Few people will forget the unrestrained celebrations from trainer Ben Pauling when Willoughby Court gave him his first Cheltenham Festival success last year.
That victory in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle was the latest milestone in a hugely promising career for Pauling, who has improved his yard every year since starting on his own in 2013.
We spoke to Pauling to get the latest on Willoughby Court, an update on stable favourite Barters Hill and get an update on the trainer’s weekend runners.
You have decided not to run Barters Hill this weekend. What is the reason for that?
Things are very good with him but we’ve decided not to run because the ground at Haydock is desperate and that’s where I wanted to run him. He’s healthy, but the yard is under a little cloud at the moment with a few snotty noses about. I don’t think he’s fair for him to perform on heavy ground when the rest of the yard is not A1. We’ll look for another suitable target for him in the near future as I’m happy with him in general.
He has been off the course for a while with injury. What has he been like to rehab?
It’s been quite a smooth process, amazingly. He’s a very easy horse to deal with; he’s a good patient and not an idiot. When we were bringing him back he wasn’t doing more than he should’ve and he was happy to take life at an easy pace. I’m sure that’s aided his recovery.
While Barters Hill has been away Willoughby Court has come through to be your stable star. How are things with him?
I’ve been really pleased with him. It was disappointing to be beaten in the Dipper but I just don’t think it went our way that day. He’s come out of the race better than he went in as he didn’t have a hard race, so it’s all systems go for the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival for which I hope he’ll be extremely competitive.
A possible tilt at the Stayers’ Hurdle was mooted for Willoughby Court. Is that still possible?
That was blown out of proportion really. I said we might give him a covering entry for the race but I couldn’t see why we would ever go that way with him. The only possible reason I could see him turning up in the Stayers’ Hurdle would be if in his preparation for the JLT he took a very bad fall schooling and lost his confidence. But there won’t be any reason for it.
High Bridge looks a fascinating contender for the Betfair Hurdle on February 10. Is that the plan for him?
We avoided going to Ascot for the Racing Welfare Hurdle just before Christmas because we wanted him to be fresh for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury next month. He’s very good around Newbury – he’s three from three – and there’s definitely still room for improvement off of his handicap mark. He’s a better horse when coming off the pace as well.
Looking at this weekend, how is your Holloway’s Hurdle runner Le Breuil?
He’s right near the top of the market and we had a few to choose from in this race and we think he has the best chance of them. I think he’s got a good chance in this and I’m excited about running him.
You also have an interesting runner in Oistrakh Le Noir. What should we expect from him?
Oistrakh Le Noir makes his debut for us in the first at Ascot and he’s a nice horse for the future. This race will tell us more about him but I like what I’ve seen at home.
You mentioned a few of your horses are not 100 per cent right. What seems to be the problem?
We’ve taken some tracheal washes on the horses and they are not filthy dirty, they are just not quite right. The positive is that it’s not down in the lungs, it’s more of a head cold. If we go easy on them now they will come right. You have to be patient and not overwork them.
And, finally, what have you made of your season so far?
Until the last three weeks it had been a phenomenal season. I still think that if we can get the horses through the next couple of weeks then it could be a real stellar season for us. We’ve got a lot of nice horses in the yard and things are going from strength to strength.