The prevailing heavy ground that is very much the norm at present across the British Isles isn’t to the liking of too many horse, but one who thrives when the mud is flying is the Emma Lavelle-trained Highland Lodge who could bid for a three-mile novice chase at Warwick on January 12 having hacked up last month in impressive fashion at Cheltenham, writes Elliot Slater.
The winner of two of his three starts over timber last season as a novice hurdler, the gelded son of Flemensfirth was switched to the larger obstacles by his in-form handler at the beginning of this term and justified favouritism in pleasing fashion at Towcester in November. Fancied to go well at Newbury three weeks later in Grade 2 company, the seven-year-old was always prominent and held every chance at the second last only to be outpaced by the useful Harry Topper and Irish challenger Benefficient after the final fence, eventually coming home third.
Having scored over hurdles the previous season in heavy ground connections were keen to see just how well Highland Lodge would fare on deep going over fences, and they were duly treated to a tremendous display of dour staying when Barry Geraghty’s mount overturned the hot favourite Our Father at Cheltenham in December to land the Ryman Stationery Novices Chase by 22 lengths, earning himself a best quote of 20/1 for the Grade 1 RSA Chase at the Cheltenham festival in March.
If the ground comes up soft or heavy then Lavelle’s stayer would definitely have a chance in the three-mile novice chase championship contest, but on a faster surface he would appear vulnerable to speedier types. With the ground still very deep though the Warwick race could well prove Highland Lodge’s for the taking and could be his final outing before having a crack at the RSA Chase a couple of months down the line.