Countrywide Flame: second in the Cesarewitch on his last startPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Flame team feel he can keep up progress in Fifth
CONNECTIONS of Countrywide Flame believe the four-year-old can continue the progression he has shown in 2012 when lining up in the Grade 1 StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday.
Trained by John Quinn for the Estio Pinnacle Partnership, Countrywide Flame claimed the Grade 1 JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March before finishing a close second at the Aintree festival. He continued his progress back on the Flat when he was a narrow second to Aaim To Prosper in the Betfred Cesarewitch on his last start.
Sean Quinn, assistant to his father, said: "He improved on the Flat again this summer and really took his form to another level and we're hoping he can do the same over hurdles this winter.
"We're under no illusions that he needs to improve to be a Champion Hurdle horse - of course he does - but he has done nothing but improve over the last 18 months.
"He's gone from a horse rated in the low 60s on the Flat with very little apparent scope for improvement to winning a couple of small juvenile hurdles to being placed in better juvenile hurdles to winning the Triumph Hurdle and being placed at Aintree."
Countrywide Flame's form improved on the firmer spring ground over jumps and he, along with the other three runners Bothy, Cinders And Ashes and Trifolium, will face heavy ground at Newcastle after the course passed a morning inspection.
"Given how the race has cut up we thought we might as well let him take his chance," Quinn said on William Hill Radio. "His form got better when the ground got better. Having said that he battles hard and was second in the Finale on heavy ground so we know he won't sink in it.
"I do think Bothy is running for fourth as while he is admirable he has been beaten off his mark and has had his chance. Trifolium hasn't got much ground to make up but I'd like to think the two Cheltenham winners would come to the fore with Countrywide Flame coming out on top ahead of Cinders And Ashes."