Trainer Malcolm Jefferson is no stranger to Festival success, having struck twice with Tindari, successful in the Pertemps Final in 1994, and the top-class Dato Star, who triumphed in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival 12 months later.
This season, the Malton-based handler looks set to return to the home of Jump racing with his exciting novice Cape Tribulation. The five-year-old, who was third in a Grade Two bumper at Aintree in April, began the current campaign with a facile victory over hurdles at Uttoxeter in November.
The Hernando gelding went on to record an even more impressive success stepping up to an extended three miles in the Grade Two Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster at the end of January, beating the well-regarded Junior by 17 lengths.
Jefferson commented: “We gave Cape Tribulation an entry in both the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and his target will depend on the ground. He is good enough to cope with either distance but he might go for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle if the ground came up soft, whereas the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle would be the alternative if the going was good to soft or slightly faster.
“If I have a good horse, which I think that Cape Tribulation is, then I will certainly give him a crack at The Festival. He’s a young horse who has done tremendously well since the summer. He looks a far stronger horse now and we will probably go straight to Cheltenham with him. “We thought about running him at Haydock Park this weekend but I would prefer to run him at Cheltenham and then think about Aintree three weeks later. The problem is that it’s harder to keep a high level of form if you keep running week in, week out. If you have a Grade One horse, then you need to train them like a Grade One horse. You shouldn’t go for races that you know you are going to win because it doesn’t prove anything.
“I’m also very keen to run him on the Flat again this year because I think he’s potentially a good horse on the level. He won his maiden at Nottingham and then he ran a blinder at Doncaster when he was fifth on his first run in a handicap. He’s a good horse and he’s certainly got a bright future.”
With two previous winners under his belt, Jefferson is acutely aware of the need to send a horse to The Festival that is capable of winning rather than running more in hope than expectation.
“I was lucky enough to win the Pertemps Final with Tindari in 1994 and it’s great to have a first winner at The Festival because it’s such an important meeting. You need to go there with a decent animal and I have seen a lot of horses go to Cheltenham with very little chance of winning. You really need to go with a horse that has a hell of a good chance rather than a horse that might run well.
“Tindari carried a light weight when he won but he was a decent little horse while Dato Star was the best in the field in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper. He had seven pounds in hand over most of the field being a four-year-old but he still won a shade cosily.
“Dato Star was a proper Grade One horse and he proved how good he was with victories in two Fighting Fifth Hurdles at Newcastle , two Champion Hurdle Trials at Haydock and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
“It was just unfortunate that he encountered good ground on both his starts in the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle, because on his day and on his ground, he was a very decent horse.”