Fergal O’Brien is targeting more success at the April Meeting at Cheltenham as he bids to sign off the best season of his burgeoning training career in style.
He is preparing for the start of the two-day fixture on Wednesday after chalking up 43 winners this term, his highest tally since he left his role as Nigel Twiston-Davies’ head lad to set up on his own at Cilldara Stud in the autumn of 2011.
O’Brien, who rents the Fossebridge stable from top jockey Timmy Murphy, underlined his training prowess to a wider audience when saddling 33-1 shot Alvarado to finish fourth in the Grand National at Aintree 10 days ago.
He is aiming to reinforce his growing reputation with more success at the April Meeting, when course winners Bradley and Down Ace are among his likely runners.
“I’m very pleased with how this season has gone,” he said.
“We had a quiet patch in the middle during the really bad weather and didn’t have many runners, but they’ve started to run a bit better again lately, so I’m happy.
“If someone had said at the start of the season that we’d have 43 winners, we’d win two Listed races with two different horses, been fourth in the Grand National, had a treble on a Saturday and a double at Cheltenham, you’d take it every year.
“You always wants to do better but we’ve probably done as well as we can really.
“I don’t think we’ve missed many opportunities, and the horses have been running well, so it’s been a good season.
“Last year we had 28 winners from around 25 horses and I didn’t do any point-to-pointing this year so we had about 40 horses.
“We had a great summer/autumn last year and that all helped.
“I’m very lucky that I’ve got patient owners and the horses are starting to come right now and it’s paying dividends.
“We’ve got great facilities here and Timmy Murphy is a good landlord and I’m lucky to have the backing of Chris Coley.
“Without Chris things wouldn’t have happened so easily,”
Bradley is set to run in the Auriga Network Handicap Chase (3.50pm) over about three miles on the second day of the April Meeting, Thursday.
The five-time winner gained his second Cheltenham success a couple of years ago and bounced back from a below-par run at Uttoxeter to finish fifth behind Hey Big Spender at Ascot last time out.
O’Brien is hoping Bradley will put his best foot forward again on Thursday, when he could again lock horns with Hey Big Spender.
“He ran great last time at Ascot in a decent-enough race,” said O’Brien. “He’s better going right-handed but he’s got good form around Cheltenham.”
Down Ace won six races in a row before coming up short at the Festival, finishing 13th behind the brilliant Quevega in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.
Seventh at Newbury last time out, she has a chance to regain winning form for O’Brien in the OLBG.com Supports Mares’ Jump Racing Mares’ Handicap Hurdle on Thursday.
O’Brien: “She was disappointing at Cheltenham – I don’t know why – but didn’t run too badly next time at Newbury.
“If we hadn’t run her at Cheltenham she might have been a bit closer at Newbury, but she’s a lovely mare.”
While his stablemates compete for more silverware, Alvardo has already started his holidays following his heroics under Paul Moloney for owners the Rucker family at Aintree.
A winner at Cheltenham in November, the nine-year-old used his staying power to good effect to bely his long odds and finish behind only Pineau De Re, Balthazar King and Double Seven.
“That was fantastic,” said O’Brien. “He’s a wonderful horse and he’s always been very talented.
“He won a nice race at Cheltenham on a Saturday – he is a good horse.
“For the Ruckers and jockey Paul Moloney to have been placed in the race six years in a row is pretty phenomenal as well.
“I started with Tim Forster and he had three Grand National winners and when I was at Nigel’s for all those years we had a couple of Grand National winners and that’s what we all love doing.”