Top Ville Ben impressing trainer Phil Kirby ahead of potential Doncaster Sky Bet Chase run

Top Ville Ben is on course for Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase – the feature National Hunt race of the year on Town Moor – and a Grand National entry after his pleasing run in Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick Chase on Boxing Day.

Tuesday, 11th January 2022, 2:37 pm
Doncaster Races. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The Phil Kirby-trained gelding won the Wetherby race in 2019 and was travelling with every chance under Tommy Dowson when bidding to regain his title before being stopped in his tracks by the falling Empire Steel four fences from home.

The hindrance allowed eventual winner Good Boy Bobby to surge clear to land the race for Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies, with Lord Du Mesnil second and Top Ville Ben a leg-weary third for the Harbour Rose Partnership.

The Sky Bet Chase on January 29 is next on the agenda for the 10-year-old, with Kirby pleased with his Wetherby performance and his resilience after the obstruction.

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“He’s really well, the plan is most likely to go to the Sky Bet Chase at the end of the month at Doncaster,” said the Catterick trainer. “He ran really well at Wetherby, I don’t know if it (being hampered) would have made a difference with the result, but he did well to get back upsides.

“If he hadn’t have been stopped he would have probably ended up in front at some point and we don’t know what would have happened then, do we? I was pleased, I thought it was a good run really and he looked liked he was coming back to himself, so hopefully sooner or later we’ll have him back to where he was.”

The Randox Health Grand National remains an option for Top Ville Ben, who appeared to take instantly to the famous fences in the Becher Chase at Aintree in December before seeming to misjudge one entirely and falling heavily. Both Top Ville Ben and Dowson were fortunate to be unscathed.

“I thought he jumped really well, he jumped like a horse that loved it,” Kirby said. “He is capable of doing that over a hurdle and just because it was a National fence, I don’t think that makes any difference. It’s just him, sometimes he doesn’t look where he’s going but he’ll have to learn! It’s (the Grand National) not a definite but it’s something we’ll keep an eye on, we’ll see how he gets on at Doncaster and he’ll be getting an entry anyway.”

Today’s action at Doncaster features the well-regarded City Chief lining up in the Sky Bet Maiden Hurdle in an attempt to put down a marker for the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival.

Trained by Nicky Henderson and the mount of Nico de Boinville who recorded his 30th Grade One win when Constitution Hill prevailed in Sandown’s Tolworth Hurdle on Saturday, City Chief was second on his hurdling debut at Ascot last month.

However the horse carries the now familiar yellow and black check colours of Joe and Marie Donnelly that are now synonymous with dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo and the Henderson-trained Shishkin who is favourite for Cheltenham’s Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Meanwhile Zambella, a wide-margin winner of the Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase at Doncaster’s Christmas meeting for the Twiston-Davies team, will continue her Cheltenham build-up by reappearing in tomorrow’s Listed Pertemps Network Mares’ Chase at Leicester.

In other news, Lucinda Russell will weigh up her options for the exciting Corach Rambler, who holds entries in both the Agetur UK Ltd Classic Chase and the Wigley Group Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick on Saturday.

Russell, who has also entered stable stalwart Big River in the £100,000 Classic Chase, is quietly tempted by the prospect of running Corach Rambler in the feature race despite the eight-year-old only having had three races over fences.

The handicapper has raised him 15lb for wins at Aintree and Cheltenham and Russell is keen to see how he would fare in open company.

Russell won the Classic with subsequent Grand National winner One For Arthur in 2017 and would not rule out Big River if the going was testing.

“He seems extremely well, he’s jumping better than he ever has, he’s just turned 12 and he’s finally got the hang of it,” she went on. “He’s blossoming so he could go to Warwick or Kelso, which is a track he loves but that’s only three miles. I suppose he’ll go where the ground is softest.”

Others in the Classic Chase mix include the Venetia Williams-trained pair of Achille and Commodore.