TRAINER Philip Kirby has enjoyed a superb winter with his jumpers and is aiming to make a fast start to the Flat season by capturing the Lincoln at Doncaster with South Seas.
The five-year-old was purchased by owner Darren Yates for big money last autumn and was due to form part of an assault on the spring double with stablemate Blaklion, who has since been ruled out of the Grand National with an injury.
We caught up with Kirby to get the lowdown on his Saturday runners and to look ahead to his other contenders at next week’s Grand National festival.
Your stable has been in excellent form recently. How are you feeling about the start of the Flat turf season at Doncaster on Saturday?
We’ve had a brilliant time of things over the winter and the spring and we’re hoping we can continue that into the Flat season. We’ve got a lot of nice horses to go to the races with and we’re looking forward to what we might be able to achieve.
South Seas makes his debut for you in the Lincoln. How do you rate his chances?
I’m really looking forward to it and we’ve had a good run up to the race with him. It’s always been the plan to go straight there with him. Ideally we’d have had a bit more rain than the others, but he’s ready to go and ready to run a big race.
South Seas cost £150,000 at the sales last year. What attracted you to him?
He has some really good form as a younger horse, such as a second to Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow, and Darren Yates [owner] was prepared to back his judgement in buying the horse. I hope we can repay his faith at the weekend.
Staplegrove also runs for the yard at Doncaster. How do you think he will get on?
He’s a nice horse. I knew he’d need the run the other day but I was still a little disappointed with him. We took him to Wolverhampton to get a spin into him to get him ready for the weekend but he stopped quickly. Nevertheless, hopefully he’s spot on for Saturday.
Blaklion has been in line for the tilt at the Grand National before getting injured. Can you give us a little update on how he is?
Unfortunately he won’t be running as he hurt a back joint on Friday morning and I’m not going to try and push him back for next weekend. It’s not definite, but I’d say it’s most likely that he won’t run again this season. Darren has taken it very well.
Are you able to sum up how missing the Grand National feels?
It’s frustrating, to say the least, as we’d been happy with him since his racecourse gallop at Wetherby. We felt he had a nice weight and has proven himself round the track before. Hopefully we’ll get him back and have another go at the race next year instead.
What has it been like having big-money buys come into the yard over the past year?
It’s been brilliant. We’ve massively stepped up on what we’ve had in the past. Equally, it’s great to have more of them as well. Lady Buttons has always been around but to have more gives us so many more options. It makes life difficult to make an impact when you only have the one to go to war with all the time.
Both South Seas and Blaklion are owned by Darren Yates, who won £550,000 on Frankie Dettori’s ‘Magnificent Seven’. What is it like training horses for him?
I’ve loved it and it’s a huge boost for us to have the likes of Darren and Annaley investing in the horses they have done. We want those standard of horses and we want to be competing and winning the best races during the year.
Looking ahead to Aintree, what is the plan for stable star Lady Buttons?
Lady Buttons is set to run in the Red Rum Chase on the Thursday of the meeting. She ran well in the Maghull Novices’ Chase there last year and the plan has been to return to fences after Cheltenham. Things didn’t work out at Cheltenham, but she ran a creditable race and we have been happy with her since.
And, finally, are we likely to see Top Ville Ben at Aintree next week?
Yes. He jumped brilliantly at Wetherby last week and he runs in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase. He’s very talented and I thought he had a real each-way chance at Cheltenham], but he was just too brave at his fences there and fell. He would need the ground to be at least good to soft to run because he has a high-knee action and hits the ground hard. Hopefully, he could develop into a Grand National horse.