Ben Clarke had a February to remember after The Galloping Bear boosted him into the limelight after winning the Grand National Trial at Haydock.
The Galloping Bear beat off fan favourite and multiple Grade One winner Bristol De Mai in his victory at Haydock, which has had Clarke dreaming of other big races next season.
Aintree’s National fences could be the long term aim, but a nearer target could be the Welsh National at Chepstow or the Irish equivalent at Fairyhouse in April, where The Galloping Bear would be aiming to become the first British-trained winner since Shutthefrontdoor in 2014.
Clarke said, “We might look at the Irish National, but it’s more than likely he’s done for the season. He’s very ground dependent and he’d need six or seven weeks now before we run him again and by the time we’ve gone down the line it’ll be decent ground. We wouldn’t risk him on anything other than soft.”
“My educated guess realistically would be that we train him with the Welsh National as his primary target on the 27th of December. He’ll have one prep run and then go straight for it. I think it’s a race that should suit him very well. Heavy ground around Chepstow I think will be a perfect race for him.”
“It was a big big step up in grade for him at Haydock but it was the right race for us to run him in. He loves soft, heavy ground but he’s not a very big horse and the ground was so deep, I think he was just constantly struggling. But he doesn’t know when to lie down. He’s an absolute warrior.”
The Galloping Bear’s mark has now gone up as a result of his win at Haydock but Clarke doesn’t think it will be an issue moving forward, “He’s gone up seven pounds in the weights, so he’s off a mark of 147. But I don’t think he’s done off that mark. I still think he can be competitive. He’s come out of the race very very well.”
The Galloping Bear will then have multiple options, including heading towards the Cheltenham Gold Cup following in Native River’s footsteps if he was to win the Welsh National, or the English Grand National at Aintree.
Clarke is looking at the latter, “I think he’s definitely more of a National horse than a Gold Cup horse. He lacks half a gear to turn into a Gold Cup horse. He will definitely, definitely hold an entry in the English National next year.
“As long as it’s very very safe ground, he could turn up in that. I would say it’s likely his targets next season will be a prep run, the Welsh National and onto the Grand National. That’s our number 1 plan.”
Clarke On A Roll
Alongside his stable star, Clarke also has a number of horses performing well this season, with Dr Kananga being one of those who has helped Clarke to punch above his weight.
“Dr Kananga has been a wonderful horse for us. There is a bit of a backstory that nobody really knows about, when he was actually sent to me I had to sign a document to say he was a dangerous horse. He had a bad reputation and some trainers had already said no to him, but we had a spare box and I like a challenge.”
Dr Kananga has since gone on to win on debut in a point to point, winning three point to points in total before winning a Hunters Chase and his last two starts in Handicap Chases.
Clarke is excited about his future, “He’s still a novice so I want to take advantage of that, there’s a big £40,000 Novices’ Chase at Uttoxeter on the 19th of March, if it’s soft or heavy ground, he’ll probably take his chance in that.”
“Long term goal, win or lose in his next start, we’d be looking to get a prep run in the Autumn but then he’ll line up in the Becher Chase over the Grand National fences, I think that race is tailor made for him.”
Clarke also had a big priced winner on 17th February at Sandown when Lettie Lutz won a Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, paying a £19 win dividend with Tote.
That win might have shocked the punters, but not Clarke himself, “We weren’t actually surprised, we went there and we fancied her. We thought that was the day for her. On her start before Sandown, we ran her on Good to Soft ground which was just too quick for her and quite rightly Liam Harrison pulled her up.
“I know it was a surprise to everyone that she got pulled up and then won 13 days later, but we fancied her that day.”
Lettie Lutz may not be done with this season either, “She could be seen again at Sandown on the 8th of March and she’ll go Mares Novice Chasing in the Autumn which I’m very much looking forward to that.”
Clarke only has a small team of 15 horses, but he is certainly making his mark in the racing world.