A double at Musselburgh yesterday will have come as a great relief for leading Scottish trainer Lucinda Russell.
The victories brought a lean spell to an end, though it’s wrong to say the yard was out of form. Just one winner from the last 26 runners before yesterday sounds a little depressing, but the Perth and Kinross outfit had a frustrating four second place finishes at Kelso just a week ago. The team also showed their well-being with big runs from Reaping The Reward at Sandown and Mumgos Debut at Ayr, both on Saturday.
The former, ridden by man of the moment Richard Johnson, had run an absolute cracker in the Veterans’ Handicap Chase Final, cruising into contention as if certain to win, before fading to third late on. Mumgos looked a winner at Ayr as he approached the last fence, but pitched on landing and could not recover.
Simarthur was one of yesterday’s winners. A half-brother to Cheltenham Festival winner Simonsig, it’s fair to say that he’s not quite as talented as his sibling. However, after several poor performances over fences, he clearly enjoyed this outing over hurdles on a sounder surface with the visor back in place. He ran out a wide margin winner at fancy odds, and on his day, when in the mood, is certainly capable of further success especially with ground to suit.
Sammy B won the concluding bumper. Described by Russell on her website as a ‘late maturing type who is gradually getting stronger,’ the six-year-old romped home and looks a fair talent. A little green on the run in, it certainly didn’t prevent him from scorching clear.
The lone success last week came at Haydock when Throthethatch took a novices’ limited handicap chase. He looked outpaced turning for home but stayed on strongly to make it three from four over fences, and looks especially useful when encountering testing conditions. He’s by Beneficial out of a Saddlers’ Hall mare, and although a little keen at times should still improve from a step up in trip.
Stable star Lie Forrit finished back in seventh in the veterans chase at Sandown. Now a senior citizen at 12, the run was an improvement on his seasonal debut. He had a terrific 2014/15 campaign, winning three of his five chase outings including the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock. The mounting miles on the clock and inevitable hike in the handicap will make things particularly tricky this winter, though a return to Haydock, a track he clearly enjoys, may give the opportunity of one last hurrah.
Much was made of the recent Cheltenham success for Sandy Thomson with Seeyouatmidnight. The northern trainers have had a lean time of it lately in comparison to the powerhouses of the South and Ireland. Clearly having winners at the spring festivals isn’t everything, but it is a pointer to the north/south divide as regard quality of racehorses. Last March at Cheltenham the north drew a blank, whilst a year earlier Tim Easterby‘s Hawk High was the lone success.
A decline in fortunes for the likes of Donald McCain and Nicky Richards, coupled with an influx of impressive young trainers in the south, such as Harry Fry and Dan Skelton, is certainly a worrying trend for Jump racing in the north. My article yesterday on Newcastle businessman Graham Wylie and his horses based in Ireland is an example of owners searching for success away from their roots.
It will be interesting to see how this story develops over the coming seasons. Clearly it’s a complex matter, but McCain had a spell when he was competing successfully at the highest level and there’s no reason why, with investment from suitably wealthy connections that the north cannot hit back. Many would argue that we need fewer millionaires in the sport and that yards geared to supporting ownership for the masses rather than the elite is far more favourable.
For Lucinda Russell with almost 80 horses in training and fast approaching £300,000 in prize money, another successful winter looks assured. As Perth and Kinross takes a battering from the elements, Scotland’s leading National Hunt trainer marches on regardless.