Dame delivers on chasing bow at Ayr

Cheltenham Festival winner Dame De Compagnie made a victorious debut over fences in the Western House Hotel Gift Vouchers Novices’ Chase at Ayr.

Not seen since justifying 5-1 favouritism in the ultra-competitive Coral Cup last March, the eight-year-old mare had to travel a long way from Henderson’s Lambourn base to find a suitable beginning for her new career.

Despite one blunder on the first circuit, she jumped well in the main – and while she faced a fine rival in Cornerstone Lad, a Fighting Fifth winner over hurdles, Dame De Compagnie had far too much pace in the straight and pulled nine lengths clear under Nico de Boinville.

The sponsors cut the winner into 5-1 from 10s for the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but Henderson appears lukewarm on that idea.

“She was great, she made just the one mistake, and when she did it I said ‘she won’t do that again’ – and she didn’t,” he said of the 1-2 favourite.

“I’m not sure there’s an awful lot she can go for in March. She’d ideally want two and a half miles, but then you meet Envoi Allen (in the Marsh Novices’ Chase).

“There’s the new mares’ chase, but that’s not really for novices – after just one run, that would be asking quite a lot.

“She beat a Fighting Fifth winner there, but to be fair the other horse hasn’t run to the form he showed when beating Buveur D’Air since – though I’m sure the handicapper might try to tell me he has!

“The trouble was we couldn’t find a two-and-a-half-mile novice chase for her – there was a lack of opportunities, and she was ready to go.

“I didn’t really want to run her over two miles. But with nothing else coming up, we had to get her in the box and head north.

“We’ll have to do some thinking (for her next target).”

Earlier on the card, Olly Murphy’s Champagnesuperover (6-4 favourite) got off the mark over obstacles in the EBF “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle, and jockey Adrian Heskin went on to double up on Warren Greatrex’s Timeless Beauty (7-2 favourite).

Nicky Richards sets sights on Scottish National for Takingrisks

Nicky Richards intends to work back from a second outing in the Scottish Grand National with former winner Takingrisks.

The Greystoke handler will once again target the Grade Three prize at Ayr in April with the 12-year-old, having saddled him to victory in the 2019 renewal of the race.

After failing to complete on his seasonal return at the Scottish track, Takingrisks underwent a wind operation before finishing fourth on his most recent start in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle

Richards said: “The main aim is to try to get him back to the Scottish National in good form. The old lad seems to be bonny at the moment.

“We were hoping to run him at Ayr the other day, but the meeting was called off, so we are now scratching our heads what to do with him.

“I would run him tomorrow if there was a suitable race.”

Trainer Nicky Richards
Trainer Nicky Richards (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

A tilt at next month’s Eider Chase has not been ruled out by Richards, although it is far from certain he will go for the Newcastle marathon.

He said: “He needs a test of stamina, so it is no good sending him to Kempton or somewhere like that. He needs two or three runs before the Scottish National, though.

“The Eider is a gruelling race and it can knock the edge right off a horse. He would prefer better ground and I’m not sure running him over four miles at Newcastle is the right thing.

“We may have to go there and I suppose if he won the race, it would be great.”

One thing Richards will not be doing is switching Takingrisks back to hurdles given his below-par efforts over the smaller obstacles following his Scottish National and Rehearsal Chase triumphs.

He added: “I did toy with the idea of running him over hurdles, but I’ve done that a couple of times before and the old boy didn’t enjoy it.

“He wants to be enjoying things at his age and we need to get him firing on all cylinders before the Scottish National.”

Chepstow taking Welsh National precautions with frost covers

Officials at Chepstow are taking early precautions ahead of Saturday’s rearranged Coral Welsh National meeting by deploying frost covers.

Having lost the meeting on December 27 through waterlogging, the current cold snap is now a cause for concern.

Clerk of the course Libby O’Flaherty said on Sunday afternoon: “Tomorrow (Monday) is quite a warmish day with temperatures of 3C or 4C.

“As the week goes on, Wednesday and Thursday we only have highs of 2C and Wednesday is the coldest night at -3C.

“Wintry showers are possible on Thursday, but they are hit and miss. Friday into Saturday we are forecast -1C or -2C which is why we are putting the covers down now while we are raceable.

“We hadn’t had a frost overnight last night so by getting the covers down now we’re hoping to be fine.”

The cold snap is threatening to play further havoc with upcoming fixtures as Ludlow’s card on Tuesday and Ayr on Wednesday both face inspections.

Ludlow will inspect at 9am on Monday with parts of the track currently frozen. While the course was unraceable on Saturday there was some hope for warmer temperatures on Sunday and Monday.

Ayr’s meeting on Saturday was called off at the 11th hour due to a frozen track and due to another extremely cold night their meeting on Wednesday is already in doubt.

Temperatures dropped to -6C on Saturday evening and are not scheduled to get much above freezing for the next couple of days.

An inspection has been called for 7am on Monday but clerk of the course Graeme Anderson tweeted: “With below freezing forecast for next few days there is very little chance of improvement.”

Sunday’s meeting at Fairyhouse did, though, survive a morning inspection.

Cold snap threatens to bite

The current cold snap is threatening to play further havoc with upcoming fixtures as Ludlow’s card on Tuesday and Ayr on Wednesday both face inspections.

Ludlow will inspect at 9am on Monday with parts of the track currently frozen. While the course was unraceable on Saturday there is some hope for warmer temperatures on Sunday and Monday.

Ayr’s meeting on Saturday was called off at the 11th hour due to a frozen track and due to another extremely cold night their meeting on Wednesday is already in doubt.

Temperatures dropped to -6C on Saturday evening and are not scheduled to get much above freezing for the next couple of days.

An inspection has been called for 7am on Monday but clerk of the course Graeme Anderson tweeted: “With below freezing forecast for next few days there is very little chance of improvement.”

Sunday’s meeting at Fairyhouse did, though, survive a morning inspection.

Looking further ahead, officials at Chepstow are taking precautions ahead of the rescheduled Welsh Grand National meeting on Saturday.

A tweet from the course said: “We are deploying frost covers ahead of next Saturday’s rescheduled Coral Welsh Grand National – temperatures are forecast to drop towards the middle of the week. Regular updates about the going will be posted here.

“It’s currently heavy with a generally dry week ahead.”

Ayr called off due to frozen track

Saturday’s meeting at Ayr had to be abandoned following a late-morning inspection.

The Scottish fixture was not thought to be in danger at the start of the morning, but shortly after 10.30am, an inspection was called for 11.30am, with temperatures still below freezing and not rising as forecast.

And with conditions showing no signs of sufficient improvement ahead of the first scheduled race at 12.20pm, clerk of the course Graeme Anderson was left with no option but to call off proceedings.

Anderson told Racing TV: “The fleece went down (on the track) on Monday. We had temperatures of minus 4C on Monday night and minus 3C on Tuesday night. It was slightly milder with temperatures of minus 2C for the rest of the week.

“The problem we faced this morning is it was supposed to rise to 1C by 9am and it was still sitting at minus 3C, but we couldn’t wait any longer to take the sheets off.

“Once we’ve removed the sheets, more of the vulnerable areas have become pretty crusty and frozen underneath. As we took more of the sheets off it obviously revealed more, hence the reason the inspection was bit late – we couldn’t get a proper look at the track until 10am.

“We called the inspection for 11.30am and we’ve had a look all over as much as we can. The jockeys here are keen to race and we’re keen to race – we were looking to give it every chance.

“We spoke about delaying the first race and giving it longer. We’ve got a spiker out on the track, which was making a difference, but once we’ve spiked it, you’re probably looking at racing at 1pm at the very earliest. That just wasn’t feasible in the winter.”

He added: “To cover the hurdles and chase track with fleece, you’re talking the guts of three miles. Add to that the man power to put them down and lift off, you’re talking about £5,000 or £6,000 spent.

“It’s the risk you take. It’s worked on other times and this time it hasn’t.

“We’re here to race and tried to give it every chance. Unfortunately today, nature has just beat us.”

Nahaarr swoops late to secure Ayr Gold

Nahaarr came from the clouds to claim a last-gasp victory in a thrilling renewal of the QTS Ayr Gold Cup.

The lightly-raced son of Dark Angel was a runaway winner at Newbury in July before finishing ninth when favourite for the Stewards’ Cup at Glorious Goodwood.

A well backed 7-2 market leader to gain compensation in another fiercely-competitive sprint handicap in Scotland, the William Haggas-trained four-year-old was travelling strongly but still well back in the field racing inside the final two furlongs.

However, once given a reminder by last week’s St Leger-winning jockey Tom Marquand, Nahaarr swiftly went through the gears and went into overdrive – finishing with a rare rattle to get up and beat Spanish City in the dying strides.

Mr Lupton – a winner in Ireland last Sunday – was third, ahead of Soldier’s Minute in fourth.

Haggas was completing a big-race double on the card, following the earlier success of stable star Addeybb in the Doonside Cup.

William Haggas enjoyed an excellent afternoon at Ayr
William Haggas enjoyed an excellent afternoon at Ayr (Nigel French/PA)

Speaking from his home in Newmarket, Haggas said: “It’s been a good day. We had 15 seconds in about a week and six of those were beaten a short head, so we deserved a bit of luck and thankfully we’ve got it today.”

Of Nahaarr, he added: “I watched him the whole way, obviously.

“He missed the break, which I think was a deliberate tactic as Tom felt he raced a bit freely at Goodwood and he didn’t want that to happen again today.

“I think he would have been an unlucky loser if he hadn’t won. I’m not sure what we’ll do with him now. I’m just pleased things have gone well for him today.”

Addeybb delivers in Doonside Cup

Dual Group One winner Addeybb set himself up for a second tilt at next month’s Qipco Champion Stakes with a battling victory in the Jordan Electrics Doonside Cup at Ayr.

The William Haggas-trained six-year-old found only the brilliant mare Magical too strong on Champions Day at Ascot last October – and an Australian adventure earlier this year yielded back-to-back wins at the highest level.

Having filled the runner-up spot behind Lord North on his latest appearance in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot three months ago, Addeybb was the 11-10 favourite for his Listed assignment in Scotland – despite conceding 7lb to each of his six rivals.

Supporters of the market leader will have been sweating early in the home straight, with last weeks’s St Leger-winning jockey Tom Marquand hard at work aboard Addeybb while several of his rivals travelled smoothly.

However, the Pivotal gelding dug deep to grab the lead to grab the lead inside the final furlong and galloped all the way to the line to repel the late thrust of the grey Lord Glitters by three-quarters of a length.

Speaking from his home in Newmarket, Haggas said: “I’m chuffed to bits with him.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“He came good at the end of the race. He’s such a genuine, kind horse. He’d prefer softer ground, but he dug in and I’m thrilled.

“I thought it was a pretty smart performance as the penalty he had to carry was big.

“Hopefully he comes out of it well and we’ll head to the Champion Stakes.”

The Kevin Ryan-trained Magical Spirit was an emphatic winner of the QTS Ayr Silver Cup.

A winner at Beverley in early June, the four-year-old had since struggled to make a major impact in successive starts at Newcastle and most recently at Haydock a fortnight ago.

However, the 18-1 shot looked a class act in this fiercely-competitive handicap – bounding clear on the far side of the track under Kevin Stott for a three-and-a-half-length success over Admirality.

Hot favourite King’s Lynn led for much of the six-furlong contest before weakening out of contention.

Cosmo Charlton, racing manager for owners Hambleton Racing, said: “We’re delighted with that.

“He’s a horse Kevin has always had a lot of faith in and he’s kept on improving.

“He had a bit of a wind issue, which was resolved, and we came into today full of confidence he would run well, although I can’t say I expected him to win like he has!

“I would say Kevin will be looking at Stakes race for him after that.”

Umm Kulthum finished with a flourish to secure top honours in the Scotty Brand Firth of Clyde Fillies’ Stakes.

A narrow winner on her racecourse debut at Thirsk, Richard Fahey’s youngster then finished a fine third behind Irish challenger Miss Amulet and the high-class Sacred in last month’s Lowther Stakes at York.

On the strength of that form, the daughter of Kodiac was the 9-4 favourite for this Group Three test in the hands of Paul Hanagan – and eventually cut down Scarlet Bear to prevail by a length.

Following the victory of Nahaarr in the Ayr Gold Cup, Haggas and Marquand completed a treble on the card with 9-2 chance Johan in the Luxury Staycations At Western House Hotel Handicap.

Tom Marquand eager for Addeybb reunion at Ayr

Tom Marquand is excited to renew his association with his old friend Addeybb in the Jordan Electrics Doonside Cup at Ayr on Saturday.

Marquand owes a great debt to William Haggas’ gelding as he gave the young rider the first Group One triumphs of his career earlier in the year in Australia.

Haggas is preparing Addeybb for the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot next month and this Listed contest fits in nicely with those plans.

It will be the first time Marquand has sat on the gelding since they finished second behind Lord North in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.

“Obviously I’m looking forward to getting back on board him,” said the 22-year-old.

“I’ve not sat on him since Royal Ascot. William said I had enough fun on him that day and someone else deserves a go at home!

“He’s a cracking animal. Hopefully the ground doesn’t dry out too much. He certainly looks in good order at home.

“It’s probably a different path to Champions Day, but it’s perfect for him. He should have his conditions. A mile and a quarter on a galloping track, that’s what he wants.

“It was a well-spotted race by William, perfect timing. Hopefully it will set him up nicely for the big day.

“He’s got the penalty, but he’s a dual Group One winner and hopefully he can overcome that.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

Euchen Glen has won four of his five starts at Ayr and finished second in the other.

The seven-year-old completed his recovery from a serious injury that had kept him off the track for nearly two years with victory on his sixth run back at Haydock earlier this month.

Trainer Jim Goldie targeted this race straight afterwards, but did not expect Addeybb to be in the line-up.

“He’s in great order and we know he likes the track, albeit his wins have come off a lower rating,” said the Glasgow handler.

“I was hoping Mr Haggas might go elsewhere with Addeybb, but at least we’ll know where we going afterwards. If we beat him we might have to supplement for the Arc or something!

“Our horse is adaptable trip-wise and ran a good race at Group One level behind Stradivarius at Goodwood earlier in the year.

“Hopefully he’ll run well.”

Lord Glitters, winner of the 2019 Queen Anne Stakes for David O’Meara, drops down in class, while San Donato and Fox Chairman are others that bring strong form to this Listed contest.

Richard Fahey is expecting a big performance from Umm Kulthum in the Scotty Brand Firth Of Clyde Fillies’ Stakes.

The daughter of Kodiac showed she was capable of winning a race of this stature when third to Miss Amulet in the Group Two Lowther Stakes on only her second start at York last month.

“She won first time at Thirsk and backed that up with a solid race in the Lowther,” said the Musley Bank handler.

“She’s improved so I hope she’ll run a big race.”

Karl Burke’s She’s So Nice and the Tom Dascombe-trained Scarlet Bear, who were fourth and fifth in the Lowther, are among the opposition again.

Adrian Nicholls felt Mamba Wamba might have taken the Roses Stakes at York had she not been hampered at a crucial stage of the Listed contest.

Instead she had to settle for fourth place, just half a length behind the winner, Acklam Express. She has, however, gone on to open her account back at the same course two weeks ago.

“She’s going into the race in great form. She ran well in a Listed race at York and broke her maiden well,” said Nicholls.

“It looks the right option to go for. It looks quite a strong renewal. If she could get some black type, it would be great.

“She’s run very well all season. At York she went close, but I think she would nearly have won if she hadn’t got bumped. She could have been going into this a Listed winner, but I wouldn’t swap her. If I was riding, I wouldn’t swap her either.”

Dual Kempton scorer Perfect Times has a bit to find on ratings, but connections of the Mark Johnston-trained Gleneagles filly believe she could run into a place.

Charlie Johnston, son and assistant to his father, said: “She has been quite impressive in both her Kempton wins and I think she has won with a bit in hand on both occasions.

“The handicapper has given her a mark of 84 and in normal circumstances we would be running a horse like this in a nursery and working our way up, but getting some black type would be valuable to her owner/breeder.

“I don’t think you have to read too much into the fact she has won twice on the all-weather – it is just where the races were as opposed to a preference for that surface.

“Franny (Norton) felt after her last run she could get seven, but we decided to stick to six for the time being.”

Phoenix runner ruled out of Ayr contest

Back To Brussels, who is owned by Phoenix Thoroughbreds, will not run at Ayr on Friday after the British Horseracing Authority intervened.

The BHA last week suspended the owner’s racing accounts, meaning Phoenix could not make entries or declarations for their British-trained horses until further notice.

However, the BHA does not have jurisdiction over any international-trained runners, meaning Irish handler Fozzy Stack was able to declare Back To Brussels for the Listed Arran Scottish Sprint EBF Fillies’ Stakes, but the daughter of Starspangledbanner has now been withdrawn.

A BHA statement said: “Phoenix has announced its intention to exit from British racing. However, last week action was taken by the BHA to suspend all of Phoenix Thoroughbreds administration accounts in Britain, with the effect that its registered ownership entities in Britain are not permitted to make entries or declarations here or overseas.

“Our jurisdiction does not extend to ownership accounts in international racing authorities and therefore entries are still technically permitted from overseas runners in those jurisdictions that have not taken similar action to suspend Phoenix accounts. This is why the declaration of Back To Brussels was originally accepted.

“However, following the declaration of the horse the BHA contacted Phoenix Thoroughbreds and all parties agreed that the horse should be withdrawn from this race”

The ownership group, headed by Amer Abdulaziz, stated it was pulling out of British racing on August 11, but it continued to have runners until last week.

Bickerstaffe bids for Rosebery honours at Ayr

Karl Burke’s Bickerstaffe tests the water at Listed level in the Shadwell Stud/EBF Stallions Harry Rosebery Stakes at Ayr on Friday.

The Mayson colt made a thoroughly impressive start to his career over five furlongs at Hamilton at the start of the month and returns to Scotland for a race his trainer won with subsequent Royal Ascot heroine and dual Group One winner Quiet Reflection five years ago.

Burke said: “I wouldn’t say I was surprised he won at Hamilton, but I was a bit surprised by the manner of his performance as he’s bred to stay further than five furlongs.

“He showed a very good turn of foot, the speed figures were very good and the second horse (Cottam Lane) gave the form a bit of a boost by winning at Beverley on Wednesday.

“I’ve no doubt he’ll improve when he steps up to six furlongs as there’s plenty of stamina on the dam’s side of his pedigree, but he showed so much speed first time out we thought we’d stick at five for now and see how we go.

“Hopefully he’ll run a big race.”

The Spigot Lodge handler has a second string to his bow in the form of Rebel At Dawn. The son of Dandy Man has won just one of his seven starts to date, but has been keeping good company.

“He’s a solid horse who has shown a good level of ability,” Burke added.

“He’s probably just short of Listed class over six furlongs, but coming back to five, he deserves to take his chance.”

Richard Fahey and Kevin Ryan are represented by once-raced winners in Regional and Roman Encounter respectively.

David O’Meara’s Nomadic Empire, fourth in the Group Three Sirenia Stakes a fortnight ago, also features in a 12-strong field.

The Arran Scottish Sprint EBF Fillies’ Stakes also carries Listed status and has attracted 17 hopefuls.

Irish trainer Fozzy Stack saddles American Lady, while the home team includes Fahey’s Exceptional and the James Tate-trained Magical Journey.

The latter has already been placed twice in Listed company, most recently on her latest outing at Pontefract last month.

Tate said: “She’s been knocking on the door in Listed company, so hopefully we’ll get there in the end.

“She’s in very good form and I’m hoping for another good run.”

Paul Hanagan sets sights on 100th win at Ayr

For Paul Hanagan just to be riding at this year’s Ayr Western Meeting is an achievement in itself, but he is also on the verge of a landmark winner at the Scottish track.

The two-time champion jockey was out of action for six months earlier this year after fracturing his T6 vertebra in a fall at Newcastle in February, and some even doubted if the 40-year-old would return.

But return he has, and after a slow start he is now back among the winners, with one more victory at Ayr required for a century at the venue – while he is also approaching 2,000 career winners.

In typically self-effacing style, though, he deflects plenty of the praise on to trainer Richard Fahey, with whom he has had a long and successful partnership.

Fonthill Road (far side) won the Ayr Gold Cup for Hanagan and Fahey
Fonthill Road (far side) won the Ayr Gold Cup for Hanagan and Fahey (Chris Clark/PA)

“It’s always a week we look forward to, we’ve had a lot of success there. Richard fires a lot of bullets at it, but you’ve still got to win the races and we’ve managed to have a bit of luck,” said Hanagan.

“It seems like yesterday, winning the Ayr Gold Cup on Fonthill Road – it’s startling to think it was back in 2006. Winning it is one of my career highlights, there’s no doubt about it, up the north it’s like winning the Derby.

“It’s a really classy race now, you’ve almost got to be a Group horse to win it and if anything, it’s getting stronger every year.

“It’s nearly at the end of a long season for a lot of horses when you think in a normal year it begins in March, so it’s a good training feat to get your horse to Ayr still in top form – that’s why I hold Richard in such regard, his seem fresh when they get there.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“I think the fact I’ve done so well at Ayr comes down to the fact I’m riding for Richard and I just go out full of confidence, which is a massive thing. I know the track well as I’ve been riding there so long.

“I love going up there, the crowd are so knowledgeable and they don’t talk from their pocket – it’s a different feel up there. That’s why it’s going to be so strange this year. Because of my injury, I’m still not really used to the empty stands – it’s very strange.

“Jockeys, like footballers, feed off an atmosphere and energy. I noticed it most at Chester where they are normally on top of you. We need to get the crowds back soon.”

Hanagan’s injury was serious enough to give him time to reflect on what he has achieved in his career to date and there was plenty to look back on, not least being champion in 2010 and 2011 and his spell as retained rider for owner Hamdan Al Maktoum.

Taghrooda won the Oaks and King George for Hanagan
Taghrooda won the Oaks and King George for Hanagan (Adam Davy/PA)

He said: “In the time I was off, I had plenty of time to reflect. I’ve got two boys who are 10 and 14 now and it was nice to reminisce a little with them because as they get older, they understand and take a bit more of an interest, so it was nice to tell them I wasn’t so bad!

“I thought about a lot while I was off. It was nearly six months and it was touch and go whether I would make it back at all, so I did have a look back at what I’d achieved.

“I had people telling me if I didn’t make it back, I should be proud of what I’d achieved and that was nice to hear.

“I suppose I’ve had the best of both worlds in quantity and quality. Being champion a second time was tough, I gave it everything, racing around the country. I loved the buzz, but it was really 24/7.

“You’ve got to take into account how much racing there is these days and the constant travelling and the amount of traffic. You’d get to the races with minutes to spare, give a horse a bad ride and be kicking yourself.

“It’s mentally challenging, so the Hamdan job came at the perfect time really. Riding the likes Taghrooda, Mukhadram and Muhaarar was brilliant.

“Wootton Bassett, who was my first Group One winner, was a great horse for Richard, unbeaten at two and to see that Coolmore have bought him as a stallion now, he could go right to the top given the mares he’ll be getting.

“Unfortunately for me, Muhaarar was retired at the end of his three-year-old season as Shadwell had no real stallions to speak of, so he went to stud at the same time as Mukhadram, which meant we had nothing for the big races the following season!

Paul Hanagan with Richard Fahey and Wootton Bassett
Paul Hanagan with Richard Fahey and Wootton Bassett (John Giles/PA)

“I enjoyed going out to Dubai as well. I took my family out, the kids went to school out there and I think I went out for about five years (during the Carnival). It was amazing.

“I won some of the biggest races at the Carnival and had a four-timer one night – I loved it.”

When the sun does eventually set on Hanagan’s career, it will be for his relationship with Fahey that he will be mostly remembered.

“I’d like to think my partnership with Richard has been one of the great ones,” said Hanagan.

“I’m not one for patting myself on the back, but I’m not from a racing background. My dad had a brief flirtation, but I’ve had to do it the hard way.

“I wouldn’t be in this position without Richard, but I also owe a lot to Malcolm Jefferson, God rest his soul, who gave me my first job when unbelievably I wanted to be a jump jockey. Thankfully my weight stayed low and he passed me on to Richard.”