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Trainer To Watch for 2017/18
National Hunt fans don't need to be told that now more than ever, there is a north-south divide in jump racing. There are more 'sexy' stables than ever before, and you find most if not all of them south of Coventry. As soon as a head lad or assistant trainer at a high-profile yard announces that he or she is to start training, that person then becomes a top trainer before they've even saddled a runner, as recently happened with Olly Murphy. It's not a bad thing, because when horses saddled by Murphy, or Skelton or Fry, are overbet or artificially short, they're often worth taking on with a good horse at good odds, trained by a good trainer who's getting hardly any attention - someone like Malcolm Jefferson, who's very much still got what it takes.
With 40 winners from 202 runners in 2016/17 - a 20%-strike rate that any yard would be happy with - the Malton handler shouldn't be dismissed lightly when sending his runners South. You'll almost certainly see Cloudy Dream at Cheltenham and/or the southern grade one circuits, for example - the winner of the Future Champion Novices' Chase at Ayr, his best performance of a productive novice chase campaign, his jumping does need to improve a little but he can do better than the 155-rating he'll commence the new season with.
Mount Mews is Jefferson's big hope for novice chasing-honours in 2017/18. Not out of the first two in five hurdle races last term, winning three times, he ran well when second to Pingshou in a less than strongly-run renewal of the Top Novices' Hurdle at Aintree, not helped by having his run blocked after the third last. Given a strongly-run two miles he could take a handicap hurdle off his season-starting 145-mark, but two and a half miles and more is what he'll be best at eventually.
Jefferson will be hoping for more from successful novice chaser last season Double W's, victorious in the competitive Red Rum Handicap Chase over two miles at the Aintree Grand National meeting. At first glance his 144-rating seems a maximum mark, but he's still only seven and there might well be more to come over two and a half miles. He didn't come up the Cheltenham hill when fading behind Tully East in the novices' handicap chase at the Festival, but the Topham over the National fences may well present his best chance of winning a big pot going forward.
Waiting Patiently was a horse who looked to be improving, but the six year-old son of Flemensfirth wasn't seen out again after January, reportedly due to a'slight niggle'which kept him out of Aintree as well as Cheltenham. His defeat of Politologue at Haydock when he last raced was good form, and though I don't make it worth his official rating of 150, he's yet to finish out of the first two and is unbeaten over fences (three from three), so there may well be a lot more to come.
If there is a dark horse in the yard, it might well be the solid stayer Gully's Edge, who didn't realise his potential over fences last season, his jumping not yet up to scratch. The Kayf Tara seven year-old has been rated as high as 133, but will start the season off 125, and is well in if he gets his jumping sorted. He'll stay extreme distances and the Eider Chase might suit him.
Old hand Malcolm Jefferson might be, but he and his horses remain well up to competing with the younger upstarts of the racing game in the 2017/18 season.
Visit Malcolm Jefferson's website at www.malcolmjefferson.co.uk
His wife Ruth looks after the stable's Twitter page at twitter.com/NRuthJefferson
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