is a bad thing for us. But I would have been happy to make the running.

    “AP thought he was very good (Thursday morning) and would love to ride him himself – of all the horses, I know he’d love to ride him because he would suit him. AP has watched him school so many times.

    “There’s one fence in our row of five he always meets on the wrong stride but he is so quick sorting his feet out. I think AP would love the challenge of him. While Constitution is straightforward, he is a bit the other way, he tests you, we call him fidgety.

    “He did well really last time (to get back on terms), the thing that cost him was the last fence, not the mistake down the hill. If he’d met it on a better stride, it would have been game over, but he landed in a bit of a heap and the other horse just got away from him.”

    A step up in trip had been discussed at the end of last season but he was not even entered in the Ryanair this year.

    “We discussed it but never put him in the Ryanair. I would have no problem going over two and a half,” said Henderson.

    “If you go back to last year, he was going to go over two and a half at Aintree and it was only because the two-mile novice chase was miles weaker that he ran in it, so we stayed at two and he winged round Aintree.

    “A fortnight later, we took him to Sandown against his elders to find out and he winged round there, so we said he was a two-miler. I’d be surprised if one day he doesn’t go over further. We’ll find out between now and the end of the season, let’s see how it all goes.”

    The rematch with El Fabiolo was all set for the original Clarence House at Ascot but when the race was moved to Cheltenham, Willie Mullins decided to keep his chaser at home.

    “I was really looking forward to Ascot and the clash with El Fabiolo, we were in absolute tip-top shape and I was very confident for that, we were very prepared for it,” explained Henderson.

    “He’s the one horse, when you’ve wound up the clock, a week was a long time for him, I couldn’t wind him up any more and it gave us a headache of a week.

    “People might say what difference does a week make, but to something like him it does. With Constitution Hill, you could hold him for a month, but Jonbon is a bit different to anybody else.

    “He might have had a harder race than we imagined from the betting, but until he made that mistake down the hill, everything had gone really nice.”

  • Full steam ahead for Shishkin showdown with Galopin Des Champs Full steam ahead for Shishkin showdown with Galopin Des Champs

    Shishkin has been unshackled and is ready to make his mark in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Nicky Henderson having no fears about either the stamina-sapping trip or tackling the might of defending champion Galopin Des Champs.

    Henderson has come to the defence of his blue-riband contender, who he believes has been treated like a “criminal let out of prison” at times over the course of the current season.

    However, despite failing to start at Ascot and cruelly unseating Nico de Boinville with the King George at his mercy, he heads to Prestbury Park as Britain’s leading hope of Gold Cup glory and with a fine chance of handing the master of Seven Barrows his third success in the highlight of the meeting.

    “It’s funny how going into Newbury the other day he was treated like a criminal who was let out of prison,” said Henderson.

    “People were saying if he doesn’t turn up today, where is he? He did nothing wrong and the King George wasn’t his fault. He didn’t fall, he just knocked his leg and anyone can do that, it’s just pure bad luck.

    “I’ve got to say Ascot was his fault and he was a naughty boy, but that doesn’t make him a criminal and that’s what it felt like heading into Newbury.”

    Shishkin produced a foot-perfect performance in Newbury’s Denman Chase and having navigated that Gold Cup prep with flying colours, it is full steam ahead to the Cotswolds.

    He has also resisted the temptation to repeat his Ascot misdemeanours at both Kempton and Newbury, with the master of Seven Barrows confident there will be zero issues at the start of the Festival’s feature contest.

    “If he turns round, he will always go left and at Cheltenham if he does that, there is nowhere to go,” continued Henderson.

    “We had to be mindful at Kempton he could and Newbury he was no bother, he just walked straight in.”

    Many questioned whether the application of first-time cheekpieces played a part in Shishkin’s refusal to start on his seasonal return at Ascot and although the thought of reapplying the headgear for the 10-year-old’s Gold Cup tilt has crossed Henderson’s mind, he reveals it was Ruby Walsh who first put the idea into his head.

    “I won’t say I haven’t thought about cheekpieces and we’ve thought about it since Newbury, but I would say it is very unlikely. I can’t see us doing it,” added Henderson.

    “It had nothing to do with why he didn’t start at Ascot, despite what may have been written.

    “He races a little bit behind the bridle sometimes and Ruby was at me the whole time that I had to put cheekpieces on this horse. He was telling me the whole time and I did what Ruby told me to do and look where it got us!”

    If the Festival’s most successful rider was playing the role of mole in the camp for the Festival’s most successful trainer Willie Mullins, then Henderson is unperturbed.

    The Lambourn handler recently went on a scouting mission to the Dublin Racing Festival to watch the defending Gold Cup champion in the flesh and although suitably impressed by what he witnessed, he is willing to concentrate solely on his own horse in the build-up to Friday, March 15.

    Henderson said: “Galopin Des Champs is very solid and sometimes I don’t think he’s as flashy as some. He’s a big, fine, good-looking horse and he’s very classy. He gets the job done. There are moments (in a race) when you wonder, but he’s one of these horses.

    “When Constitution Hill is doing his real thing – and I hope he will do it again – he’s commanded the performance from beginning to end really. Shishkin doesn’t do that and a lot of them don’t.

    “But Galopin Des Champs has won a Gold Cup, he’s come into it via some good prep races and I think we just need to concentrate on what we’ve got, rather than anyone else.

    “You’ve got to have a tactical plan and going into the race we invariably will, but those often get thrown out the window after a furlong and you have to be doing something different, but we won’t be riding Shishkin any differently because of Galopin Des Champs – he’s going to do his thing and we are going to do ours.

    “I’m sure Willie will have his plan and we’ll have our plan and the jockeys will probably have a completely different plan and not listen to either of us!”

    Shishkin undoubtedly ticks many boxes ahead of his tilt at racing’s most treasured prize, but the former two-mile champion will have to prove he stays every inch of the lung-busting Gold Cup trip when he takes his stamina reserves past three miles for the very first time.

    It is ultimately a question that will not be answered until the race itself, but Henderson is taking comfort from the mid-race move made by Shishkin’s big-race pilot De Boinville in the King George as proof the three-and-a-quarter-mile yardage will be well within his compass.

    He explained: “It was interesting that if you go back to the King George, good old Frodon is bashing away at the front there and he goes a good gallop.

    “I don’t think he’s the old Frodon, but Nico saw fit to actually go and push things along halfway down the back straight and often Frodon will still be in front when they are turning in.

    “Nico was happy to let him rock and roll from halfway down the back and he was in command from there – he had beaten the others.”

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