Smart Battalion to go hurdling as Osborne eyes ambitious Supreme Novices' bid
Last year's Winter Derby favourite Battalion is to make a late switch to jumping for an ambitious tilt at the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, a race his trainer Jamie Osborne won as a jockey on Flown in 1992 and Shadow Leader in 1997.
An eight-time winner on the Flat, including three times in Listed company, the eight-year-old made a bright start for Osborne and owners Melbourne 10 Racing last winter when winning his first two starts at Lingfield, but he has not won since and was only sixth in the Winter Derby last season.
He is unlikely to line up for that Betway-sponsored Group 3 a week on Saturday, and could instead be making his hurdles debut at Southwell the following day.
Explaining the late change of tack, Osborne said: "It's highly unlikely Battalion is going to be competitive in a Winter Derby now and it looks unlikely Melbourne 10 are going to have anything of note on finals day at Lingfield.
"My job as manager of their horses is to make sure they do interesting things and have nice days out. I thought the possibility of running Battalion in the Supreme Novices' might be quite exciting, and he schools well. He'll more than likely debut at Southwell a week on Sunday or at Plumpton the following day."
Osborne appreciates that Battalion is starting hurdling late in life but sees plenty of positives.
He said: "He's going jumping late, but he's a 100-plus Flat horse and if he takes to it and can transfer his ability he might just love it. He's a wily old thing and what probably stopped him being a Group horse is that he's just a little bit clever.
"The two horses I won the Supreme on as a jockey were both ex-Flat horses and, although they were a few years younger than Battalion, they were nowhere near his class, yet they felt like machines to me.
"Looking back at the form, I see Flown was rated 80 in his last Flat run and had just one hurdles start at the end of February before winning the Supreme.
"Shadow Leader was rated 82 and had two hurdle runs before Cheltenham, the first of them ridden by my right-hand man Jimmy McCarthy who has been schooling Battalion and has been pleased with him."
He added: "How long his career will be over hurdles, I don't know. It could be one race, it could be two, or it could be the rest of his life. We have no idea, but it's a fun thing to try."
Battalion is a 50-1 chance with sponsor Sky Bet but can be backed at 100-1 elsewhere.
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