Max McNeill believes Thunder Rock can put his Cheltenham disappointment far behind him this weekend, though Sunday’s Scottish Champion Chase could be his last outing over fences.
The Olly Murphy-trained eight-year-old was sent off a well-backed 3/1 for the valuable December Gold Cup at Prestbury Park on his last start but he failed to make it past the fourth last fence after a poor display of jumping.
Connections have decided to apply a fresh set of cheekpieces onto the Grade 2-placed chaser ahead of his trip to Musselburgh on Sunday where he is a 4/1-shot to return to the winners’ enclosure.
“At Carlisle, he won like a very good horse, so if he reproduces that form he will go very close. Win, lose or draw, it’s the right race for him.”– Max McNeill, part-owner of Thunder Rock
“His two worst runs over fences have come at Cheltenham so we won’t be going back there in a hurry,” said part-owner McNeill. “These big-field handicaps don’t seem to be suiting him at the moment, so we have had to duck and dive to find this race.
“We wanted a single-figure field, and we have got that as there are only nine runners. We think it is the right race and we go there full of confidence.
“Going right-handed suits, though the track might be a bit tight. A big galloping track would probably suit better, but we have got four out of five things going for us.
“I’m a lot more confident about this race than I was about Cheltenham; I was really hopeful at Cheltenham, but they went like a bat out of hell over the fences in the shoot at Cheltenham and it put him out of his comfort zone.”
Despite McNeill’s enthusiastic confidence about his chances in the £80,000 2m4½f handicap chase, he is prepared to change disciplines if Thunder Rock disappoints.
He continued: “What I will say is that if he doesn’t run well, we will go back over hurdles, though I don’t think that will happen as I think he will be very competitive.
“It would be disappointing if he were to revert to hurdles, but it’s not the end of the world. The three-mile hurdling division is always open to a good progressive type.”
As for future targets, McNeill and Murphy will have to look at the racing calendar with Cheltenham blocked out as a potential option.
Although this isn’t ideal, McNeill is not worried, as he said: “If he runs well without winning, it’ll be disappointing in the moment but at least we will be able to build on that going forward.
“We will stay away from Cheltenham, so there could be a race for him at Aintree, Ayr, or Sandown. There are plenty of good races to be won with him.
“When he ran at Sandown last year, he wasn’t very far off Gerri Colombe, and Gerri Colombe is in the top four of the betting for the Gold Cup.
“We’ll have to duck and dive with him a little bit, but maybe something like the Peterborough Chase going forward, or that kind of race, could be for him.”