TRAINER Ben Pauling is forecasting a Bright future for his young guns after enduring the cruellest of luck.
Today, three of his hottest prospects, Global Citizen, Bright Forecast and Le Breuil, head north from his Cotswolds base to Haydock aiming to take another step up the ladder.
It comes after a spell blighted by the loss of his two best horses.
Early last month bargain buy Barters Hill, the horse who put Pauling on the map with defeats of Buveur D’Air, Altior and Politologue, had to be retired after injury blunted his once razor-sharp ability.
Worse was to come when the trainer’s first Cheltenham Festival winner Willoughby Court lost his battle with a bone infection last week.
The double blow cast a black shadow over the stables near the chocolate box tourist trap of Bourton-on-the-Water.
They say it’s always darkest before dawn and there’s little doubt Pauling has a team strong enough to banish the blues.
His assault on three of Haydock’s big Grade 2 races could see his seasonal tally pushed towards last year’s personal best of 36. He currently stands on 25 and is expecting his horses to hit top form in the coming weeks.
Pauling said: “It’s been a tricky season. I would say we’re having a decent season without hitting a rich vein of form which we normally would have done by now.
“I do feel the horses are on the brink, about to start flying. All of a sudden they seem very well.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a really good second half of the season.
“I’ve been very lucky to have Barters Hill and Willoughby Court in the early part of my career but, at the same time, it makes it harder to take.
“You’d like to have thought, with a clean run, both would have been Gold Cup or Ryanair Chase standard this year.
“Barters has retired a very happy, healthy, sound horse.
“He wasn’t able to perform at the level he could in his early days. You get attached to these good horses. That’s why it has hit us hard with Willoughby.
“Everyone did everything they could but I’m afraid there was nothing more we could do. Without them it’s a bit tougher but we have got lots of nice horses coming through the ranks. You have just got to be patient.”
With half his 80-odd horses just turned five or younger it’s the only way. And that patient approach is paying off.
Global Citizen burst on to the scene when demolishing his rivals in the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle last February.
This season he lugged top weight to success in the prestigious Gerry Feilden Hurdle at Newbury before finishing fourth of five in the Christmas Hurdle.
Pauling, a former assistant to Nicky Henderson, has not lost faith in his star hurdler.
He believes his Kempton run was all wrong and the Champion Hurdle is still on the agenda if he passes today’s test in The New One Unibet Hurdle. Pauling said: “In the Christmas Hurdle he hung from a mile out and David Bass struggled to steer him.
“He was still only beaten 13 lengths by a very good mare Verdana Blue and the Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air.
“It wasn’t a bad run. We gave him in a bone scan after the race and there was just a little bit of warmth in a hind hock. He’s all well and good now.
“I’m 100 per cent sure he’s got more in the tank and there’s room for improvement. If that’s the case, he should have a squeak on Saturday.
“His big asset is his jumping. He’s very fast and accurate.
“He is very good when everything is right. If something even minor isn’t quite right he might not be that electric.
“We kept him from novice chasing with the view to tilting at the top end. If he runs well on Saturday and gets to Cheltenham healthy the likelihood is he’ll have a go at the Champion Hurdle.
“If he turned up to Cheltenham in good form, I wouldn’t put it past him to nick a place. Next year I think he’s going to be a very exciting novice chaser.”
Another likely to head over fences next season is Bright Forecast. Unbeaten in two hurdles starts, he’s certainly got the colours for the job.
He runs in the famous blue and white Embiricos silks forever associated with one of the great sporting stories.
Bright Forecast is officially owned by the Aldaniti Partnership. That’s a nod to the ex-crock nursed back to full fitness by Josh Gifford to win the 1981 Grand National under cancer survivor Bob Champion — a tale so astonishing it was made into a tear-jerking film, Champions.
Today, Bright Forecast steps up in class for the Sky Bet Supreme Trial and Pauling is hopeful he will live up to his name.
He said: “It’s very unusual for me not to run a horse in a bumper. It wasn’t that he didn’t show us enough ability it was the fact the Embiricos family want chasers, that’s their aim.
“If I’d run him in a bumper this year it would have been another year before we got going. We started him off in a maiden hurdle at Newbury at the Ladbrokes meeting, obviously that was going to be a decent race.
“He was green and made some mistakes but then he sprinted from the back of the last to win nicely. We tootled off to Leicester over Christmas to let him enjoy it. He jumped well, travelled well and quickened up nicely.
“He’s unexposed — no one knows how good he is. We’ve always thought he was a nice horse and we haven’t come close to getting to the bottom of him.”
Le Breuil completes the Haydock trio in the Grade 2 novices’ chase. He came up against Santini on his last try at this level, but may not be seen at his best today.
Pauling warned: “We could do with more rain for Le Breuil. It would be on the sharp side for him if the ground isn’t soft.
“We’ll probably see the best of him over a bit further.”