Waiting game: Kirby to let others make first move before Lady Buttons decision
For trainers such as Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson, the headache over which stars should run in which festival race can cause sleepless nights at this time of year. Mullins in particular is renowned for leaving such decisions as late as the race conditions will allow.
For Phil Kirby, the choice of Cheltenham target for Lady Buttons is made much simpler by dint of the fact she has proved herself a star over both hurdles and fences.
With the mare attracting an ever-growing public following, Kirby's decision between the Close Brothers Hurdle for mares on the Tuesday and the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase 24 hours later will be closely followed by Lady Buttons' legions of fans.
Lady Buttons' odds for the Mares' Hurdle range from 12-1 to 20-1 but, with Benie Des Dieux, Honeysuckle and Apple's Jade all holding multiple entries at the meeting, Kirby is quite happy to let others make the first move.
"I won't make a decision until the week before, I'll let everybody else sort out where they’re going," said Kirby. "It will be very last minute, mainly because she is very straightforward. I can switch from hurdles to fences virtually overnight, that doesn’t worry me.
"I'm just going to try to pick the best option for her and, while I know there won't be an easy race, hopefully one of the two will be easier."
Lady Buttons is three from four this season and is rated a general 33-1 chance for the two-mile chasing crown on the Wednesday of the meeting.
Kirby will wait for Aintree with promising chaser Top Ville Ben, who was last seen finishing a distant third to Santini in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.
The eight-year-old has been handed 11st 2lb in the Randox Health Grand National, for which he is a best-priced 40-1, leaving his trainer to ponder the alternative of the Grade 1 Betway Bowl over the conventional Mildmay course on the opening day of the meeting.
"He'll get an entry in the Bowl as well at Aintree and will run in one or the other," said Kirby. "We'll school him over some National-type fences over the next couple of weeks and see how he takes to it. If he loves it, it's still possible.
"If not we'll probably go for the Bowl this year and do that another year. He's not particularly well handicapped to be going to the National but we’ve got options and it will be one of the two, all being well."
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