Kirby: Top Ville Ben could head straight to Aintree

Top Ville Ben (right) is set to bypass Cheltenham in favour of Aintree's Grand National meeting.
Top Ville Ben (right) is set to bypass Cheltenham in favour of Aintree's Grand National meeting.

Phil Kirby expects Top Ville Ben to bypass next month's Cheltenham Festival in favour of a trip to Aintree, while he's holding his cards close to his chest with regards to his star mare Lady Buttons...

The son of Beneficial was a respectable third behind Grade 1 winners Lostintranslation (first) and Topofthegame (second) in the Mildmay Novices' Chase at the Merseyside venue last spring, and it could be the Betway Bowl over the same trip which the star stayer targets next.

Kirby said: “You wouldn't know he had a run at Cheltenham, and I’m tempted to wait till Aintree. It'll be either a tilt at the Grand National or the Bowl, the three-mile race, over the same trip he ran well over last year.”

Speaking of the eight-year-old’s liking of the track, Kirby added: “He loves the track and a bit of rain wouldn't do him any harm and he's come out of Cheltenham A1.”

Kirby is also keen to see how the handicapper frames the big race itself, and has long thought of his charge as the ideal type for the unique test the Grand National presents. This is a view shared by the gelding’s regular partner Tommy Dowson, who has been in the handler’s ear in a bid to twist his arm.

Kirby said: “Tommy's desperate to ride him in it! He'll need a little bit of help off his mark to be competitive, but he's the type of horse who could run well in the race. He’s still a little unexposed, if not a little highly rated, but it's a good problem to have I suppose.” 

Also in the care of Kirby at his Green Oaks Farm base is the popular mare Lady Buttons, who has looked as good as ever when landing back-to-back Doncaster victories of late.

The handler gave a glowing report regarding the Cheltenham preparations for the 10-year-old, but was keen to stress that a decision on her Festival destination - and whether to target the Champion Chase or the Mares' Hurdle - will be left till the very last minute. 

He said: “She's in good order and has come out of Doncaster well.

“She'll go to one of the races at Cheltenham, but I’ll decide last minute. We'll see what everyone else is doing first and it won’t hinder us to decide at the last minute.”

He added that the destinations of the likes of Honeysuckle and Benie Des Dieux could play a key part in his plans; “... the mares race looks red-hot and where the other mares go could have more of a bearing. They’re both competitive, but we'll pick the best race for Lady Buttons nearer the time.”

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