Harriet Graham’s Ladbrokes Trophy runner-up Aye Right is the headline act at Newcastle on Wednesday.
The Gosforth Park venue was scheduled to stage a National Hunt card, but the meeting was called off in the middle of last week as the track was unraceable with little prospect of improvement.
That fixture has been replaced with a ‘jumpers’ bumpers’ card and for a horse like Aye Right, who is trained in the Scottish Borders, it has come at just the right time.
He lines up in the QuinnBet Casino “Jumpers’ Bumper” National Hunt Flat Race over an extended two miles.
“We’ve obviously been stopped a bit by the weather over the last three or four weeks and we thought it would be a good, strong bit of work for him,” said Graham.
“Obviously it is probably a mile too short for him and there are no jumps which will be a disadvantage, but we’ve had horses there recently as our grass gallops are either saturated or frozen at the minute.
“We just think it’s a good opportunity to take him and it’s a big thanks to the British Horseracing Authority as originally his race wasn’t there and he didn’t qualify for any of the others.
“It will be a strange race, there’s all sorts of different types – Jimmy’s (Moffatt) horse (Golden Town) even ran in Kingman’s Greenham back in the day.
“We’re aiming him at the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster, but the way the forecast is and because we won’t be running him on heavy ground, we’ve just got to take the opportunities when they are there.”
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Aye Right is likely to have his next outing in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on January 30.
Harriet Graham’s stable star has put up three meritorious efforts this season, finishing second to subsequent Old Roan winner Nuts Well at Kelso, coming home third in the Charlie Hall and most recently putting up a career-best effort to be second in the Ladbrokes Trophy.
Graham has mooted the Scottish National as an end-of-season target and with the recent cold snap holding him up slightly, an outing in Warwick’s Classic Chase has been discounted.
“He’s entered in the Doncaster race at the end of the month and that would be the immediate plan,” said Graham.
“We’ve had a little bit of a stop because we’re frozen solid up here (Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders) with two inches of snow, but he’s fit and he’ll be ready for that as it is supposed to warm up next week.
“He’s in really good order. Whether we go to Cheltenham or not is debateable and the Scottish Grand National has been mentioned.
“We had been going to go to Warwick next week, but I haven’t been able to get the work into him so we won’t enter for that now.
“The timing of the Doncaster race is good for those with spring targets, it is when the National horses are looking for a run.”
Alan King’s Rowland Meyrick winner Canelo, Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red, Paul Nicholls’ Give Me A Copper, the Venetia Williams-trained Royale Pagaille and Sandy Thomson’s rejuvenated Yorkhill are among 52 entries for the Town Moor contest.
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Aye Right is “absolutely bouncing” after his Ladbrokes Trophy exertions and has earned himself a short break with his fine effort to finish runner-up at Newbury.
Harriet Graham’s seven-year-old ran a tremendous race on Saturday, behind all-the-way winner Cloth Cap in one of the best staying handicap chases of the entire season.
Aye Right was always prominent, but the task of giving Cloth Cap 14lb proved too much as he went down by 10 lengths, but was still able to hold Cheltenham Festival scorer The Conditional by a length and a half for second.
“He’s fine, he’s absolutely bouncing,” said Jedburgh-based Graham.
“He’s been stretching his legs out in the field and is having a few easy days before we make some plans going forward.
“We’ve got some ideas, but we’re going to have a sit down. He’ll probably won’t run again until next year now, but that’s too far away now.
“The potential goal might be the Scottish National, but we actually haven’t talked about it yet. We’ll wait until we’ve all calmed down a bit, because he ran such a great race.”
Aye Right’s fine Newbury effort followed good runs behind Nuts Well and Cyrname respectively, on his first two starts this season.
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Harriet Graham’s Aye Right will carry the hopes of the north when he heads to Newbury on Saturday for the Ladbrokes Trophy.
The seven-year-old is vying for favouritism in the historic three-and-a-quarter-mile handicap, after a third-placed finish behind Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
Piloted by regular jockey Callum Bewley, Graham’s charge was beaten seven lengths by Paul Nicholls’ Gold Cup hope, with the Kim Bailey-trained Vinndication taking the runner-up spot.
“It was a great performance,” said Jedburgh-based Graham, who trains alongside her role as clerk of the course at Musselburgh and Hamilton Park.
“We would have been quite content, coming into the Ladbrokes Trophy, had we been fifth or sixth. Cyrname, let’s be really honest here, he probably could have beaten us by 20 or 30 lengths. We were all probably relying on him making a mistake, he is an incredibly classy horse, a dream horse.
“Aye Right is probably not a Cyrname, but he’s a really good galloping, jumping horse.”
Aye Right will meet Vinndication again this weekend, this time on 7lb better terms with five lengths to make up.
“Vinndication is a really good horse and Kim Bailey is a very good trainer, I really respect Kim Bailey,” Graham said in a conference call hosted by Great British Racing.
“You have to think there’s maybe a chance that we could get closer. You don’t need to look at the betting, you just need to look at the horses.
“There would be an argument for most horses winning the race, and we’re very, very aware of that. We’re real realists up at the Borders, we know anything can go wrong and we just hope to God that it doesn’t.
“Everybody’s there and everybody’s going to be wanting to win the race. That’s what makes National Hunt racing. They’ve not only got to gallop, they’ve got to jump all of those fences, they’ve got to have the right tactics and it’s all got to go right.
“Most of all they’ve got to have a lot of luck as well, whoever wins it.”
Bewley – who will be riding at Newbury for the first time – was equally impressed by his mount’s Charlie Hall effort.
“Saturday is a big day for everybody, and I do think the horse has done nothing wrong,” he said.
“At Wetherby, the Charlie Hall – that run was solid, he ran a cracker I thought. He jumped and put a lot of horses under pressure, good horses. It will be very interesting going in on different terms this time, weight-wise.
“He’s the best I’ve ridden, he’s just so straightforward from a jockey’s point of view. He’s very forward going, he jumps very well and he’s maybe not the biggest horse in the world but in terms of what he can do out on the racecourse, he’s very special.
“The way he can jump and travel, he seems to get horses off the bridle a long way from home and he finds that he’s still in his comfort zone.”
Bewley has partnered Aye Right in all but one of his 19 racecourse appearances and has long been an admirer of the horse.
“I always said, from day one, whenever he started, that I thought an awful lot of this horse. Always,” he said.
“It’s easy to say now, but I’ve always thought the world of him. Even when he’s been beaten in his races, the heart he shows is serious. He just tries so hard for you and he won’t back down.
“I suppose that’s why he’s so good, he’s a good one and hopefully he can prove it on Saturday.”
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Harriet Graham has still not given up hope of being at Newbury when Aye Right runs in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on Saturday.
Graham, who also acts as clerk of the course at Musselburgh and Hamilton, only trains a small string in the Scottish Borders and Aye Right has already taken her to the Cheltenham Festival.
He caught many an eye when third to Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase last time out, and ever since has been among the favourites for one of the most prestigious handicaps of the season.
Graham’s attendance has been in doubt, though, since she was run over by her own lorry when attending to what she thought was a driver in distress. In the accident Graham broke her pelvis.
“I’m definitely better than I was and getting better by the day,” she said.
“I’m still hoping to go. I’ll make a decision on Wednesday, all I need to be able to do is sit in the lorry and hobble around when I get there. So I’m hoping to go, but it’s not definite yet.”
As for Aye Right, having been second on his seasonal debut over an inadequate trip at Kelso to subsequent Old Roan winner Nuts Well, he ran a career-best at Wetherby.
“He’s very well at home, we haven’t changed his routine, he’ll do a bit of work on Monday or Tuesday and then he’ll just lob and canter until we go down.
“His first run this season we always viewed as a prep race, the trip was always going to be a bit sharp, but it sharpened his jumping up because he jumped really well at Wetherby.
“Being a small trainer we can only train with the horses we have here. We sometimes take him to other yards to school and he did have a school around Perth, but there’s nothing like a race to sharpen him up.”
She added: “I think we need to be honest with ourselves and Cyrname could have beaten us a lot further if he’d wanted, but I don’t think Vinndication was that far away from us. Cyrname is a different class to Aye Right, and most of the others in Britain to be honest.
“We think in time he’ll stay even further than this, he just jumps and gallops, he doesn’t really have a turn of foot. The Scottish National has been mentioned, but in this day and age that is a long way off, it didn’att happen last year.”
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