TWO jumps starts ago, the Ciaron Maher-trained Regal Heir won the $100,000 Kevin Lafferty Hurdle at Warrnambool.
Tomorrow they are aiming to win it again — two years apart.
Maher, who has stables at Winslow and Caulfield, is excited about the eight-year-old’s return to jumps racing.
Tomorrow’s start in a shorter Kevin Lafferty Hurdle (3600m) is Regal Heir’s first since he finished second in the Grand National Hurdle (4530m) in August 2010. Two weeks earlier, in his first season of jumps racing, he won the Lafferty Hurdle at Warrnambool.
But just as quickly as he leapt into the sport’s upper echelons, he disappeared. In the build-up to Warrnambool’s 2011 May carnival, without a start over obstacles, he suffered a tendon injury.
Maher said he had kept the eight-year-old gelding back from feature races earlier in the season in search of soft ground.
“He’s a wet tracker and he’s had success at this time of the year before,” he said.
“He’s hardly been out of work. He had a little break after the injury but he went straight into rehab.”
Maher said Regal Heir was one of the best hurdlers in 2010. But just where he sat now was open to debate.
“Obviously I couldn’t have found a better field,” Maher said. “I knew it would have been a quality field but he’s got quite good form.
“His runs on the flat have been very consistent. He’s been as consistent he’s been on the flat.”
Maher said Regal Heir “probably” could run top three tomorrow but he rated the Robert Smerdon-trained pair Brungle Cry and Kirribilli Gold the two to beat.
“Kirribilli Gold and Brungle Cry might be a year better than the year he was second in the Grand National. It’s been two years, it’s hard to line them up. His form is old form, it’s more to see where we are at.”
Maher said Regal Heir’s aim was the Grand National Steeplechase (4500m) on July 29.
“I’ve put a lot of miles into his legs, Sunday is his kick- off. I’m not worried.
“I’m sure he will be competitive. Whether he wins, I don’t know. His best form is at Warrnambool on a heavy track.”
Maher said he had always believed Regal Heir would be better over bigger obstacles.
Another runner in today’s six-horse field bound for the bigger fences is the Aaron Purcell-trained English import Dhaafer.
Purcell said his charge would relish the wet track after finishing seventh at his last hurdle start on firmer ground at Bendigo.
“These are the sorts of races we bought him for,” Purcell said.
“Over longer distances and on wet ground. He’s not the fastest horse around but he seems to stay pretty well. He might get outsprinted but not outstayed. The Grand Annual Steeplechase is his ultimate goal.”