Dance looking to Bravemansgame to deliver King George dream
Part-owner John Dance is well aware that Bravemansgame will need to take his form to a new level this season if his King George VI Chase dream is to be realised.
Dance owns the talented seven-year-old with Bryan Drew, and the pair have already enjoyed numerous big days with the talented gelding, who is a Grade One winner over both hurdles and fences for trainer Paul Nicholls.
However, both of those successes came in novice company and Saturday’s bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby presents a stern test of his ability against old rival Ahoy Senor, as well as more established chasers like Haldon Gold Cup and Denman Chase winner Eldorado Allen and fellow Nicholls inmate Secret Investor.
“He’s won Grade Ones over both hurdles and fences but obviously both of those came in novice company and this is is first season in proper open company, so there are different challenges that come with that,” said Dance.
“Paul is confident that he has filled out and strengthened up a little bit more this year, so hopefully we’ll see him at his best and with any luck he’ll pick up one or two more Grade Ones.
“Obviously it is quite a tough bunch that we are up against in that division.
“Paul has already said the King George is his main aim and part of that I think is because he’s such a good and nimble jumper and, essentially, I also think he’s quite a quick horse.
“You could maybe argue that his best trip is just short of three miles at most tracks. That is not to say he wouldn’t ever stay further than three miles, but he looks best over a sharp three miles or just just shy of. Two and a half might be just on the short side but now he’s a bit stronger we’ll just have to see.”
It is rare in this day and age to hear of a top-class horse not having his season based solely around a Cheltenham Festival target, refreshing some may say, but in true Nicholls style, he is doing what is best for his horse.
“The King George does look perfect for him. Obviously he won the Kauto Star, basically the novice King George, last season when he put up a great performance and everything seems to suit him there,” said Dance.
“As far as targets are concerned I’m not like most people, part of me would rather win a King George than a Gold Cup – but I’m not sure Bryan Drew would say that!
“I think that stems from watching the King George every Boxing Day growing up, whereas I was always at school when the Gold Cup was run. Because of that the King George means a little bit more to me personally, so that would be my dream.
“I grew up watching Desert Orchid in it every year and One Man was great, hailing from the north-east, but you’d struggle to get away from Kauto Star, he’d have to be my favourite even if there is a bit of recency bias in there. Watching him come back to win it as an 11-year-old was special.
“The King George tends to favour the classier types, the speedy ones with star quality. To win the Gold Cup you’ve got to be tough and have the ability to stay well.”
National Hunt racing has always played second fiddle to the Flat for Dance, who enjoyed multiple Group One wins through his star filly Laurens. He recently bought a yard in Middleham, which once housed the Derby winner Dante, and installed James Horton as his trainer which has gone better than expected in its first season.
“We’re involved in four jumpers. Three and a half really. One was a bit disappointing recently (Jeremy Pass) so we’ll have to give him a try to see if he’s still interested, otherwise we might be down to just three,” explained Dance, founder of Vertem, an investment management business which sponsors the Futurity Trophy at Doncaster.
It's partly Laurens' fault we ever get involved in the jumping because we couldn't stand waiting all winter for her to run again
“Obviously over the last year and the next year our main interest is the Flat squad to help James get up and running, building the foundations for that. A lot of time, money and effort are going in to the development of that, so I’d guess it will be 2024 before we are adding to the jumps squad.
“It’s partly Laurens’ fault we ever get involved in the jumping because we couldn’t stand waiting all winter for her to run again. The jumps interest is small, it’s a bit of fun and hopefully every once in a while we can find another Bravemansgame to keep our interest during the winter.
“Now we’re out of lockdown, it is also a good opportunity for me from a commercial business perspective to network and meet new contacts. That was the original point in the first place but logic went out of the window as it often does with racing, you wouldn’t be in it long otherwise.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s race, Dance knows a lot of questions will be answered coming up against his old rival Ahoy Senor, with the score currently at one win apiece over fences.
“Obviously this is a tough assignment first time out, but it will also be tough for Ahoy Senor and the others as well. There are a couple of others that have run to at least a similar level, so we’ll have to see how they all get on,” he said.
“The Charlie Hall is usually the first really classy race of the season, and don’t forget Eldorado Allen either, he’s a bit of a forgotten horse in this but he’s the highest rated. He’s been competitive at the highest level for some time, so we’ll just have to see how we get on.”
The bet365 Charlie Hall Steeplechase is the feature race of the bet365 Charlie Hall Meeting at Wetherby Racecourse. The Jumps racing season has now begun, to find your local fixture visit https://www.greatbritishracing.com/fixtures
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