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Aidan Coleman teams up with Santini in Cotswold contest

Aidan Coleman will partner Santini for the first time as he puts his Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials on the line in Saturday’s rearranged Cotswold Chase at Sandown.

Saved from Cheltenham’s abandoned Trials Day last weekend, the blue riband warm-up has attracted three genuine top-notchers.

Nicky Henderson’s Santini was second in the Gold Cup last year to Al Boum Photo, while the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai is fresh from winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock. Colin Tizzard’s 11-year-old Native River has also scaled the heights, not least when winning the Gold Cup in 2018.

Coleman will get the leg up on Santini at the Esher venue, with regular rider Nico de Boinville lined up to take the mount on Champ, Henderson’s other Gold Cup contender, in the Denman Chase next week, after which a decision will be taken over who rides which horse at Cheltenham.

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“We’re keeping all options open really because we’ve got Champ to come out next weekend,” said Henderson.

“The idea is that Aidan will then know Santini, Nico will ride Champ next week and then everything is covered – that’s the gist of the plan.

“Hopefully all horses return safe and sound and are on course for March, and they can both run in the Gold Cup and then I’ve got two jockeys.

Aidan Coleman has picked up the ride on Santini
Aidan Coleman has picked up the ride on Santini (David Davies/PA)

“It’s for obvious reasons, Nico obviously knows Santini very well already, so it was an opportunity for Aidan to get to know him.”

Adding further intrigue to the rescheduled event is the Harry Whittington-trained Saint Calvados, second in the Ryanair last season and fourth in the King George on his only outing this campaign.

Paul Nicholls’ Yala Enki will enjoy the extremely testing conditions, while Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad makes the journey down from Scotland. Both are arriving on the back of wins last time out.

Yala Enki proved his durability when he won the Portman Cup at Taunton, just two weeks after finishing third in the Welsh National.

Lake View Lad had Native River and subsequent King George winner Frodon behind when winning at Aintree.

Shan Blue has been unbeaten over fences to date
Shan Blue has been unbeaten over fences to date (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

There is also Grade One action on the card in the form of the Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase, with Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue the headliner.

An impressive winner of the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Christmas, he faces six rivals headed by Alan King’s Messire Des Obeaux, who has seemingly returned from a long absence as good as ever.

Nicholls’ Hitman, second to Allmankind in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase over two miles and Henderson’s mare Dame De Compagnie will ensure it is a true test of his ability.

Paint The Dream, Sporting John and Up The Straight complete the field.

Seaston Spirit claims Sussex National glory

Seaston Spirit showed an abundance of stamina to maintain his unbeaten record this season in the Sky Sports Racing Sussex National Handicap Chase at Plumpton.

After winning three of his final four starts of the last campaign, the Oliver Sherwood-trained eight-year-old followed up his facile success over hurdles on his return at Ffos Las in November with victory in the extended three-and-a-half-mile prize.

Working his way steadily into contention the 6-1 shot moved into a lead he would hold all the way to the line under Aidan Coleman jumping the fourth-last.

Despite coming under pressure from favourite Special Acceptance on the run down to the final fence, Seaston Spirit continued to find plenty in front before prevailing by two lengths to give Coleman his 1,100th British winner.

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Coleman said: “He was very tough, as the first mile and a half I couldn’t let up at all as I wanted to be handier but they went quite quick early.

“I was niggling him a lot, but to be fair once there was any slowing of the pace he was bang there. I know he has got blinkers on, but that is a good example of sharpening a horse up.

“It is a great training performance by Oliver to get him to win a good pot at Taunton last year and then bring him back over hurdles and bring him back here.

“The last time I rode him I think I had 10st so I had to miss a couple of meals – it was nice to have a bit more weight today. That’s a good prize today so we are delighted.”

Assessing future plans Coleman believes Seaston Spirit could be the ideal type to take aim at the Midlands National at Uttoxeter.

He added: “I do think one of those tracks would suit him better than here. At the same time though his last two big wins have been around Taunton and Plumpton which are tight tracks.

“I do think he deserves to have a go at a race like the one at Uttoxeter or something like that.”

Song repels Silver challenge to take International honours

Song For Someone continued his progression when just holding off Silver Streak in the Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Trained by Tom Symonds, the five-year-old was dropping back in trip having won the Coral Hurdle last time out, but he had to dig deep on the run to the line.

Several hurdles were omitted due to low sun and there were plenty in with chances turning into the straight, but it was the chestnut under Aidan Coleman who continued on his winning streak.

Silver Streak, who was carried out by a loose horse in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle two weeks ago, finished with a wet sail under Adam Wedge, but he went down by just a nose to the 6-1 chance.

Goshen, the 6-4 favourite, had been keen throughout and got to the front coming down the hill, but faded out of contention quickly to be last.

Symonds said: “The lack of hurdles caused a real problem. He got out of rhythm early on and Aidan said he was very brave today.

“He did very well with no hurdles in the straight – as you saw at Ascot, when you are firing him at hurdles, that is when he is making ground, not on the flat.

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“I’m delighted. For a horse to win three Grade Twos on the trot is a really big effort and he is only a five-year-old. He is just a fantastic horse to have.

“I’m thrilled for (owners) Sir Peter and Lady Gibbings, particularly Sir Peter, who is not well and has not been well for a long time. I can tell you the replays of the Kingwell Hurdle (in February) have definitely kept him going through lockdown, as he is in his own lockdown really at home.”

Symonds believes easy ground is key to Song For Someone’s potential Cheltenham or Aintree challenge.

He added: “It would need to be very soft for him to figure in one of those (Champion Hurdle or Aintree Hurdle).

“I’m not downing him, but I just wonder if he has the tactical speed in a Champion Hurdle. I was surprised he won a Kingwell in the nicest sense. We will live on today.

“We will see how we go, but I wonder if, on maybe softer ground, and even if it was better ground, two and a half at Aintree would suit him as we have seen with that race in general it suits horses that rock and roll.

“He is just a fabulous horse and I’m glad we didn’t go chasing.”

Coleman added: “I was in top gear most of the way, believe it or not. He has a fantastic attitude. He kept finding.

“Going around the last hurdle, he picked up again and he would have been an unlucky loser as he was just in front that little bit too long.

“I’m not sure if the old track in the Champion Hurdle would suit him, I’m not just saying because of Epatante or anything like that.

“He is maybe more of an Aintree horse. He has won three Grade Twos in his last three runs and he is ready to go up in company. He is a very admirable horse. A word for Tom Symonds as well, as he has done extremely well with him.”

Silver Streak’s trainer Evan Williams felt the omission of hurdles had detracted from the race.

He said: “We’ve got to do something about these obstacles coming out as it doesn’t enhance the spectacle. I’m not saying it’s cost us, what I’m saying is it has cost the sport. My horse got beat fair and square – that is racing.

“The ground is no excuse. He is better on faster ground, but the winner has won well. I never moan about getting beat. Our horse has run a great race and the winner has run a better race.

“We won’t go to Haydock as the ground won’t suit him. If the ground is OK, two weeks today we will be at Kempton to watch Nicky’s (Henderson) mare (Epatante) swoop by us going to the last and we will admire her backside and try to get a bit of prize money (in the Christmas Hurdle).

“He is a horse of a life time for Mr Fell (owner) and us and I’m very proud of him.”

Epatante secures comfortable win in dramatic Fighting Fifth Hurdle

Epatante impressed when making a winning seasonal debut in a dramatic renewal of the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

Last season’s Champion Hurdle heroine swept to victory over Sceau Royal, taking trainer Nicky Henderson’s record tally in the race to six.

However, chaos reigned in the early stages of the Grade One contest, thanks to the antics of Not So Sleepy.

Hughie Morrison’s enigmatic performer led from the start, but was not keen on co-operating and deposited jockey Paddy Brennan on the jumping side of the first hurdle.

If that was not enough, he ran loose and went to avoid the second flight and, in doing so, took Silver Streak out of the contest.

That left Sceau Royal at the front of the four remaining horses and Alan King’s charge led to the final flight, but Aidan Coleman was sitting pretty on Epatante.

The 8-11 favourite cleared the last and soared past Sceau Royal on the run to the line to win by four and a quarter lengths.

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Henderson, speaking at Newbury, said: “It is a relief as much as anything. It shows there was no fluke about everything she did last season. I thought she was great.

“She is a proper hurdler – just quick, fast and slick. The great thing about her is she will go to sleep and you can press a button.

“She will go to the Christmas Hurdle almost certainly. That’s why this fits in better than the International (Hurdle at Cheltenham next month). I was delighted to see her do that and the gears worked.

“It was a messy race, Sceau Royal is not a bad horse and you could not ask for more. He (Sceau Royal) had race fitness, but he is a good horse. From our point of view, it was ideal. She will come on for it, but she has been here (Newbury) for a racecourse gallop and that brings her into Christmas nicely.

“I don’t think she has done anything at home that tells me she is better than last year. She has just been in good form all the way through and had a trouble-free run.

“She had a super summer and came in looking fantastic from Martinstown (owner JP McManus’ stud) which makes my job easier. It is just nice to see something quicken up like that.

“Even last year there was a question of does she go round Cheltenham as she goes round Flat tracks and has speed, but she has proven she can do it round Cheltenham.”

Coleman was impressed with Epatante’s performance in what was an eventful race.

He said: “Fair play to Sceau Royal, he must be a very genuine horse because Not So Sleepy was causing havoc.

“It was a very strange race after we’d jumped two hurdles given what happened and I feel sorry for poor old Silver Streak.

“Epatante was very professional, she won really well and I was delighted with her, she was very good.

“She showed plenty of speed, but she was a short-priced favourite and a Champion Hurdle winner, so she was entitled to do that to be fair. I was very happy – and very happy to get back on her.”

Sceau Royal’s rider Daryl Jacob was pleased with his mount and said: “He ran a super race, considering what happened early on, I’m delighted with him.”

Trainer Evan Williams said of the early incident which took out Silver Streak: “That’s life. The jockey’s fine and the horse is fine, which is all that matters.”

Sponsors Betfair refunded all bets on Not So Sleepy and Silver Streak and then cut Epatante to 2-1 favourite from 3-1 to defend her crown in March.

Coleman eager to resume Epatante connection in Fighting Fifth

Aidan Coleman is excited to renew his partnership with Epatante in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle this weekend.

The 32-year-old has been called up to ride last season’s Champion Hurdle winner in the Grade One prize after her regular rider, Barry Geraghty, announced his retirement from the saddle over the summer.

Having scored aboard the Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old on her return 12 months ago in the Gerry Feilden at Newbury, Coleman hopes the pair can achieve the same result on Saturday.

Coleman said: “It was great to have had the privilege of riding her once last season and sending her on her way. Now Barry Geraghty is retired, it is great to get back on her.

“I’ve ridden out for Nicky for a couple of years now and we’ve had plenty of winners together, but I’ve not had a lot of rides as Nicky has got his jockeys.

“I’m on the team sheet somewhere there and I get the call up every now and then.

“It’s great to ride for a trainer of his calibre and it is great to get the ride. I feel very privileged.”

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Epatante had plenty to prove on her comeback last year, having been a beaten favourite in the Grade Two mares’ novices’ hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but Coleman was confident she had the ability to climb the ranks.

He said: “I think we all thought she could go to the next level. If you rewind it six months back before that, she was nearly a banker for the Cheltenham Festival and whatever happened that day, she didn’t run her race.

“If she had run her race that day, there was no way she would have been lining up in the Gerry Feilden, but these things happen in racing.

“When she won the Gerry Feilden, she won that well and it still looked like she was progressing. It was no surprise to see her do what she did.”

Altior ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville (right) and Epatante ridden by Jerry McGrath during a recent racecourse gallop at Newbury (Andrew Matthews/PA Images)
Altior ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville (right) and Epatante ridden by Jerry McGrath during a recent racecourse gallop at Newbury (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Despite Epatante being one of the lowest-rated winners of the Champion Hurdle in the past 10 years, Coleman, who finished down the field in the race on Gumball, believes that should not take anything away from the victory.

He said: “Gumball is a front-runner a lot of the time and he was content to sit there, so the speed was on.

“It didn’t ride like a sub-standard Champion Hurdle by any means. There are vintage Champion Hurdles and good Champion Hurdles and time will tell what is what.

“There is no such thing as a bad one, I can guarantee you that.”

Not So Sleepy, who Aidan Coleman hopes will line up in opposition to Epatante (Julian Herbert/PA Images)
Not So Sleepy, who Aidan Coleman hopes will line up in opposition to Epatante (Julian Herbert/PA)

Assessing the potential opposition Epatante could face at the weekend, Coleman hopes the Hughie Morrison-trained Not So Sleepy takes up his engagement to ensure the race is run at a true pace.

He added: “It looks like it will be a competitive enough race, with the likes of Silver Streak and last year’s winner Cornerstone Lad in there.

“With Not So Sleepy in there, it looks like there could be a bit of pace. Hopefully it will be a true-run race and the best horse will win.”

Twenty-four hours earlier, Coleman will bid to claim back-to-back victories aboard Paisley Park in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.

The Emma Lavelle-trained eight-year-old will be making his first start since suffering an odds-on defeat when attempting to defend his Stayers’ Hurdle crown at the Festival.

Coleman said: “He looks and feels great at home. I schooled him last week and he seems really up for it.

“It is great to see him back. It will be great to see him have a better experience than he did at Cheltenham and what will be will be after that.”

With Paisley Park subsequently found to have an irregular heartbeat after his latest defeat, Coleman is keeping his fingers crossed the issue was a one-off.

He said: “Cheltenham didn’t go to plan, which is a shame, but these things happen when you are dealing with animals.

“He didn’t have a good time in the Stayers’ and we don’t want that to have an impact on his career going forwards.

“I just hope he has a good time and runs well and gives us something to go forward on – whether that is winning or running well in defeat.”

Coleman straight back to winning ways on comeback ride

Aidan Coleman had more than one reason to celebrate the victory of Here Comes Johnny at Fakenham on Friday.

Not only was it the Grade One-winning rider’s first success after returning from a fractured arm sustained in July, but it was also his inaugural triumph since being appointed stable jockey to winning trainer Olly Murphy earlier this week.

Having finished second on his stable debut in a bumper at Market Rasen, the 6-5 favourite had little trouble in going one better on his first start over hurdles, winning by 11 lengths in the Champions Day On Sky Sports Racing “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle.

Coleman said: “It is great way to start everything really, as it is my first ride back in three months.

“I got a very good first ride. The horse took no riding at all. He jumped super and he was very straightforward. It is a great way to start the new partnership with Olly.”

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Coleman was quick to praise those who enabled him to return to action so quickly.

“Thanks to everybody at Oaksey House and Geoff Graham (specialist) and Jerry Hill (British Horseracing Authority chief medical adviser),” he said.

“My recovery wouldn’t have been as straightforward if it wasn’t for their help, as it was quite a nasty injury. The fact I’m back riding winners so soon is a testament to them, not me.”

Grade Two-winning hurdler Wolf Of Windlesham (11-1) put in a near-foot perfect round of jumping to make his debut over fences a triumphant one in the Breeders’ Cup On Sky Sports Racing Novices’ Chase.

Trainer Stuart Edmunds said: “He had good form as a juvenile hurdler and he won a Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham. He still retains plenty of zest and has schooled very well over fences.

“It was lovely to see the old boy back, but he had run well on the Flat. I don’t have clue what to do know as I didn’t expect to win this!”

Jonjo O’Neill saw his plan for Carys’ Commodity (4-1) come together in perfect fashion after the five-year-old claimed the Champions Day Form Study On attheraces.com/Ascot Handicap Hurdle by 14 lengths.

Jonjo O’Neill junior was on board and said: “We thought he was a galloper and he probably is at this sort of trip (two and a half miles). He travelled well the last day over three-miles-one at Cartmel, but he just ran out of steam.

“We had planned this race out the day after Cartmel so it has been on the agenda for a while and it was good planning by the team.”

Sir Jack Yeats (4-1) made it two wins from three starts at the Norfolk track to complete a double for jockey James Bowen when taking full advantage of the final-fence fall of leader Fixed Rate to land the Download The At The Races App Handicap Chase by a neck.

Richard Spencer said of his nine-year-old: “We were a lucky winner and I think if the other horse had stood up we would have been a decent second.

“He is a bit quirky, but the turning track here is to his likely. If he is OK he might go to Cheltenham next week for an amateurs’ race.”

Jubilympics (9-4) got the ball rolling for the former champion conditional jockey when getting the better of odds-on favourite Bit On The Side in the Sky Sports Racing Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Bowen said of the Emma Lavelle-trained winner: “She jumped really well, but she is not the biggest. I had one go at her (Bit On The Side) at the last and she stuck on all the way.”