Sixmilebridge could be added to trainer Ben Pauling’s small but select team for next month’s Cheltenham Festival following an impressive debut at Sandown last weekend.
The Naunton Downs handler is fast approaching the 50-winner mark for the current campaign and has unearthed several exciting prospects who are under consideration for the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds in five weeks’ time.
Pauling is particularly strong in the novice hurdle division, with Fiercely Proud and The Jukebox Man both placed in graded company and the unbeaten Handstands and dual winner Tellherthename both facing crucial tests this week in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon and Betfair Hurdle at Newbury respectively.
Point-to-point recruit Sixmilebridge was unraced under rules prior to running in Sandown’s bumper finale on Saturday, but was backed as if plenty was expected and duly justified favouritism with an impressive victory, teeing himself up for a potential tilt at the Champion Bumper.
“In everything he’s done at home he’s been impressive,” said Pauling.
“He’s not a keen horse, he’s just a good work horse, and we’ve struggled with him throughout the whole season in getting his lung health spot-on.
“He still wasn’t spot-on on Saturday, but it had got to the point in the season where we either rolled the dice to see how we got on or we shut up shop for the season. We decided to roll the dice and we were delighted to see what we got because there’s probably a fair bit of improvement to come when he’s 100 per cent healthy.
“If I can get his trach wash clean, he would be the sort that I would roll at the Cheltenham bumper because he seems to have that mental attitude you need and travels well without being too keen – he looks like he knows his job.
“We might let him roll in the Cheltenham bumper, which would be unusual for me, but I do think he’s potentially a bit special.”
Sixmilebridge’s victory was the second leg of a Sandown double for Pauling and his owners the Megson family, with the tricky but talented Harper’s Brook striking gold in a valuable handicap chase.
The eight-year-old had thrown away victory on his previous outing at Ascot when pulling himself up on the run-in, but having got the job done on Saturday, he too is Festival-bound.
Pauling added: “He is a horse with enormous ability, an unbelievable stride and the scope he has is just mad, but he is a bit of a character to say the least, so any day you get his head in front is a good day.
“I was thrilled with the way he travelled through the race off a strong pace. He was nearly taken out at the third-last by the loose horse and it was unfortunate at the last for the other horse to fall, but we can now look forward to going to Cheltenham with an exciting horse for the Grand Annual.
“He’s been given a mark of 140 which is spot-on as it’ll get you in, but you’ll be near the bottom of the weights. I couldn’t be happier with him.”
Harry Redknapp-owned The Jukebox Man has not been seen in competitive action since finishing third in the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury in late December, but he is also on Pauling’s Prestbury Park teamsheet.
“Jukebox will go straight to Cheltenham and I’d say he’s more of an Albert Bartlett horse than a Baring Bingham horse,” the trainer said.
“If the Baring Bingham came up on proper heavy ground then I’d probably stick at two-and-a-half, but I think he’s probably more of a three-miler.
“He ran a blinder in the Challow. It was pretty tough going that day and they went a proper, honest gallop considering the conditions.
“I just thought that even though that he seems great at home, he could do with a proper opportunity to freshen up. He’s in really good form and I think he’s only going to improve.”