Augusta Kate is aiming to give her A-list owners a second Grade One victory within a fortnight in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
Smart in bumpers, her season had not gone to plan after an early win at Thurles as Willie Mullins’ six-year-old fell when she came to challenge Death Duty in a Grade One at Navan and was then disappointing at the Cheltenham Festival.
Augusta Kate battled on gamely for a memorable victory at Fairyhouse last time out, as she beat stable mate Let’s Dance, which sparked great scenes in the Alan Shearer household, as the former England captain in one of her owners.
“Willie has told us she is in great form at home still, and after her last win we have to go there thinking she’ll be there or thereabouts,” said Shearer.
“One thing I am at least certain of is that I’ll be backing her!”
Leading owner Graham Wylie, TV presenters Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly and golfer Lee Westwood are also in the Masters Syndicate that owns Augusta Kate.
Westwood’s manager Chubby Chandler is part of the syndicate, too, and enjoys the camaraderie in the group as much as anything else.
“The partnership came about, as everyone knows now, in Augusta, which is how she got her name,” said Chandler.
“We’re all friends of Graham. Ant and Dec and Alan play at Graham’s golf club (Close House) and Lee now lives up there because he is going out with Graham’s wife Andrea’s sister, Helen.
“Every time Kate wins we have a dinner, but we have to arrange it months in advance because we’re always here, there and everywhere.
“We all take our wives and it’s great to see Willie in a different environment, he’s such good company.
“We all enjoy it so much. Shearer does these daft commentaries every time she runs that he sends to our WhatsApp group and there is even a little emoji you can get of him doing his one-handed celebration.
“It’s all a bit of a laugh and it is what ownership should all be about. The fact she’s running in Grade Ones makes it all the sweeter.
“She’s just not a great jumper, that’s her biggest problem, and she seems to stutter into them. The day she fell against Death Duty the feeling was she’d have won.
“She’ll learn, I’m sure of that. She’s with a master trainer and she can only get better.
“We’re all looking forward to it, and Paul Townend isn’t a bad substitute to have on your side.
“Lee and I have four runners on Saturday and we’ll be at Sandown instead because we’re then going to the boxing later.”
Mullins also runs the supplemented Karalee, another Grade One scorer in Airlie Beach and Whiteout, winner of the race last season.
Standing in their way is former stablemate Apple’s Jade, who beat Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini at Cheltenham.
“She came out of her run at Cheltenham in great form,” said trainer Gordon Elliott.
“She seems to thrive on her racing and her work since Cheltenham has been good.
“The tongue tie didn’t do her any harm at Cheltenham, so she’ll wear that again.”
Elliott has also declared Barra but she ran on Thursday.
Phil Kirby is responsible for the only other runner, Lady Buttons, winner of her last three but at a much lower level.
“She was second in the Mares’ Bumper at Aintree and at that stage of her career these are the races we thought she’d be competing in, to be honest,” said Kirby.
“Unfortunately, she had a setback and we had a bit of a blip with her but she’s come right back to herself this season.
“This might be a step too far, who knows. We won’t know until we try and there’s good money on offer.
“She just wants nice ground – it doesn’t have to be soft. I think she just handles heavy ground better than most, which is why people think she wants it soft.
“Possibly her best trip is two-mile-two so on better ground two and a half miles should be fine for her.”