Classy Flat stayer Stag Horn could have bright future over hurdles

Stag Horn could be set for a graded assignment after revealing another string to his bow with a promising victory on his hurdling debut at Hereford on Saturday.

At his peak the four-year-old was rated 108 on the Flat, winning five times and crossing paths with the great Stradivarius when fourth behind him in the Group Three Sagaro Stakes at Ascot in April. He was also fourth in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at the Royal meeting.

The Archie Watson-trained gelding’s most recent run on the level was a success as he took the Phil Bull Trophy at Pontefract in October for the second year running, after which his evident stamina inspired connections to consider hurdling.

The Save The Children Christmas Jumpers Novices’ Hurdle was the bay’s first outing over obstacles and he took to the task happily, making all of the running under Gavin Sheehan and winning by a length and three-quarters having started as the 4-5 favourite.

“I was delighted with him,” said Watson.

“He needs such extreme trips on the Flat that we can’t run him too often, there aren’t really the races for him.

“It was great of (owners) Sir Martin and Ben Arbib to want to have a crack over hurdles and I was very happy with him, I thought he jumped well throughout bar a couple of novicey errors later on, which just let the others back into it a bit.

“He’ll have learnt plenty, he’s come out of it well and we’ll start to think about where to go next, he’ll probably step up in class later in the month or in January.”

Stag Horn was one of the least experienced jumpers in the field as many of his rivals had already run over hurdles at least once, but his schooling with Henrietta Knight stood him in good stead as he jumped confidently and fluently for the majority of the race.

“He’s obviously had 13 runs on the Flat, but in terms of jumping he’s always schooled well at home and he’s done a lot of his preliminary groundwork with Henrietta Knight,” Watson explained.

“I couldn’t really have been happier with his first run and we’re just hoping he’ll continue to progress because if he can translate some of his Flat form to hurdles he could be pretty good in this sphere.”

While a step towards a higher-calibre hurdling contest is next on the agenda, his Flat career has not ended and he looks set to develop into a useful dual-purpose runner in valuable contests under both codes.

“He probably needs two miles, or further than two miles even, on the Flat. There aren’t too many races to run in – he could run in something like the Chester Cup and go back to Royal Ascot for one of the staying races in the summer, but we’ll see how he goes in the spring over hurdles first,” said Watson.

The triumph saw Stag Horn given a 40-1 quote for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – but there is likely to be a different target in March, should connections elect to go to Cheltenham.

Watson explained: “Gavin felt he would hopefully be a horse for something like the Albert Bartlett at the Festival, though he’s obviously going to have to take significant steps forward to be competitive at that higher grade.

“We’ll step him up in class, he’ll go somewhere like Warwick, there’s a Grade Two hurdle there in January (Leamington Novices’ Hurdle), and then we’ll take it from there.”

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