Hales delighted with winning start for Omar Maretti

Omar Maretti justified stable confidence when making an impressive debut over hurdles at Catterick on Friday.

A dual winner in the point-to-point field, the seven-year-old was a 15-2 chance on his first start for trainer Alex Hales in the Racing TV Profits Returned To Racing Maiden Hurdle.

With even-money favourite Ripper Roo back in third, Omar Maretti engaged in a ding-dong battle with Barrichello halfway up the straight before pulling six lengths clear in the hands of Kielan Woods.

Hales said: “He’s a lovely horse – I’m delighted with him.

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“The owner has a lot of point-to-pointers with Dale Peters near Huntingdon. I’ve had him about six weeks, but Dale has done all the prep work with him. He’s a good amateur rider and has a good nursery, so he deserves a lot of credit.

“The owners very kindly sent him to me as obviously there’s no point-to-pointing at the moment and he hasn’t put a foot wrong since he arrived. I’m not saying I knew he would win today, but I knew he wouldn’t be very far away.

“We think a lot of him and hopefully he’ll be able to win under a penalty somewhere.”

Tinnahalla clears the final flight at Catterick
Tinnahalla clears the final flight at Catterick (Tim Goode/PA)

While out of luck with Ripper Roo, trainer Olly Murphy did not leave the North Yorkshire circuit empty handed, having earlier saddled Tinnahalla to win the opening Millbry Hill Juvenile Hurdle.

Fourth and second in his two previous starts over jumps, Aidan Coleman’s mount made it third time lucky with a near three-length verdict over fellow 13-8 joint-favourite Homme Public.

Murphy said: “He’s a grand horse who probably hadn’t done a lot wrong in two starts at Newbury and Kempton.

“He got the run of the race today and did it well.

“He’s a horse who can hopefully keep progressing.”

Silver In Disguise proved too much good for his rivals
Silver In Disguise proved too much good for his rivals (Tim Goode/PA)

There was a thrilling climax to the Celebrate Mary Harle’s 101st Birthday Handicap Hurdle, with Sue Smith’s 7-2 favourite Small Present responding generously to Ryan Mania’s urgings to see off Small Present by a head.

The Tim Vaughan-trained Silver In Disguise (5-1) ran out a 21-length winner of the Working With Kenny Johnson Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase under 5lb claimer Charlie Price, before Venetia Williams and Robbie Dunne teamed up to land the mares’ handicap chase with Quick Wave (4-1).

The final two races went to William Bethell’s Newberry New (13-2) and Ex S’elance (4-1) from Micky Hammond’s yard.

Alex Hales weighing up best route to Cheltenham with For Pleasure

Alex Hales is weighing up a number of Grade Two options at Haydock later this month for stable star For Pleasure.

Having saddled the five-year-old to victory at the same level at Cheltenham last month, the Edgcote handler is now considering an outing in either the Unibet Champion Hurdle Trial or Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle on January 23.

Alternatively, Hales could swerve both races at Haydock and head straight to the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury the following month, ahead of an outing in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

For Pleasure had his Grade Two victory given a timely boost on Boxing Day after runner-up Third Time Lucki returned to winning ways at Kempton.

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Hales said: “I was going to go to the Morebattle at Kelso then the Supreme, but it is only 10 days before Cheltenham which will be no good.

“He will either go to Haydock for the Champion Hurdle Trial or the Rossington Main, then the Betfair Hurdle then on to Cheltenham.

“If he didn’t go to Haydock he would go for the Betfair Hurdle then Cheltenham for the Supreme.

“He has had a break so he might be a bit tight for Haydock, but if he is bursting to run and one of those look the right races we will go there. ”

With front-running tactics serving For Pleasure well, Hales believes they could be even more potent if a campaign over fences is embarked upon next season.

Hales added: “He is a fascinating horse. They keep knocking him, but no one has come to him yet. He just doesn’t go right-handed which I can’t understand.

“It would be interesting next season if we decide to jump a fence with him. He is so athletic you wouldn’t think they would get near him in a two-mile novice chase.

“He could be a bit like Dan Skelton’s horse Allmankind.”

Hiconic, who could head to the Cheltenham Festival in March (David Davies/PA)
Hiconic, who could head to the Cheltenham Festival in March (David Davies/PA)

An outing in the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at the Festival remains an option for Hiconic, but Hales is leaning towards running the four-year-old mare in races either side of the prestigious meeting.

He said: “Hiconic is great, she is having a little break. I probably shouldn’t have run her at Aintree.

“I suppose she will be trained for the Fred Winter, but there is a race at Sandown the week before and a four-year-old race at Ascot just after Cheltenham. Those two races would probably be better for her.

“She didn’t cost much, but she has been great and has her black type so it doesn’t really matter what she does now.”

Hales eyeing Aintree Listed aim for Hiconic

Hiconic could have a second attempt at a Listed success over hurdles after she went down with all guns blazing at Wetherby.

The three-year-old made a gallant bid to make all the running in the Wensleydale Juvenile Hurdle on Friday, only to find Gordon Elliott’s unbeaten Irish raider Duffle Coat too strong in the closing stages.

Trainer Alex Hales will look at a fillies’ juvenile contest at Aintree on December 5 as long as Hiconic gives the right signs following a busy spell, in which she has run a total of eight times on the flat and over hurdles since June.

“She’s an absolute darling. I was chuffed to bits with her. I thought she left everything out there. She’s as tough as nails, so I was delighted,” said the Banbury handler.

“We claimed her out of a Wolverhampton race and she’s had six runs over hurdles, won four and been second in two and is now second in a Listed race. She’s been a revelation.

“I suppose the obvious target is to go to Liverpool at the beginning of December for the juvenile Listed race for fillies’ only.

“Then she’ll have a holiday, but if she tells us she needs a holiday now, she can have one. She doesn’t owe us anything.”

Huntsman defies lengthy absence to lift Wetherby prize

Huntsman Son put up a fine performance after a 538-day absence to take the feature Cash Out At bet365 Handicap Chase at Wetherby.

Trainer Alex Hales had the 10-year-old in fine shape for his first run since May 2019 and Huntsman Son was given a patient ride to land the spoils.

Kielan Woods had his mount at the back of the field as Two For Gold blazed the trail before making his move as they turned for home.

Huntsman Son crept into the race in the long straight and ranged alongside Two For Gold at the second-last, before a good jump at the last enabled him to pull clear. The 14-1 shot galloped on strongly and crossed the line five and a half lengths in front. Nietzsche was a further two lengths back in third place.

Hales said: “I’m really pleased with him. It was a lovely win. He’s a fair horse on his day.

“I was expecting him to run well, but you don’t expect that after over 500 days off. He’s been training very well. We hadn’t missed a beat with him and he appeared in very good form.

“I thought he was pretty well handicapped, but he’s a 10-year-old coming back from a tendon injury.

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“The timing meant we had to miss last season.

“He’s always been talented, but he’s quite fragile. We need to get through tomorrow morning first, and that’s the main thing, before we think abut plans.

“There’s that race at Cheltenham in December, you’ve got the Grand Sefton at Aintree. There a few possibilities, but I suspect he doesn’t want proper winter ground.

“The ground will dictate where we go, but I won’t be in a massive rush to get him out again.”

Hiconic made a bold bid to lead all the way for Hales and Woods in the Weatherbys Hamilton Wensleydale Juvenile Hurdle, but had to settle for second place behind Irish raider Duffle Coat (11-4 favourite).

The Gordon Elliott-trained gelding loomed ominously a the second-last flight, asserting at the last and going on to win by eight lengths in the hands of Jonathan Burke.

Wetherby Races – Friday October 30th
Duffle Coat ridden by Jonathan Burke on their way to victory at Wetherby Racecourse (Tim Goode/PA).

“He was very good, I just watched a re-run of it,” said Elliott, speaking from Down Royal where he had a treble.

“He doesn’t do anything fancy at home and he’s not the biggest horse in the world.

“A great day – to train four winners, I can’t complain.”

Woods had his double courtesy of Pam Sly’s Fransham, who won the bet365 Handicap Hurdle for the second year running.

“He loves this track. He’s like a little motorbike round here,” Woods told Racing TV.

“He had a good run the last day round Market Rasen. Perhaps he just needed it.”

The Dan Skelton-trained Shan Blue backed up his recent course success on his fencing debut with a smart performance in the bet365 Novices’ Chase.

Harry Skelton kicked for home four out and the 10-11 favourite continued to jump with fluency as he quickly put the race to bed.

Unchallenged in the straight, Shan Blue put 16 lengths between himself and the long-time leader Snow Leopardess.

Shan Blue as given a quote of 25-1 for the RSA Chase with Betfair.

Third Time Lucki (2-7 favourite) made it a brace for the Skelton team when cosily landing the odds in the bet365 Novices’ Hurdle.

Verdana Blue takes centre stage on high-class Kempton card

Nicky Henderson believes talented dual-purpose performer Verdana Blue has plenty in her favour as she bids to return to winning ways at Kempton on Sunday.

Having been forced to miss last weekend’s Cesarewitch at Newmarket with an abscess in her foot, the eight-year-old mare will switch codes in the Racing TV Hurdle – a two-mile Listed prize she landed in 2018 en route to claiming the Grade One Christmas Hurdle over course and distance later in the year.

Although only sighted over hurdles once last season Verdana Blue has run two respectable races in defeat on the Flat this campaign, having finished second in the Ascot Stakes at the Royal meeting and third in the Ebor.

Henderson said: “She ran a great race in the Ebor and at Royal Ascot, and she got rain both times which she didn’t need.

“Two miles around Kempton on good ground is ideal for her. Conditions suit her and she has won it before. She has got rid of her Grade One penalty.

“The abscess did hold us up, but it cleared by Sunday and she has had a good week. She did a very nice piece of work earlier in the week and schooled very professionally as well.

“She is the most admirable, tough and genuine thing that I’ve come across and this is a nice race for her – she has the figures in her favour.”

Nicky Henderson expects Brain Power to come on for his first run at Kempton on Sunday (David Davies/PA)
Nicky Henderson expects Brain Power to come on for his first run at Kempton on Sunday (David Davies/PA)
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The Seven Barrows trainer will also be represented by Brain Power, who will be making his first start since landing last year’s American Grand National at Far Hills.

Henderson added: “We were going to go back to America, but the race itself was abandoned this year. He needs a run and is in good form, but he is all wrong at the weights with Verdana Blue.

“He probably will need this, but we will get him ready to go there and do his best. He worked on Tuesday and worked extremely well.

“He hasn’t run since America last year and we had brought him back for the spring, but that didn’t happen. He has been on the go for a long time and I’m desperate to get him out.”

Diego Du Charmil will start his season off like he ended the last with an outing at Kempton over hurdles (David Davies/PA)
Diego Du Charmil will start his season off like he ended the last with an outing at Kempton over hurdles (David Davies/PA)

The Paul Nicholls-trained Diego Du Charmil is better known as a chaser, but he found only Song For Someone too strong in the rearranged Kingwell Hurdle at the track on his final start last season.

His rider Harry Cobden said: “It is a competitive race and we have to give Verdana Blue 7lb, which isn’t ideal as she is pretty good on her day and she will love the ground there and conditions are in her favour.

“Diego Du Charmil will turn up though and give his running. Whether he is good enough, I’m not sure, but he will run a good race.

“He is good fresh and is one of those horses that is good over hurdles and fences and is not 20lb better over one of them.”

Nicholls and Cobden will team up in another Listed event on the card, with Fidelio Vallis in the Racing TV Novices’ Hurdle.

He said: “He was very good at the end of last season and made all at the track on his last start.

“He was quite keen early on and the second time he ran he fell. We went to Wincanton after that and made all with him, then we went to Kempton and he looked pretty smart and got a mark of 138.

“Hopefully he has improved and he looks like he has. Whatever he does on Sunday will be a good stepping stone for the season.  He is entitled to be in the race and I think he has got a good chance.”

Alex Hales hopes For Pleasure can take a step up in class in his stride and complete a four-timer.

He said: “I’ve been delighted with him, he has had a great summer and I’m looking forward to running him. We did look at the Prelude at Market Rasen, but we decided to wait as we thought this was the right race for him.

“We did try to hold him up in the past, but we have just let him get on with it out in front and that has been key to him winning.

“Paul Nicholls’ horses are in great form and his runner will be hard to beat, as he was impressive on his last run at the track, but we are top-rated and we have race-fitness on our side.”