By Tom Lee

Kerry Lee toying with Cheltenham Festival bid with exciting Ballybegg

By Tom Lee
Kerry Lee has an exciting horse on her hands with Ballybegg.
Kerry Lee has an exciting horse on her hands with Ballybegg.

Our resident columnist Tom Lee chats to Kerry Lee about her exciting horse Ballbegg, and also picks a bet for the weekend as well as at the Cheltenham Festival...

High Tide In Ascot

A glittering Saturday afternoon card awaits at Ascot, the crown jewels being the Grade 1 Ascot Chase (3.35pm) and Grade 2 Reynoldstown (1.50pm). Also attractive on an excellent seven race spread is the listed three-mile Swinley Chase, due off at 2.25pm. A total of 12 runners are declared to face the starter in this lucrative limited handicap, four of whom carry the green and gold silks of leading owner JP McManus. Of those, Jerrysback has gone very well at this venue on a number of occasions previously and has the assistance of former champion jockey Richard Johnson. However, the market has seen him coming and he could easily go off favourite, so at perhaps double his likely odds I'm going to suggest an each way play at big odds.

Step forward the Kim Bailey-trained Newtide. Bailey can do little wrong of late, going strong with 45 winners on the board already this campaign at a thumping 20% strike-rate, notably scoring with four of his last five representatives to visit the track. It makes sense then to pay attention to whatever he runs next, and in the promising Newtide he could very well supply us with the ammunition for a winner at something like 10/1 or 12/1. Fresh from a minor wind op, Newtide is two from four over fences and has the potential to improve. Only seen once this season when running well at Haydock pre-Christmas, he has low mileage and is a strong stayer, running eyecatchingly well for 80% of the race when fading late on in the marathon National Hunt Chase at last March's Cheltenham Festival. Pilot David Bass has never been more full of confidence than he is right now, and Newtide could be one to propel him even further. Indeed, Bass is two from two over fences on this eight-year-old Getaway gelding. He may be a generous price, but don't be surprised if Newtide delivers at Ascot. 

Beggars Can Be Choosers sponsor trainer Kerry Lee's Herefordshire-based stable, a compact operation close to the Welsh border which on Wednesday made the long journey north to Wetherby with a brace of runners. The first of those was talented novice hurdler Ballybegg, a Mahler gelding picked up last summer for £50,000 at the Goffs' Horse In Training sale. Previously trained by Warren Greatrex, for whom the now six-year-old ran well to be third in a bumper at Doncaster, Ballybegg's transfer fee is beginning to look like a bargain, as he knuckled down to make it two wins from three starts for Lee, fending off persistent runner up Papa Tango Charly to prevail by a head in the hands of Richard Patrick in the North Yorkshire venue's two miles and three furlongs novices' hurdle. Ballybegg had already come to the attention of plenty of observers when cruising to an 18 length victory on his previous outing at Hereford last month, but carrying a six pound penalty on this occasion he knuckled down to his task and kept finding more in adour battle. 

Speaking to after the race, Lee, who celebrated her birthday on Sunday and also saddled the likeable and ultra-consistent Destined To Shine to be second on the same card, commented: "We enjoyed that. It was heart in mouth stuff all the way up the run-in, but I was quietly confident he'd build on what he showed us at Hereford. I'm chuffed for his connections who are the epitome of loyal and have supported the stable for many years.

"We'll take him home and see how he is for a day or two. He's had a tough enough race there, but we've got the option of the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (at the Cheltenham Festival) which is obviously exciting and something I'll be giving serious consideration to. He enjoys some ease in the ground. I'll be consulting his owners before we make any concrete plans." The majority of firms offer Ballybegg at 66/1 for the aforementioned Festival contest. 

Cheltenham Festival Races

House Party

A ready victory for the Nicky Henderson inmate Chantry House meant favourites triumphed in the opening two races at Wetherby on Wednesday, with Nico De Boinville's sole ride on the card a winning one as he guided this son of Yeats to a smooth three and a quarter length success. 

Third in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle behind high class stablemate Shishkin, Chantry House could very well be heading back to Prestbury Park for next month's Marsh Novices' Chase, armed as he is now with a two from three record over the larger obstacles. In an antepost market dominated by odds on shot Envoi Allen, Chantry House is generally available between 10/1 and 16/1. 

All Or Nothing?

Bookmakers' relentless PR is designed to drum up trade, nothing new there, but this correspondent was perhaps a little surprised to see some decide to take the scissors to prices about Allmankind for next month's Arkle Novices' Chase, hot on the heels of his power packed but error prone display in the rescheduled Kingmaker at Warwick. Switched from Saturday to defy the cold snap, this quality Grade 2 undoubtedly went the way of a seriously talented horse, but an Arkle winner? I doubt it. 

Third in last year's Triumph Hurdle and already a Grade 1 scorer over both hurdles and fences, this lad has star quality, but mistakes like the one he made at the ninth at Warwick, plus the howler at the second last, will cost him dear if replicated next month.

He'll also have major competition to make the running, so it's a no from me where the 13/2 and 7/1 on offer is concerned.  

Cheltenham Festival Tips
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