Threeunderthrufive may head for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival as connections are keen to bid for Grade One glory before his novice status elapses.
The Paul Nicholls-trained, Max McNeill-owned gelding has been beaten only once since graduating to the steeplechasing ranks, finishing second on his debut over obstacles in October before going on to rack up four successive victories under retained rider Adrian Heskin.
A Cheltenham success in November was followed by two triumphs in Grade Two races as the seven-year-old won the December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster and the Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick, both run over a trip of three miles.
Threeunderthrufive holds a trio of Festival entries, but his connections are swaying towards another three-mile assignment in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase rather a tilt at the Ultima Handicap Chase over a furlong further or a step up to three miles and six furlongs in the National Hunt Chase.
The latter race is for amateur jockeys only, precluding Heskin, and connections are also mindful that contest is not necessarily an easier task than the Brown Advisory after Escaria Ten crossed paths with Galvin when contesting the race last season in an attempt to avoid Monkfish.
“The Brown Advisory would be our preferred option, there’s a few reasons for that; Adrian can obviously ride, and secondly last season with Escaria Ten we went for the so-called easier option with the National Hunt Chase and we ran into Galvin, who is the favourite for the Gold Cup,” said Iain Turner, racing manager to the McNeill family who own both Threeunderthrufive and Escaria Ten.
“Just because a race looks easier at the time, it doesn’t always mean it works out like that.
“He’s won two Grade Twos, one with a penalty, and this might be his only chance to run in a Grade One.
“Hopefully it’s not, but it might be and if he shows he’s not up to that class and perhaps we should have gone further we can drop him back into handicap company for something like the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown at the end of the season.”
Nicholls has one of the leading fancies in the Brown Advisory with Bravemansgame, a horse unbeaten over fences and already a Grade One winner after taking the Kauto Star at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
While the champion trainer could understandably prefer to keep the two horses apart, those linked with Threeunderthrufive are more inclined to take their only available shot at the race rather than risk crossing paths with high-calibre horses in a lesser-grade event.
“Paul would probably rather keep Bravemansgame and Threeunderthrufove apart and he probably would look at something like the National Hunt Chase for him, but we’ve not sat down and discussed it,” he said.
“One thing for sure is that he can only run in a Brown Advisory once, and from those horses at the top of the market he is the only one that has won around Cheltenham.
“Bravemansgame hasn’t, Ahoy Senor hasn’t, the Irish ones haven’t, so he’s got that little bit of course form and he’d probably be a shorter price than in the National Hunt Chase, but who’s to say Capodanno, Stattler or Run Wild Fred won’t be equally hard nuts to crack?
“Max is in it for trying to win Grade One races and they’re difficult races, but we’ve got the option of Sandown five or six weeks afterwards so if we sit there after Cheltenham and think we should have gone for the longer trip, we’ll have a handicap mark and a little bit more experience.
“That is the thinking as of now, ultimately it will come down to Max’s decision, if everything’s well and he’s in great shape, we’ll talk to the team at Paul’s on Saturday and take our chances in a red-hot renewal of the Brown Advisory.”