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George has high hopes for his improving 'baby' Olofi

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: November 19, 2012

  • festival bound?: Olofi ridden by Paddy Brennan

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TOM George will "aim high" with Olofi following his victory in the feature race on the final day of the Open meeting at Cheltenham yesterday.

The Slad trainer could even target the grey six-year-old at the Champion Hurdle at the Festival, having shelved plans to send him chasing thanks to his success in the Racing Post Hurdle under Paddy Brennan.

Olofi gained compensation for finishing second in the race last year by overcoming trouble in running to lift the prize by two and half lengths from Nicky Henderson's Cash And Go.

George said: "We've had him since he was a yearling so we know him pretty well. He's improving but he's relatively low-mileage and is still a bit of a baby.

"He'll have to improve to win something like the Champion Hurdle, but he travels well and he can go with any horse, and the one thing I'd guarantee is he'd still be with those good horses at the second-last.

"He'll have to improve, yes, but you have to aim high, and I don't particularly want to keep running him in big-field two-mile handicaps. There are just too many hard-luck stories and you can only do that to a horse so often.

"If it hadn't gone right today I think he'd have gone novice chasing, but as it is he's showed what he can do and he'll stick to hurdles."

Henderson tipped Captain Conan as an exciting prospect for novice chases over two miles after he landed the Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial with the minimum of fuss to give the leading trainer his first winner of the meeting.

Eased into the lead with three fences to jump, the winning hurdler had only to be shaken up on the run-in by Barry Geraghty to score by two lengths from Sire de Grugy in a race won by Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup hero Al Ferof last year.

Henderson said: "We've had seconds and thirds over the past couple of days so it's nice to get one on the board, but we had been waiting for him.

"He's a fine big strong horse who's going to keep improving.

"No horse is going to show you gears in this ground, but he's not a slow horse.

"I've got confidence in the horse and I don't think he touched a fence all the way round. He's very brave and while Barry was just trying to get him to 'pop' the occasional one, that's not something he does yet."

Henderson said he had no regrets about pulling his unbeaten chaser Sprinter Sacre out of the Shloer Chase, won by the Philip Hobbs-trained Wishfull Thinking despite a first-fence blunder, and his Champion Hurdle contender Darlan out of the Racing Post Hurdle.

The duo would have had a good chance of giving Henderson a big-race double, but he said he was glad he made the decision on Saturday evening not to run them in yesterday's testing ground.

"It meant I was able to go to sleep last night not worrying about them," he said.

Hobbs said Wishfull Thinking's next race could be the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on December 8, when his possible rivals include likely odds-on favourite Sprinter Sacre.

He said the gelding still appeared to have a breathing problem but it is manageable in the right conditions.

Memories of esteemed jockey turned broadcaster Lord John Oaksey, who died in September, came flooding back after a horse he bred, Coneygree, made all the running under Mattie Batchelor in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.

Winning trainer Mark Bradstock said: "Mattie gave him a fabulous ride and whatever the horse does over hurdles is a bonus because he's a proper chaser in the making. I'm sure John is looking down on us now. It's nice to win at Cheltenham, this is the place to be."

In the final race of the meeting, Anonis looked a useful prospect for trainer Margaret Mullins as he landed the Cheltenham Standard Open National Hunt Flat race.

■ Champion jockey AP McCoy paid tribute to Edward Gillespie at a reception and buffet to mark his retirement as managing director of the racecourse yesterday.

The 17-time champion jockey told the 400-strong gathering Gillespie had "always been looking to see how things could improve things and he helpful, which is why this place is as successful as it has been."

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