Phil Kirby and Nick Alexander excited about 2019 after stellar Christmas
Phil Kirby and Nick Alexander can look forward to a prosperous 2019 after highly successful Christmas periods.
Ireland, Lambourn and the West Country are the usual suspects when it comes to landing the big jumps prizes, but Kirby's North Yorkshire stable and Alexander's Scottish yard are eyeing major prizes at Cheltenham and Aintree.
Richmond-based Kirby's seven jumps winners since Boxing Day have included stable star Lady Buttons, who breezed to success in the £75,000 Listed Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares' Chase at Doncaster on Saturday to take her record over fences to four wins from five runs and put herself on the way to a possible crack at the Betway Champion Chase.
"We've always thought she was well above-average, but she had 18 months out with her legs and silly little things and it's only the last two seasons we've had a clear run with her and she's kept improving," said Kirby.
"I'll be looking to give her an entry in the Champion Chase now. I'm not sure what we might do next, there just aren't many options around two miles for mares. Now she's shown she stays that bit further and we think she might be pretty smart, we can go where we want without fear, especially as she'll get a mares' allowance in the big races."
Of his other winners, he said: "We've had some nice ones. Top Ville Ben really impressed with his jumping at Wetherby and the intention is to go back there for the Towton."
He also has others who didn't run over Christmas to look forward to in the new year.
"We have Nautical Nitwit, who won the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby last time, running at Cheltenham on New Year's Day," he added. "The ultimate aim is the Pertemps Final, so we're hoping to get him used to Cheltenham, then maybe go to Musselburgh for the qualifier."
Kirby also had 19 Flat winners in 2018 and revealed that Stargazer will head to Lingfield on February 1 as a prep run for the Marathon Final on Good Friday, for which he won a fast-track qualifier at Newcastle in mid-December.
Alexander, who trains in Fife, is much more singular with his jumps runners but he now enjoys the patronage of Sir Trevor Hemmings, one of the code's major owners. Alexander has immediately repaid the faith, with the Hemmings-owned Lake View Lad having won the Rehearsal Chase and Rowland Meyrick in December.
"He's come out of it well and we've had a wonderful month with him to win those two races," said Alexander. "We've spoken [with connections about future plans] and will probably have another talk in a couple of weeks. You'd expect he'll be given a Grand National entry, as with a few of the owner's other horses, and we can plan from there once he's had a couple of easy weeks.
"He has options, which will all be in good races as he'll be rated above 150 after Wetherby. He suits softer ground and Haydock's Grand National Trial would be one option."
Alexander also got a maiden chasing win out of McGinty's Dream just before Christmas, and enjoyed a double at Kelso on Saturday with Calivigny and Elvis Mail, both ridden by daughter Lucy.
He said: "It's great for Lucy, who is having a smoother time of it this season and is riding very well just now."
As for the horses, he added: "It's all coming together nicely. We gave Calivigny a wind operation over the summer and it might be that which has made the difference as he stayed on really well to beat Geronimo, who looked unexposed coming into the race."
There was also a touch of the serendipitous about Elvis Mail, Alexander saying: "I was annoyed I couldn't win a bumper with him, in hindsight I might have been running him on the wrong ground. Saturday was his first run on good ground and, while I thought he might win, I didn't think he'd do it so easily."
There are plenty of meetings in the opening days of the new year and opportunities to convince more observers that these are yards growing in stature, rather than just spiking in form.
Alexander added: "The horses are well and there's plenty of racing to go at, so let's keep pushing."
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