National Hunt racing is the stuff of dreams, and none more so than for Aston Rowant trainer Alan Hill as he prepares to saddle Harbour Court at next week’s Cheltenham Festival.
The exciting eight-year-old is the 4-1 second favourite for the CGA Foxhunter Chase tomorrow week after graduating from the point-to-point world in striking fashion.
He showed his liking for Cheltenham’s unique undulations when running out an impressive 13-lengths winner of the Connolly’s Red Mills Intermediate Point-to-Point Championship Final last May under Welshman James Tudor.
And the bonny chestnut gelding, owned by Andrew West, who lives at Filkins, near Carterton, followed up a month later by capturing the Champion Novices’ Hunters’ Chase at Stratford in good style.
“Our dream through the summer talking to the owner and the jockey was to aim at March 14 for Cheltenham, which is the Gold Cup for amateurs from the point-to-point and hunter chase world,” Hill explains.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though as Harbour Court’s intended reappearance was delayed as meetings were washed out.
With his options running out, Hill made his first visit to Scotland, taking his charge on a 680-mile round trip to Kelso last month only for Harbour Court to be brought down at the first fence.
The horse emerged unscathed, though, and with the Cambridge University Draghounds meeting at Cottenham being rearranged it gave Harbour Court the chance to stretch his legs, which he duly did with an easy six-lengths win over Nikos Extra in the men’s open.
“He won in very good style without really proving a lot to the outside world, but to the owner, trainer and jockey our mission was accomplished,” says Hill.
Harbour Court with work rider Dan Collins on the gallops at Aston Rowant
It left Harbour Court primed for his big target next week – a race Hill won as a rider on Elmboy in 1985 and has twice been second as a trainer with Bon Accord (2008) and Mid Div And Creep (2011).
Now he is full of hope that his latest challenger can go one place better.
“He has a little bit more speed and hopefully he will be able to show that,” says Hill.
Harbour Court is set to be joined in the race by stablemate Ravethebrave, ridden by Hill’s 18-year-old son, Joe.
The ten-year-old may have won in good style at Badbury Rings in Dorset last month, but the trainer is quick to dismiss his chances.
“He is 33-1 with the bookies, but he should be 100-1,” he says.
“If Joe could have a great ride and finish in the first ten he would be ecstatic.”
Before then, Hill is set to field a strong team at the Kingston Blount point-to-point on Saturday.
“It is a big day for us,” he adds.