Colonel Mustard© Photo Healy Racing
It could be a key afternoon in the chasing career of Colonel Mustard as he bids to open his account up against Paul Nicholls’ Hermes Allen in the Coral John Francome Novices’ Chase at Newbury.
Lorna Fowler’s eight-year-old has come close to big-race success on raiding missions from Ireland in the past, most notably finishing third to State Man in the County Hurdle in 2022, while also picking up a silver medal in both the Morebattle Hurdle and Scottish Champion Hurdle earlier this year.
The most consistent of operators, he has finished outside the podium positions on only three occasions in 17 career starts.
However, he arrives in Berkshire for Grade Two action still a maiden over fences having bumped into some of the best novices around in Ireland, including at Down Royal on his seasonal debut, where Gordon Elliott’s Found A Fifty proved too good in a race where plenty of the obstacles were omitted.
“He’s in great form and I was very happy with him going into Down Royal,” explained Fowler.
“He was never going to beat that winner, but it was a very unsatisfactory race with so many of the jumps taken out. It not so much didn’t give me as many answers as I wanted, but more so the race I wanted to give him some experience.
“The run physically will have brought him and I think Newbury will suit him a lot.
“He does need to find his rhythm with his jumping and that will be key. I know it’s a pretty good race, but he is a classy horse and if he can pull himself together and get his jumping OK, then I think we’ve definitely got a chance.”
It will be just the third time Colonel Mustard has raced beyond the minimum two miles, but Fowler is confident a trip is now what he needs to put his best foot forward and break his fences duck at the fourth time of asking.
“I think the two and a half is important to him and I do think he stays,” she continued. “He has tried the trip twice and circumstances wouldn’t have seen him in his best light in both.
“Rachael (Blackmore) rode him at Down Royal and she seems to think he will stay and I’m very confident he will also.
“In terms of D-Day, he is going to have to produce it over fences, otherwise we are lucky to be able to go back over hurdles.
“I feel like he hasn’t had his best shot over fences yet, but it does need to happen otherwise we will be back over hurdles.”
Standing in Colonel Mustard’s way is Hermes Allen, with the Grade One scorer returning to the scene of his Challow Hurdle success as he starts life over the larger obstacles.
Although failing to make his mark at the spring festivals, he is tipped for big things over fences and his handler is keen to get him on course after a slight setback pushed back his original start date.
“We planned to start him over fences earlier this season until a minor foot issue put paid to that, but he is fine now and he will have benefitted from a racecourse gallop with Complete Unknown at Newbury early last week,” Nicholls told Betfair.
“Hermes Allen had a wind op in the summer and his schooling over fences at home has been very good, but given the time he lost, I’m sure we can get him fitter. I’m sure he can improve on whatever he does on Friday.
“He was a star for us last season with an impressive success in the Grade One Challow Hurdle at this course and could be exciting over fences.”
Sarah Humphrey is not a familiar name on the big days, but Nickle Back could put her name in lights if building on his two wide-margin victories over fences to date.
Humphrey said: “For a small yard to have a potentially top-class horse, it’s very exciting and a big deal for us.
“He was always going to be a chaser, but things didn’t go to plan for his novice hurdling year and then last season we were on a recovery mission from something else, but he was always going to be a chaser and the plan was always to go chasing, so I’m glad it has worked out so far.
“It’s all very well the handicapper giving him a high rating and obviously he has won his first two (chase outings) easily, but it’s a big step up in grade and class and the quality of horses he is against, so we will find a lot more about him.”
Marble Sands, trained in partnership by David Killahena and Graeme McPherson, was not disgraced in Graded contests over hurdles last term and impressed at Ayr on his chasing bow.
Nicky Henderson’s No Ordinary Joe was runner-up to Iroko at the Cheltenham Festival and with the form of that Martin Pipe working out extremely well, he also merits respect on his debut over fences.
Emma Lavelle’s Tightenourbelts completes the field following a taking 10-length romp on his introduction to the larger obstacles at Ludlow.