Novice chaser Coonawara's rising star to shine at Festival
From JIM McGRATH
THERE is a brilliant young star sparkling for British jumping fans as Festival time draws near - and his name is as easy to remember as a drink in a bar.
Mention the word Coonawara and wine buffs will tell you this is a tasty drop from Australia vineyards.
Mention Coonawara in racing circles, and you will readily be informed that he is the most exciting novice chaser to emerge this season on either side of the Irish Sea.
Coonawara, who is trained by Tim Forster and ridden by Brendan Powell, cruised home to record his eighth successive victory over fences when landing the Badger Novices' Chase at Sandown Park, scoring by 20 lengths from the struggling Los Buccaneros.
A bold front-runner, and potentially a spectacular jumper, this brilliant young prospect could be the best seen since the mighty Crisp, the famous Australian chaser who made his mark in Europe more than 20 years ago.
But nobody in his stable will give you such a glowing recommendation. Forster, who always fears doom and gloom is just around the corner, has turned pessimism into an art form.
He said: ''I get up in the morning and say to myself 'Oh no, Coonawara runs again today!', and then I brace myself for what might happen. I suppose that now we are going to have to run at Cheltenham.'' The trainer is not rushing into selecting between the two-mile Arkle Trophy and Cathcart Chase, over two miles five furlongs, as the gelding's Festival targets.
He said ''Brendan [Powell] thinks the longer distance may suit. In any case, his jumping this time was the best he has produced. When he is out in front so long, he often finds it hard to keep his concentration, but he did very well today.'' In fact, Coonawara seemed to make ground at virtually every fence. Even when he looked like being wrong, he had the ability to correct himself and fiddle his way out of trouble.
Powell, the Grand National-winning jockey who has bounced back from some appalling injuries in recent years, said: ''I think the ground will decide whether Coonawara goes for the Arkle. If it is soft or worse than that, the Arkle will suit him. If it is good, then he could go for the Cathcart and be guaranteed of getting the trip.'' Ever-adventurous bookies Sporting Index are betting on the Arkle, and have clipped Coonawara to 7-2 second favourite for the two-mile novice chase at the Festival.
Two of his potential Arkle rivals crashed out of contention - quite literally - at Nottingham on Saturday.
Current Express and Native Mission, two fancied runners, finished third and sixth respectively behind surprise winner Country Lad in the Michael Seely Nottinghamshire Chase.
Current Express, trained by Nicky Henderson, had been regarded as potentially one of the best young chasers in the country. But he jumped poorly, landing on top of a ditch and making appalling blunders at the final two fences.