Supreme hero Summerville Boy put away for possible Champion Hurdle campaign
Buveur D'Air's claim to be the best of the British will face a fresh challenge next season with Tom George preparing to keep Summerville Boy over the smaller obstacles to go up against the two-time Champion Hurdle winner.
George's latest star will not take in either the Aintree or Punchestown festivals after his Supreme Novices' Hurdle success at Cheltenham, with his trainer citing a five-race campaign that included two Grade 1 wins on heavy ground.
Summerville Boy is the general 10-1 second favourite for next year's Racing Post Arkle Chase, but George has other plans.
He said: "He's a very high-class horse and he needs a proper pace to come off. Those slow novice events earlier in the season didn't suit him, but he won't have to do that again.
"We have a long time to think about it, but I don't see any reason why he won't stay over hurdles. He doesn't need to be going chasing just yet.
"He's improving and he'll improve again, as he needs to be coming off a very strong gallop."
George, who has just about recovered from last week's celebrations sparked by his second festival winner 16 years after his first, said about Summerville Boy, who was on Monday a top-priced 25-1 for the Champion Hurdle: "He travelled so well in the Supreme until he got blinded two out and lost his back end, and 99 times out of 100 that's your race lost – with most horses at least. And then he bunny-hopped the last, maybe because he got a fright at the one before I don't know, as naturally he's a good jumper.
"Give him his due, he picked up again. He's probably lost five or six lengths. He won the Tolworth by four lengths from Kalashnikov and he'd have probably done the same at Cheltenham without the mistakes."
Of Aintree and Punchestown, he added: "I'd say that's most likely him done now. He's had a few races and come a long way. He was mentally very immature at the start of the season."
Black Op on chasing trail
Samcro denied George a Cheltenham double when Black Op finished second in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, and the trainer said: "We have Black Op to go novice chasing, as that's what he's all about. He has an unbelievably high cruising speed and a strong, big stride.
"He got within a couple of lengths of Samcro and without him he'd have been an easy winner. He's a high-class horse. My son Noel rides him every day and we've been hearing a lot about him all winter!"
On whether we will see Black Op again this spring, George said on Monday: "I don't know, his weight is pretty good, as I was worried he'd lose more. He was back out this morning and he looks goo. He was only out the stable for three hours, so it wasn't a long day."
Strong Aintree team
George has done much better at Aintree than he has at Cheltenham, winning a Manifesto, Bowl, Red Rum Handicap, Melling and Sefton since 2009, and he sends a strong team again this year, headed by Champion Chase third God's Own and King George runner-up Double Shuffle.
George said: "I was incredibly proud of God's Own, it was not to his liking, that ground. He's an incredible horse and finds a new level of form at this time of year. He was bucking and kicking the next day and I imagine he'll do Aintree and Punchestown again. He just needs some nice ground.
"The Worlds End has been unlucky this season. He keeps finding soft ground, which he doesn't like, and they've gone far too steady, which he doesn't like. Hopefully he can find a strong gallop on good ground and he could improve that five or six lengths he needs. He's come out of it well and he'll go to Aintree. He won there last year.
"Saint Are had to run to qualify for the Grand National, but he took a pretty dim view of the cross-country fences. It's all about Aintree for him.
"Rocklander produced a big run. I see him competing in the big handicaps next season but we've purposely had a light season with the spring in mind. I wanted to run him before Cheltenham but I had a strong feeling he would have gone up and not got into the race because of the banding. The match practice will have helped.
"I'm really looking forward to running Double Shuffle. I think the sight of all that rain was enough to put him off his food, but three miles at Aintree on good ground should be ideal - as he showed at Cheltenham. Bun Doran is another who could go. He'd drop back to two miles."
On Singlefarmpayment, he added: "He jumped better and he loves Cheltenham so I think we'll wait for the April meeting with him and we have some nice smart young horses coming through behind, which is nice."
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