Frankel took to the gallops for the first time this year on Tuesday morning for a gentle piece of work on the Al Bahathri at Newmarket.
Unbeaten in nine starts, Sir Henry Cecil’s wonder horse dominated the 2011 Flat season with a string of phenomenal performances, including a breathtaking display in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
Connections have suggested the son of Galileo will step up to a mile and a quarter at some stage this season, but the four-year-old will stick to a mile for his seasonal reappearance in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in May.
Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Khalid Abdullah, was on hand to see Frankel return to work and is delighted with how the colt has wintered.
“It was only a very gentle piece of work, but he looks well and seems in good form,” said Grimthorpe.
“It is always encouraging to see the horses back on the gallops, but really they were not doing enough to tell you a lot about where they are.
“I’ve obviously seen Frankel a few times over the winter and he looks to have done well and strengthened up a bit.
“We’re still aiming towards the Lockinge at Newbury.”
Clerk of the course Simon Claisse says the Cheltenham track has enough water in its reservoir to survive the dry spell in the run-up to the Festival.
Claisse generally aims for good to soft ground at the biggest jumping meeting of the year, but a serious lack of rain has led to him to call for back-up resources.
“It has been pretty dry. We have had an eighth of the rain we would normally expect in February but the reservoir is pretty well full,” he said
“As the forecast was dry, we applied a second bit of irrigation and by this afternoon it will be good all round on the chase and hurdle courses. It is good to firm, firm in places on the cross country course and we will look to water that course in some places.
“There is some light rain forecast Friday to Monday and we will take a decision as to further watering on the chase and hurdle courses come Monday or Tuesday.
“It is not looking as if there will be a deluge but the course is in fantastic order and it has not been raced on since April last year. We have used 1.2million gallons of our water so far, and there’s another six to use.”
On a preview day at Cheltenham when the handicap weights were announced, senior British Horseracing handicapper Phil Smith appealed to British trainers to run horses in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Handicap Chase, a race won every year by the Irish since its inception in 2005.
“You’re not taking it seriously enough. It’s a potential target for really good prize money,” he said.
Henrietta Knight retorted: “I’m not surprised if they are running it on good to firm ground.”
Cheltenham managing director Edward Gillespie has announced that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, would be attending the Festival on Wednesday and would present prizes for both the Diamond Jubilee National Hunt Chase and the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Paul Nicholls insists the inclusion of complete unknown Ulck Du Lin in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle is “not a plot”.
While most members of the champion trainer’s stable are familiar names, Ulck Du Lin was the only horse in the four-year-old handicap not to have had a hurdle run in Britain or Ireland so far.
The new recruit, owned by Mrs Johnny de la Hey, has had five runs in France and won once over hurdles at Niort and then at Marseille in September, as well as scoring over fences at Vichy a fortnight later. He sits on a handy weight of 10st 5lb and was instantly supported in the betting from 20-1 to 14s with Betfred.
“It’s not a plot,” said Nicholls.
“He’s won two hurdles and a chase and he’s a big horse who has worked nicely and went well in a racecourse gallop.
“We thought if we ran him in England and he won he’d go up to 140, so we kept him back for the Fred Winter.
“I do think he’ll be a chaser, but he could prove to be well in (at the weights).
“He’s fit and well, but we’ll have to see how he gets on.”
Willie Mullins has four contenders as he aims for his seventh success in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
Ante-post betting suggests Champagne Fever is the first string and he could be joined by Mozoltov, Pique Sous and The Paparazzi Kid.
“Champagne Fever did everything that was asked and we probably hadn’t got him ready enough at Christmas and we probably didn’t ride him right. Patrick (Mullins) changed tactics second time out, did a lot more with him and it worked,” Mullins told At The Races.
“He won his point-to-point on good ground, so I don’t think the better ground in Cheltenham will be any hindrance to him, even though he gallops like a soft ground horse. Pique Sous came out and won well the other day in Leopardstown. It’s an open enough bumper I think this year.”
Jessica Harrington’s Jezki won on his debut at Leopardstown and could return to that track this weekend. The trainer said: “He will probably run this Sunday at Leopardstown and we’ll make up our mind after that. He’ll also have the option of waiting for Punchestown.”
Moscow Mannon also features among 39 entries for the Grade One contest, and amateur rider Declan Lavery will maintain his partnership with Brian Hamilton’s charge.
Hamilton said: The owner wanted to keep him on as we didn’t want to change anything, so that’s what we’re going to do.I’m counting down every second now until the race. He’ll do a bit of work after racing at Leopardstown on Sunday and that should put him right.
“He’s one you have to be a bit careful with when you’re travelling and I’ve only got one shot at it, so we’ll go over nice and early and give him time to settle in.
“I’m not really worried about the travelling too much. He went to Galway last year which is five hours on the horsebox and he was grand. He just wants to be on his own and I think it’s best to get him there early to keep him calm, and keep me calm as well!”
One who won’t be running in the Champion Bumper is the unbeaten Shutthefrontdoor, with trainer Jonjo O’Neill revealing: “I never entered him and he won’t run again this year – he’s already gone home.”
Realt Dubh is more likely to have a racecourse gallop than run in the Ballsbridge Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Noel Meade’s dual Grade One-winning chaser has not been seen since running at last year’s Punchestown Festival, but there is still every hope he could line up in either the Ryanair Chase or the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
“We gave him the entry on Sunday but it was no more than that and I’m not sure if he’ll run. At this stage I’d say it’s more likely he’ll either work after racing at Leopardstown or go for a gallop at Navan instead,” said Meade.
“So far everything is going well with him and he worked great the other day.
“Everything is on course at the moment. It is obviously a big ask to go to Cheltenham for your first run of the season, but he’s in good shape at the moment.”