Blazing Khal further enhanced his Cheltenham Festival claims by making it back-to-back course victories in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Blazing Khal has an impressive engine and he makes an error at the second last but cruises to victory nonetheless in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle!— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) December 11, 2021
A very promising staying hurdler for Donal McInerney and @cbyrnesracing ?? pic.twitter.com/jpaM1TPBcR
A winner on his hurdling debut at Galway before winning a Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle trial at Cheltenham last month, Blazing Khal stepped up to three miles for the first time on his return to the Cotswolds.
Ridden confidently by Donal McInerney, the even-money favourite gave his supporters a brief fright by fluffing his lines at the second flight from home, but was soon back on the bridle.
The Kalanisi gelding moved smoothly to the lead approaching the final flight and readily kicked four and a quarter lengths clear of Gelino Bello, who was also runner-up to the winner four weeks ago.
Winning trainer Charles Byrnes said: "I’m delighted. I thought his jumping was much better today, apart from the second-last, and he took off again when he gave him a slap down the shoulder. I’d say he’d plenty left.
“We were a small bit worried it would be a bit quick for him the last day and I think three miles is his forte.
“The Albert Bartlett would definitely be the aim. Maybe we’ll run him at the Dublin Racing Festival (at Leopardstown in February), depending on the ground – he wouldn’t run there if it’s good ground. He could still improve more, hopefully.”
Relief was the overriding emotion for Dan Skelton after seeing My Drogo get back on the winning trail in the bearrene.com Novices’ Chase.
Having rounded off an unbeaten hurdling campaign with a Grade 1 victory at Aintree, the six-year-old was widely considered as one of Britain’s brightest hopes in this season’s novice chasing division.
He was a warm order to make a successful start to his career over fences at Prestbury Park last month, but knuckled on landing, slipped and fell at the second-last.
My Drogo was the 2/9 favourite to bounce back on his return to the Cotswolds – and while he was almost too brave for his own good at a couple of fences, there was no doubting his superiority as he came home with seven lengths in hand over Torn And Frayed under champion jockey Harry Skelton.
“It is a sigh of relief to get him round,” Dan Skelton admitted afterwards. “He made a couple of what I wouldn’t call mistakes, but brave errors. The two that he didn’t get perfectly, he was a long way off them and he stays committed, which I’m happy about, because you don’t want them changing their mind.
“Harry was happy with him. We’re all relieved it’s over and we’ve got one out of the way. He’s hacked up in the end and he’s obviously very good. Visually it’s not silky, but it doesn’t have to be – it’s the result that counts.
“I know you’d love to see him being silky and smooth, but that is not in this horse’s nature. He’s a little bit of a fidget and a little bit of a horse on the edge – he’s been like that all his life.”
My Drogo could return to Cheltenham next month before the Festival in March, with Skelton keen to give his charge further experience.
He added: “Every day is a competition to him. He considers this to be a game, rather than something serious. He is going down to fences thinking ‘how far off this can we get’?
“It’s not a concern, but it is something that we’ve got to iron out and I think the way to do that is to get a few runs into him.
“We’re not afraid to run him. We’ll enter for the Dipper back here on New Year’s Day and if we don’t go for that we’ll go somewhere else.
“You wouldn’t dare going three miles and over two you’d have to be super aggressive and that would just further encourage him to take lots of chances, so we’ll stick to two-and-a-half for now.”