Triumph contender Adagio is Pipe’s pick of the Festival

David Pipe views JCB Triumph Hurdle contender Adagio as his best chance of a winner at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

The Pond House handler has enjoyed a fine season to date – and believes he has assembled a “small but select team” for the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds, which gets under way in less than a fortnight’s time.

Pipe acknowledges this year’s Festival will have a different feel to it because of Covid restrictions, but is nevertheless relishing the prospect of sending his stable stars to the Cotswolds.

Speaking on a press Zoom call following publication of the weights for the Festival handicaps, Pipe said: “Obviously it’s different this year, but everyone is still trying to prepare their horses for Cheltenham.

“Our horses are in good form and have been running well. We’ve got a small but select team going there.

“I think we’re in a positive mood. It’s amazing how the atmosphere in any yard changes in the two weeks before Cheltenham – when you’ve got a few horses going there with a chance.

“Everyone gets a bit uptight and excited. Most of the hard work has been done, and now it’s a case of ticking them over and getting them there on the day.

“It’s very hard to win at Cheltenham. That’s why it’s very special when you do.”

The Pipe squad is led by Adagio, who has won three of his four starts over hurdles this season – most recently claiming Grade One honours in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow in January.

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“My best chance is probably in the toughest race – Adagio,” he said.

“It looks an ultra-competitive Triumph Hurdle, but our fellow hasn’t done much wrong and is improving with every run.

“After his last run he did have a little colic, which meant he missed a week, but he’s had a good preparation since.

“It’s obviously a concern at the time, but since then everything has gone well.

“He’ll have an away-day somewhere before Cheltenham, and we’re very much looking forward to it.”

Remastered on his way to victory at Ascot
Remastered on his way to victory at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

One of the yard’s other big hopes is Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase winner Remastered, who holds three entries.

Pipe added: “I thought it was a really good performance (at Ascot). It probably wasn’t a great Reynoldstown, but he beat the horses that were put in front of him and battled really well all the way to the line.

“He’ll either go for the Ultima or the National Hunt Chase. It will probably come down to ground – if it is softer ground maybe the Ultima, if it’s better ground then maybe the three-mile-six-furlong novice.

“A lot of his form is on soft or heavy ground, so he would prefer it to be on the slower side. But saying that, the only time we’ve run him on better ground was at Newbury in a novice hurdle, where he finished second to Dashel Drasher, so that form isn’t looking too bad.”

Pipe is hoping the application of headgear might coax some improvement out of Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle outsider Main Fact.

Main Fact looks to have his work cut out in the Stayers' Hurdle
Main Fact looks to have his work cut out in the Stayers’ Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

He said: “We’ll probably take our chance.

“For me, he disappointed (in the Long Walk) at Ascot, but bounced back with a good run to finish fourth at Haydock.

“Obviously he’s a big price and an outsider, but we will be putting some type of headgear on him in the Stayers’ Hurdle, to help horse and jockey in the early stages.

“He deserves to take his chance. Softer ground would be better for him. Why not have a go?”

Pipe has yet to decide between the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett for Make Me A Believer, while Leoncavallo is viewed as an “interesting” contender for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, a race son David would love to finally win.

He said: “The harder I try to win it, the less likely it seems to be that I’m going to!

“Every year there seems to be more entries in the Martin Pipe than any other other race at Cheltenham.

“We have a few entries for it. Leoncavallo is an interesting horse – he had a good season on the Flat last year.

“He’s in the Martin Pipe and the County Hurdle. He’s rated high enough on 142 and he’s nine years old – but he’s in very good form, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to me if he ran a big race in whichever one he goes for.”

Pipe has faith in Adagio

David Pipe is confident his JCB Triumph Hurdle contender Adagio has ticks in all the right boxes.

A winner of three of his four outings to date, Adagio already has a Grade One win next to his name – having won the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.

That form was let down at the weekend when the runner-up, Gary Moore’s Nassalam, was well beaten at Haydock – but Pipe nevertheless thinks Adagio remains on the upgrade.

Pipe said: “Adagio has made a lot of improvement, although it was a bit worrying to see the second horse get beaten at Haydock the other day.

“I would say that my horse has a lot of ticks next to his name, because he’s already won at Cheltenham and is a very good jumper.

“Let’s see who is the best juvenile – we will only find that out on the day.”

Umbrigado was a winner at Wetherby last week
Umbrigado was a winner at Wetherby last week (PA)

One who may skip Cheltenham is Umbrigado, a winner at Fontwell and Wetherby recently.

“Umbrigado won very nicely at Wetherby – but whether he goes to the Festival or not is uncertain,” said Pipe.

“The owners have had winners there, but they are not hell bent on it, and it’s not out of the question that we will keep things more low-key with him.”

Remastered engineers Reynoldstown triumph

Remastered put in an exemplary jumping display to make every yard of the running for trainer David Pipe and jockey Tom Scudamore in the Grade Two Bateaux London Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot.

The 9-2 winner is likely to head to the National Hunt Chase or Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at next month’s Cheltenham Festival – for which he is respectively 20-1 (from 33) and 25-1 (from 33) with Paddy Power.

Remastered appeared to face a major threat from 5-2 favourite Demachine rounding the home turn, but Pipe’s front-runner found extra to score by four lengths.

Scudamore was suitably impressed, and said: “He jumped superbly all the way round, and fences have made a real man of him.

“He’s unbeaten over fences and has really taken to them. He’s got plenty of options at Cheltenham. He’s only run once there before, but that was over hurdles and a couple of years ago.”

Second-favourite Sevarano pulled up in the early stages – while Kalooki looked dangerous until hitting the final ditch, four out, and then fading to finish a distant third.

Sadly, Sevarano suffered a fatal injury – confirmed via Twitter by the Oliver Sherwood stable.

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A tweet read: “We are all devastated to lose Sevarano today @ascot_races. He had the world at his feet. He was such a lovely laid-back gentleman who didn’t deserve his life to end this way. Thank you for all your wonderful memories.”

In the opening Novices’ Hurdle, the market told the story as Midnight River usurped Gallyhill as favourite – and then got the better of that rival in a rousing finish.

One True King made a bold attempt to lead throughout, but a mistake at the penultimate flight set him back – leaving 5-4 shot Midnight River and Harry Skelton to beat Gallyhill and Nico de Boinville by a length and a half.

Harry Skelton and Midnight River (left) jump the last
Harry Skelton and Midnight River (left) jump the last (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

After riding another winner for his brother Dan, Skelton said: “He’s a horse we’ve always liked, with a good attitude.

“He used to be a bit free but has been taught to settle, and I think the best is yet to come because he’s a three-mile chaser of the future.

“We might look at Cheltenham, and certainly Aintree, but fences are the main objective.”

The Skeltons completed a double when Captain Chaos made virtually all the running in the ‘My Oddsboost’ On Betfair Swinley Limited Handicap Chase.

Harry Skelton after riding Captain Chaos to victory
Harry Skelton after riding Captain Chaos to victory (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Accompanied by Cobolobo for three-quarters of the three-mile journey, the 10-1 winner shook off the attentions of that rival turning for home, but in the end was all out to hold the late rally of Regal Encore by a head.

The strongly-supported 3-1 favourite Jerrysback recovered from an early mistake to track the clear leaders, but then lost touch and was pulled up by Richard Johnson.

Harry Skelton praised the accurate jumping of the winner and observed: “He really enjoyed himself and took off again when Jonjo’s (O’Neill jnr, on Cobolobo) horse came back at him. It was a brilliant jumping display and all credit to our superb team who worked so hard during the bad weather.”

A fantastic treble for the Skeltons was achieved in carbon-copy fashion as Shannon Bridge served it up to his foes from the front in the Betfair Cheltenham Free Bet Pot Builder Handicap Hurdle.

Shannon Bridge capped a fine day's work at Ascot for Dan and Harry Skelton
Shannon Bridge capped a fine day’s work at Ascot for Dan and Harry Skelton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

In the knowledge his mount liked to be competitive, Harry Skelton wasted no time in sending his 12-1 partner to the front and although under strong pressure before two out the eight-year-old kept responding.

He was briefly headed by 80-1 outsider Thibault on the run-in, but instantly regained the initiative to pull two lengths clear.

Skelton observed: “Our owners are great about the way I ride the horses and never stick me down to do one thing or the other. Shannon Bridge likes to get on with it, and the blinkers have helped. He just idled a bit over the last two hurdles, but just as suddenly he took off again.”

Adam West was thrilled with bargain-basement purchase Thibault, saying: “He cost a grand and has been a revelation since we put him back over hurdles. He’s given us another great thrill today.”

There was a sad postscript to the race, with the popular L’Ami Serge quickly pulled up after the sixth flight, having looked to have gone wrong. Yalltari, in the race won by Captain Chaos, was another casualty.

Ascot’s director of racing and public affairs Nick Smith extended his sympathy to all those involved with the three horses.

He said: “It’s always very sad when these things happen, and we extend our sympathy to all the connections.”

Sherwood confident Sevarano can sparkle in Reynoldstown

Oliver Sherwood is optimistic about the chances of Sevarano in the Bateaux London Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot.

With ante-post principals The Big Breakaway and If The Cap Fits notable defectors at Thursday’s declaration stage, Sherwood believes his representative has a “favourite’s chance” of landing Saturday’s Grade Two contest.

“I’m guessing one or two maybe didn’t want to run and leave their Cheltenham behind, whereas our horse isn’t even entered at Cheltenham and purposely wasn’t going to go there,” said the Lambourn-based trainer.

A talented hurdler last season, Sevarano looks likely to scale even greater heights over fences, having won two of his first three starts this season.

He could finish only fourth on his latest appearance at Newbury in December, but Sherwood has a valid excuse.

He added: “It was unfortunate what happened at Newbury. He slipped into the first fence, and it unnerved him, but he schooled super on Thursday morning and is in a really good place.

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“This is the time to step up in trip – I’ve been dying to do it – and he handled this sort of ground over hurdles last year. He’s a big, strong boy now as an eight-year-old – and I’m sure he’ll handle it.

“I’m very happy with him, and he doesn’t get a penalty for his two wins this season because they were handicaps.

“I think he’s going there with a favourite’s chance.”

A six-strong field is headed by the Fergal O’Brien-trained Hurricane Harvey, who must shoulder a 5lb penalty for winning the Grade Two December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster last time out.

“He’s having to carry a penalty, which isn’t ideal, but there aren’t many options for him,” said O’Brien.

“There was a novice handicap at Doncaster next week, but again he’d be giving weight away.

“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It was great to win a Grade Two with him, but it makes the rest of the season tougher. Having said that, you’d take a Grade Two every time.

“It’s a rich man’s problem, as they say.”

David Pipe’s Remastered faces a step up in class after winning his first two starts over fences at Carlisle and Wetherby.

Trainer David Pipe saddles Remastered on the Reynoldstown
Trainer David Pipe saddles Remastered on the Reynoldstown (David Davies/PA)

Pipe said: “He’s got a bit to find on official ratings, but he likes soft ground, three miles around Ascot will be ideal – and he jumps well.

“It was a decent enough race that he won first time over fences at Carlisle, and then it was just a two-horse race he won at Wetherby, but he deserves to take his chance and has conditions to suit.”

Full Back is in a similar boat after winning at Plumpton and Exeter for Gary Moore, who said: “Hopefully he goes very well. He wouldn’t want too much more rain, he just doesn’t like it too heavy. I know he won in heavier ground, but he’s got away with it a bit.

“He’s in a good place, and this has always been the target, so hopefully he can give a good account of himself.”

Demachine (Kerry Lee) and Kalooki (Philip Hobbs) complete the line-up.

Itchy Feet aiming to book Festival ticket at Haydock

Itchy Feet could earn himself a crack at the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle with a bold showing at Haydock on Saturday.

Olly Murphy’s stable star reverts to the smaller obstacles for the William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle, having run exclusively over fences since October 2019, and also tests his stamina at three miles for the first time.

Earlier this season, the seven-year-old finished third in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree and second in the 1965 Chase at Ascot, before returning to the latter venue to finish second in a conditions chase a couple of months ago.

He suffered a broken blood vessel on his most recent outing, but Murphy expects to have a clearer idea of potential targets for the spring after this weekend’s Grade Two event.

He said: “He’s in good form and should handle the ground fine.

“Going over three miles for the first time is going to be a big question, but I think he’ll stay. I’ve wanted to run him over three miles for a while – he gets a nice weight allowance off a few horses in the race, and I’m looking forward to running him.

“He’d have to be running very well to warrant running in a Stayers’ Hurdle, but if he wins or runs very well that’s the route we’ll take.”

Itchy Feet is set to face seven rivals on Merseyside, including last year’s winner Emitom – who also switches back to hurdles following a spell chasing for Warren Greatrex.

David Pipe saddles bargain-buy Main Fact, who rattled off nine successive victories in 2020, the most recent of which came in the Grade Three Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle over this course and distance in November.

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Main Fact has been a real money-spinner for his connections
Main Fact has been a real money-spinner for his connections (Tim Goode/PA)

The Pond House handler believes the eight-year-old is better than he showed when tailed off in the Long Walk at Ascot on his latest appearance.

“He’ll love the ground, and we think he might be a little bit better going back left-handed,” said Pipe.

“I’m not sure he ran his true race at Ascot, but he was beaten a long way. We’ll find out on Saturday if he’s better than that.

“It looks a competitive race, and there’s a few with question marks. Our horse is in good form at home, and it will be interesting.”

Rebecca Curtis will be hoping a wind operation can help last year’s shock Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar bounce back from a couple of ordinary efforts so far this term, with Nicky Henderson’s On The Blind Side another to consider in an open contest.

Ramses de Teillee in winning action at Cheltenham
Ramses de Teillee in winning action at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The most valuable race on the card is the £75,000 William Hill Grand National Trial.

Pipe is represented by top-weight Ramses De Teillee, who was last seen finishing down the field in the Welsh Grand National.

“He made a mistake at the first fence at Chepstow and was always on the back foot after that,” said the trainer.

“He’s won at Haydock before, and conditions will suit. He’s got a lot of weight – so we’re taking 5lb off, with Fergus Gillard on board.

“If he turns up on his A-game then he’s got an each-way chance.”

Other contenders include Welsh Grand National runner-up The Two Amigos, and a pair of course-and-distance winners in Lord Du Mesnil and Perfect Candidate.

Lord Du Mesnil was beaten a long way in the Welsh National, but trainer Richard Hobson is optimistic of an improved performance.

He said: “It doesn’t really matter how fast they go. The thing is when it’s heavy ground, nothing’s going to go faster than him anyway.

“Obviously, we’ve had a few issues with him since Cheltenham (last spring), but he seems to be going the right way now.

“If he gets his ground at the weekend, and the way he’s been working, I would say he’d have a big shout.”

Perfect Candidate loves Haydock
Perfect Candidate loves Haydock (Mike Egerton/PA)

Perfect Candidate is in the twilight of his career at the age of 14, but proved he is no back number when winning at Haydock for the second time in November.

Trainer Fergal O’Brien said: “We’re looking forward to running him. There can’t be many 14-year-olds rated as high as he is now.

“If he can get round then he won’t be a million miles away. I suppose it all depends on if he can keep up with them.

“He owes us absolutely nothing. He loves Haydock, and Paddy (Brennan) knows him very well.”

Pipe launches dual attack on rescheduled Cleeve prize

David Pipe fires a two-pronged assault with mud lovers Main Fact and Ramses De Teillee in the William Hill Cleeve Hurdle at Wetherby on Saturday.

The Grade Two contest was rescheduled after Cheltenham was abandoned last weekend and it has an open look about it with Paisley Park not making the journey to West Yorkshire.

Main Fact was well-beaten behind Paisley Park in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, but Pipe felt he ran below par that day and is expecting a better performance.

Main Fact had won his previous nine races, six over jumps and three on the Flat, and had seen his hurdles rating rocket from 98 to 154.

Main Fact bids to get back to winning ways
Main Fact bids to get back to winning ways (Tim Goode/PA)

“Main Fact should like conditions. I’m not sure he put his true run in last time, so going back left-handed will suit and hopefully he has a chance,” said the Nicholashayne handler.

“Maybe he had an off-day at Ascot or that is as good as he is. We’ll find out this time.”

Ramses De Teillee won a pair of Grade Two novice hurdles last spring and switches back to the smaller obstacles after three runs over fences following a fruitless trip to Auteuil for the French Champion Hurdle in October.

“He’s a hard horse to place nowadays, so we thought we’d try him back over hurdles. He did well over hurdles last year,” said Pipe.

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Ramses De Teillee won over fences at Cheltenham back in November
Ramses De Teillee won over fences at Cheltenham back in November (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Again, he won’t mind the ground. Track and conditions should suit.

“They’ve both got their flippers on!”

Olly Murphy is giving Itchy Feet a confidence-boosting run over the smaller obstacles after he burst a blood vessel on his last start over fences at Ascot in December.

The Stratford trainer has been pleased the way Itchy Feet has been schooling and believes the seven-year-old has each-way claims.

Itchy Feet is having a confidence-boosting run over hurdles
Itchy Feet is having a confidence-boosting run over hurdles (Steve Paston/PA)

“He’s in good nick. He’s obviously reverting to hurdling and will hopefully get his confidence back,” he said.

“He’s a horse with a big engine and if things go right, he has a good each-way chance.

“He just didn’t jump with any fluency at Ascot. He just had a bleed on his last run.

“I just thought it (reverting to hurdles) was the right thing to do. If he had another fright over fences we might be in all sorts of bother, so that’s why we’re back over hurdles. He’s been schooling well. All his form reads well.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies has put Ballyoptic back over hurdles
Nigel Twiston-Davies has put Ballyoptic back over hurdles (David Davies/PA)

Ballyoptic also reverts to hurdling as he bids to win a third big prize at the West Yorkshire track.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained gelding has won a Charlie Hall Chase and the Towton Novices’ Chase, but has made little show in three starts this term.

“He’s won a Charlie Hall at Wetherby and we’re looking forward to taking him back,” he said.

“He hasn’t run over hurdles in a long time, but we’re struggling to find races for him at the moment – where do you go with a horse rated as high as he is?”

On The Blind Side was not in the original race last weekend, but his trainer Nicky Henderson has given the go-ahead for the nine-year-old to take his chance a week later.

Henderson told Unibet: “He really is in a rich vein of form and hasn’t put a foot wrong at all since winning one of those jumpers’ bumpers at Newcastle around this time last year.

“I really like the way he knuckled down to win at Market Rasen last time when conceding 4lb to Lil Rockerfeller.

“This looks a decent race, but conditions are right for him and I’m hopeful of a big run.”

Pipe mulls Cheltenham prep for Adagio

David Pipe is undecided as to whether to give his exciting juvenile Adagio another run before the Cheltenham Festival.

The German-bred youngster has won three of his four starts over hurdles since arriving from Britain – following up victory at Cheltenham last month with a Grade One success in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.

He had the option of return to the Cotswolds for Saturday’s JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial – but with conditions deemed too testing on a card which was eventually abandoned for waterlogging anyway, Pipe will consider alternative options before the Triumph Hurdle itself in March.

“It’s possible he’ll have one more run before the Festival. We just felt the ground would be too wet for him on Saturday and decided to give it a miss,” said the Pond House trainer.

“There’s the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Musselburgh (next weekend), and there’s also a race at Exeter he could run in. They are the only two options for him really – otherwise, we could just give him a racecourse gallop and go straight to Cheltenham in March.”

Adagio is a best priced 10-1 with William Hill for the Triumph Hurdle, making him the shortest-priced British contender behind Gordon Elliott’s Zanahiyr and Willie Mullins’ new recruit French Aseel.

Panic Attack seeking to continue on the upgrade at Newbury

Panic Attack bids to back up last month’s course and distance success when she returns to action at Newbury on Wednesday.

David Pipe’s progressive five-year-old bounced back from a disappointing run at Cheltenham in November to register her second win over hurdles.

Panic Attack led before the second-last flight and went on to score by five and a half lengths from Born To Please, for which she has been put up 11lb ahead of the MansionBet Hurdle McHurdleface Mares’ Handicap Hurdle

“She won nicely last time,” said the Nicholashyane handler.

“She’s gone up in the handicap, but she likes it around Newbury so hopefully she has a decent chance.”

Pipe reports Adagio, winner of Chepstow’s Finale Junior Hurdle, to have taken his Grade One race exertions well.

“He’s come out of his Chepstow race in good form,” said Pipe.

“I’m not sure yet whether he’ll go straight there (Cheltenham) or if he’ll have another run.”

Panic Attack, meanwhile, faces eight rivals headed by the Alan King-trained top-weight Midnights’ Gift.

Since last Thursday the Berkshire course has been used as a Covid-19 vaccination hub, providing up to 1,500 jabs daily. However, the decision was made to temporarily halt the service to allow racing to continue.

A spokeswoman for the racecourse told the PA news agency: “The race day has always been planned and we have made provision for it so it is not hampering the vaccination process.

“The vaccination centre opened last week and the NHS was made aware of the race day. We have an abundance of space, but a decision was made we would not operate both the race day and the vaccination centre this week. That is being reviewed so both may be open in the future.”

Newbury’s next fixture is scheduled for Saturday, February 13.

Pipe banks on Believer to keep fine run going

Make Me A Believer bids to provide David Pipe with another big-race victory in the Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick.

The Pond House handler has enjoyed several Saturday successes this season, with the prolific Main Fact scoring at Haydock, Vieux Lion Rouge landing the Becher Chase at Aintree and Adagio striking Grade One gold in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow just last weekend.

Make Me A Believer made a winning start to his campaign at Cheltenham last month and faces a step up in distance and class for this weekend’s Grade Two assignment.

Pipe said: “He’s a horse we like, and it was a good performance at Cheltenham last time.

“We’re stepping him up in trip, and hopefully he can run a good race.

“We’re hoping that he’ll develop into a nice three-mile chaser, and this is a nice stepping-stone for this season anyway.”

Make Me A Believer is joined at the head of the market by Adrimel, who actually won an Irish point-to-point in which Make Me A Believer fell almost two years ago.

Adrimel in winning action at Sandown
Adrimel in winning action at Sandown (Michael Steele/PA)
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Adrimel has since won twice in the bumper sphere and twice over hurdles – and while he missed a top-level engagement in the Tolworth Hurdle a fortnight ago, he is reported to be back in good form by trainer Tom Lacey.

“I just wasn’t happy with him going into the Tolworth, but I’m very happy with him now,” said Lacey.

“We’re stepping up in trip, but that should suit him. He’s obviously got to carry a 3lb penalty, which doesn’t help, but he’ll get his ground and we’re looking forward to running him.

“We’ve put cheekpieces on him in the hope they engage his brain more than anything. I don’t think anyone could question how genuine he is, but he needs to go through his races in a slightly more professional manner, and his jumping might be a little bit cleaner as well.”

Jay Bee Why will attempt to maintain his unbeaten record over hurdles by making it two wins from as many visits to Warwick (Tim Goode/PA)
Jay Bee Why will attempt to maintain his unbeaten record over hurdles by making it two wins from as many visits to Warwick (Tim Goode/PA)

Alan King hopes to learn a lot more about Jay Bee Why, who made his hurdles debut a winning one over course and distance last month.

The Barbury Castle trainer said: “We can’t really get a handle on the form, because not many have run out of the race, so we will learn a lot on Saturday.

“We’ve not asked him many questions at home since, but whether he is up to this grade we will see.

“We thought he was very good before his bumper last year, but he just boiled over beforehand and didn’t really show up.

“He just had a little wind problem and he was only just ready to run at Warwick last time, so it was a pleasant surprise he won, but this is a big step up in class. ”

Dan Skelton believes Leicester scorer Midnight River has strong claims of making it three wins from four starts over hurdles this season.

Skelton said: “He is a very nice horse that is a future chaser – but having said that, he has done well over hurdles so far.

“He is in great form and he goes there with a live chance, I believe.”

Connections of the Colin Tizzard-trained Oscar Elite, who is chasing a hat-trick following back-to-back victories at Chepstow, hope he can take a step up in class in his stride.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He is two from two in novice hurdles, so this looks the obvious next step.

“He is the highest-rated in the race, but this is another step forward from what he has done.

“The trip will be fine for him, and he won on heavy ground last time at Chepstow – he doesn’t have to have it, but he copes with it.”

Mint Condition (Jennie Candlish), Lord Of Kerak (Olly Murphy), Optimise Prime (Ben Pauling) and Pure Bliss (Harry Fry) are other recent winners in what promises to be an informative contest.

Pipe delight as Umbrigado gets off the mark over fences

David Pipe was delighted to see Umbrigado make it third time lucky for the season with a battling victory at Fontwell.

Having made a promising start to his season when runner-up in a competitive handicap hurdle at Haydock, the grey was well fancied to make a successful debut over fences at Uttoxeter last month, but ultimately proved no match for marginal favourite Northofthewall.

Ridden by Tom Scudamore, the seven-year-old was the 1-2 favourite to go one better in the Subscribe To attheraces On Youtube Novices’ Chase – and as the betting predicted, it turned into a straight shootout between Umbrigado and Up The Straight.

Odds-on backers were made to sweat, with Up The Straight refusing to go down without a fight, but Pipe’s charge dug deep in the testing conditions to prevail by three and a half lengths.

Pipe said: “I thought the betting was probably wrong beforehand as I didn’t think there was much between them (Umbrigado and Up The Straight) – there was only 3lb between them on ratings.

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“Our horse has jumped and found for pressure and I thought it was a good performance.

“We’ll probably try to find another low-key race for him. He doesn’t mind this ground we’ve got at the moment, which is a big plus.”

Trainer Anthony Honeyball and conditional jockey Ben Godfrey combined for a treble on the card, with Gustavian striking first in the ‘Off The Fence’ On Handicap Hurdle.

FonBen Godfrey riding Lily The Pink (right) at Fontwell twell Park Races – January 14th
Ben Godfrey riding Lily The Pink (right) at Fontwell (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

It was hard work for the 6-4 favourite under a big weight, but he eventually reeled in Hasankey on the run-in and passed the post two lengths to the good.

“I was really pleased with him and if you’d seen his other races, today was probably easy viewing – I think he’s learning that he’s not as fast as he thinks he is! said Honeyball.

“Back over an extended two miles in heavy ground really suited him, the tempo was better for him as he can cruise, but he’s a bit one-paced. It’s all about picking the right race, right track and right ground for him.”

Honeyball and Godfrey were on the mark again an hour later, with 9-4 shot Lily The Pink proving strongest in the Visit Handicap Hurdle, before the hat-trick was completed by Swincombe Fleat (7-2) in the Sky Sports Racing HD Virgin 535 Maiden NH Flat Race.

Ben Godfrey and Swincombe Fleat come clear in the bumper
Ben Godfrey and Swincombe Fleat come clear in the bumper (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

On the latter, Honeyball said: “She’s really well related, but just went through the motions a bit on her debut at Ffos Las.

“Today she was a bit more lit up and had her racing brain on. Ben was able to sit handy and she was getting a fair bit of weight, too.

“Her dam (Swincombe Flame) won a Listed bumper at Sandown and I think we’ll probably end up there as the right horse (favourite) was second today.”

It was a first treble for Godfrey, who is now down to 5lb from 7lb.

“He’s been grafting away and has some great fun riding for the owners of Lily The Pink (Wessex Racing Club) and rides all their horses,” said Honeyball.

“We’ve gradually given him more opportunities. He’s a lot like Rex Dingle, he’s light, great to deal with and it’s no hardship giving them rides.

“I think he’s down to 5lb now but we’ve plenty of winners to use it up.”

Adagio strikes Grade One gold with Finale success

Adagio proved too strong for hot favourite Nassalam in the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.

Having won by 59 and 49 lengths respectively on his first two starts in Britain at Fontwell, Gary Moore’s Nassalam was the even-money favourite to complete his hat-trick on his step up to Grade One level.

However, David Pipe’s Adagio also brought strong form to the table – winning two of his first three starts over obstacles, including a short-priced victory at Cheltenham last month.

With long-time lead Bannister beginning to falter from the home turn, it turned into a three-way fight between Nassalam, Adagio and the Paul Nicholls-trained French recruit Houx Gris, before the former pair turned the screw and drew clear.

It was clear on the run to the final flight that Adagio had more to give than the market leader and he galloped all the way to the line to score by two and a half lengths under Tom Scudamore.

Pipe said: “It was a very good performance and the first two were favourite and second-favourite, so it’s rock solid form.

“I think we learnt a lot when he got beaten by Duffle Coat at Cheltenham in November. Last time at Cheltenham we rode him with more restraint and we did again today.

“We hadn’t declared him for this race when it was originally due to be run over Christmas. We came here today hoping it wouldn’t be quite as bad, it’s only soft ground rather than heavy and he’s handled that well.”

Coral cut Adagio to 12-1 for the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Pipe added: “We were coming here today to find out whether we were going for the Triumph Hurdle or the Fred Winter. It will be the Triumph Hurdle now.

“He’s always gone well at home – he’s got an engine. He was a bit quirky early on, but he’s improved since he’s been gelded.

“We’ll see how he comes out of today. Maybe he’ll go straight to Cheltenham, or maybe he’ll have one more run somewhere.

“We’ll enjoy today and have a think about it next week.”

Echoes of Kauto Star as Good Ball makes perfect British debut

Good Ball followed in the mighty hoofprints of dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kauto Star with a successful British debut for Paul Nicholls at Newbury.

It was on this same card 16 years ago that Nicholls’ modern-day great first announced himself with victory in a novice chase on his arrival from France – and Good Ball duly scored in the MansionBet App “Introductory” Hurdle, initiating a treble for the 11-time champion trainer.

Looking booked for a place at best over the last in the extended two-mile contest, the 9-4 favourite rallied gamely up the run-in under Harry Cobden before forging clear late on to defeat Cascova by a length and a quarter

Nicholls said: “At home he had been very keen, hence why he had the hood on, but he has got better and he doesn’t need the hood on because he settled well. We learnt a lot about him there.

“He is a huge horse. I’ve not trained him that hard since he came over from France.

“That was a real pleasant surprise in lots of ways.

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As with Kauto Star, the Ditcheat handler believes Good Ball – who was introduced at 33-1 for the Triumph Hurdle by Paddy Power – will come into his own over fences.

“Ultimately he will make a lovely three-mile chaser one day, and he nearly wants three miles now.

“I just wanted to give a couple of runs to see where we were with him. He will go chasing fairly soon in the autumn, that’s his job. ”

Jamie Bargary and Amateur land The MansionBet’s Best Odds Guaranteed Mandarin Handicap Chase at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA Images)
Jamie Bargary and Amateur land the MansionBet’s Best Odds Guaranteed Mandarin Handicap Chase at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA Images)

Jamie Bargary gave his season a timely boost with victory aboard Amateur in the MansionBet’s Best Odds Guaranteed Mandarin Handicap Chase.

The 26-year-old, who this month returned from a seven-week spell on the sidelines with an elbow injury, celebrated his first winner since August when steering the John Flint’s 10-1 shot home by a neck.

He said: “I’ve had a relatively slow start after the re-start, then I got hurt and I was out for seven weeks – and it has been slow since then.

“I’m in the middle of a re-building process. If winners like that come along the way, I’m happy to take it.”

He added: “I wanted to make sure I wasn’t in front too soon, and luckily enough I had one to aim at.

“My lad was very brave over the last and put his head down.

“You could see as soon as he hit the front he started having a look about, and I just had to keep him up to his work.”

Angus Cheleda and Calva D’Auge on their way to victory in The MansionBet’s Watch And Bet Handicap Hurdle at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA Images)
Angus Cheleda and Calva D’Auge on their way to victory in The MansionBet’s Watch And Bet Handicap Hurdle at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA Images)

Angus Cheleda came in for plenty of praise following his ride on Calva D’Auge, who formed the middle leg of Nicholls’ haul in the MansionBet’s Watch And Bet Handicap Hurdle, which the 5-2 shot claimed by three-quarters of a length.

Nicholls said: “He showed a good attitude and he stayed well. He didn’t get much further than two (miles) last season but he does now he has relaxed a bit.

“Angus is a great lad who rides him, and the 7lb off him was handy there. He is a great person to have in the yard at home.”

Bravemansgame completed Nicholls’ hat-trick, and a double for Cobden, when taking the step up to Grade One company in his stride with a 10-length victory in the feature MansionBet Challow Novices’ Hurdle.

Tom Scudamore and Panic Attack clear the last to win The MansionBet Cheers To 2021 Mares’ Handicap Hurdle at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA Images)
Tom Scudamore and Panic Attack clear the last to win The MansionBet Cheers To 2021 Mares’ Handicap Hurdle at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA Images)

David Pipe can begin to become more ambitious again with Listed bumper winner Panic Attack, who resumed her progression with a three-and-a-half-length success in the MansionBet Cheers To 2021 Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.

After the 100-30 success, winning trainer Pipe said: “We were hoping she might do something like that at Cheltenham last time – but she made a mistake at the first, and I thought she was beaten after that.

“We thought this was the ideal race for her, and it was a confidence booster for the horse and trainer.”

Monday Musings: Trying Times

Suddenly it’s all back – for some of us anyway, writes Tony Stafford. Ice rinks – yes, I have to be aware of those! – football stadia and racecourses can now have participants and visitors, within strict limits of course. My mate Scott was able – after some manoeuvring – to take up his annual quest to Sandown Park for the Tingle Creek meeting.

He chose to get from deepest Essex (well Shenfield) to Esher by public transport and the hourly service from Waterloo was a bind as inevitably train times were synchronised not to gel with races. It was a proper full day’s excursion and not without its difficulties as well as cost.

It was £30 for his grandstand ticket and as someone who with his pals, especially at Cheltenham, his version of some people’s pilgrimage to Mecca or Lourdes, will normally sprinkle his race viewing with imbibing. The rules for alcohol consumption on racecourses just as in hostelries in tier 2 are equally as strict. “I fancied a pint,” relates Scott, “So I went to the food outlet where drinks can only be bought to accompany a meal. There was no lager on draught so for a pint it had to be two half-pint bottles at £5.20 each alongside pasty, chips, mushy peas and gravy for £8.50. Almost £20 a shot and if I’d wanted another pint it would have been same again, as I couldn’t have got them without a second meal.

“One friend, who went there on Friday, had three pints, so three lots of pasty, chips, mushy peas and gravy. I’m not sure if he made it back again on Saturday!” said Scott.

Winner-finding was difficult from the outset and, like many punters on the day, the pleasure of getting back racing had its less enjoyable moments. Scott can at least rest assured that his day would not have been anywhere near as frustrating as Nicky Henderson’s. The multi-champion trainer must have had misgivings when deciding to withdraw Altior from the big race the night before because of the testing ground, but he still went to the track with three short-priced favourites at Sandown as well as his Gold Cup hope Santini returning to action in a Grade 2 chase at Aintree.

Sandown’s litany of shocks started early. Pars in the Middleham Park colours was 7/4 on to defy the penalty earned by his debut win in a €15k Dieppe juvenile hurdle back in March, but was a well-beaten fourth behind three more French-breds, led home by Fergal O’Brien’s Elham Valley, who won readily.

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Surely there were to be no mistakes in the next, a National Hunt novice hurdle in which Grand Mogul, twice a winner, faced three rivals, two of them newcomers, and started 2/11. Nico De Boinville had him in the first two from the start and he had seemed to have got the better of Pride of Pemberthy, the only one of the other trio to have raced previously, when the Gary Moore-trained Golden Boy Grey, another French-bred, suddenly arrived at the last galloping all over him. Golden Boy Grey went on to win by nine lengths in the style of a fair performer, whatever reasons could be found for the favourite’s tame acceptance of his fate from the last flight.

With no runner in the Tingle Creek, Nicky would have been able to switch his attentions to Aintree for Santini’s first appearance since going under by only a neck to repeat Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo back in March.

He did have a former God Cup winner in Native River to beat and in having a couple of lengths in hand of him was creditable enough first time back. Less easy to swallow must have been his failure to beat 16-1 shot Lake View Lad, ridden by champion Brian Hughes and trained in Scotland by Nick Alexander. Lake View Lad was receiving 6lb on Saturday and was 12lb wrong at the weights with the 172-rated favourite. The winner, a ten-year-old who carries the Trevor Hemmings colours, must inevitably come into focus for a Grand National challenge after this.

The National fences were in use twice on Saturday and seemed to be back to a much more formidable status in both the William Hill-sponsored Becher and Grand Sefton Handicap Chases. Henderson’s Might Bite, who was second in Native River’s 2017 Gold Cup, has only occasionally shown anything like that level since and he appeared to have a clear dislike of the obstacles which led to an early pulling up by Jeremiah McGrath. So it was left to Sandown’s finale, a valuable handicap hurdle, if Henderson was going to salvage a spot of consolation from a dreadful day.

The punters, including Scott by all accounts, went in with both feet on 6-4 shot Mister Coffee, an alarmingly-easy winner of his last race over course and distance a month earlier and raised 10lb for this tough handicap hurdle. His late run never looked like matching that of in-form Benson, who completed a hat-trick for himself and an across-the-card double for Dr Richard Newland. The doctor’s love affair with the Aintree fences had continued a few minutes earlier with the 20-1 success of Beau Bay under Charlie Hammond in the Grand Sefton.

The Sandown race had been shaped by the predictably-fast pace set in the early stages by Totterdown, twice a course and distance winner, but reckoned by the Fergal O’Brien stable to be at the limit of his handicap potential. His mark will need to come down, and two earlier tries this year over fences have not revealed a similar level of talent in that discipline.

That reverse did nothing to take the gloss off a memorable day for this stable. Just a year since he moved from his original premises rented from his former boss Nigel Twiston-Davies, O’Brien’s progress is such that he is needing to take temporary use of a 30-box barn at Graeme McPherson’s stables while development of his own base continues – “it’s like a muddy building site at the moment”, says Fergal’s assistant and partner, Sally Randell.

Earlier they were celebrating Elham Valley’s win, yet another example of how they improve horses from elsewhere. Beautifully-schooled for this debut, the 70-odd rated Flat performer came smoothly through under Paddy Brennan to bring the stable tally to 63 for the season. “That equals our best score set last year,” says Sally. With five months of the season to go, a first century must be in the offing, not wishing to jinx it, of course.

There can only have been one highlight of the day, though, the unchallenged victory of the David Pipe-trained Vieux Lion Rouge in the Becher Chase over three and a quarter miles and 21 fences of the Grand National course. Now an 11-year-old, Vieux Lion Rouge won on his first try in the race four years ago, by which time he’d already run in the previous April’s Grand National won by Rule The World.

Opportunities for tackling Aintree’s National fences don’t come very often. It’s feasible, but very rare for a horse to run twice at a Grand National meeting, needing a run either in the Topham or Foxhunters as well as the big race. Back in 1977 Churchtown Boy won the Topham on the Thursday and then finished runner-up as Red Rum completed his third and final Grand National victory, to which he could add two second places in between the second and third wins.

Vieux Lion Rouge, owned by Professor Caroline Tisdall and John Gent, has run nine times around the Grand National course – it would have been ten without a break, no doubt, had the 2020 Grand National been run. Twice the big race has needed to have one of its 30 fences omitted for safety reasons, so Vieux Lion Rouge has navigated safely over an almost-unimaginable total of 223 fences without mishap. The one blemish on his safe jumping career was an unseat of Tom Scudamore three fences out one day at Chepstow when he was still in with a chance of winning. Two pulled ups also slightly mar his otherwise excellent completion record in all races.

Considering he must now be regarded as an Aintree specialist, the fact that he has won 11 of his 27 other races, between bumpers, hurdles and chases, as well as the two around the big fences, speaks volumes for his versatility, talent and the trainer’s skill. Tom Scudamore must have been livid to have been on the Pipe’s stable’s apparently better-fancied Ramses De Teillee on Saturday, a 13-2 shot against the 12-1 SP of the winner. That made it still only eight times in the gelding’s long career that Scudamore had not partnered him. That also included his first Grand National challenge back in 2016 when James Reveley was in the saddle. Tom has been on the gelding on all his other Aintree excursions.

For a few years I’d been thinking that Aintree had become relatively soft, something that the old timers regularly trot out. That wasn’t the case on Saturday, possibly with the testing ground contributing to the potential for errors and fatigue. That this old boy could canter round behind but in touch with a very strong field, go to the front easily by the second-last fence and draw 24 lengths clear up the run-in was a marvellous display and brilliant advertisement for the talents of David Pipe and of course a certain older member of the family who still keeps careful watch on events equine down in Somerset.

- TS

Vieux Lion Rouge roars again in Becher Chase

Vieux Lion Rouge rolled back the years to win the William Hill Becher Handicap Chase for a second time at Aintree.

Successful in 2016, the 11-year-old was making his fifth consecutive appearance in the race and ninth overall over the famous Grand National fences.

Jumping into the lead at the second-last in the hands of Conor O’Farrell, the David Pipe-trained 12-1 chance galloped away from the opposition to land the spoils by 24 lengths. Kimberlite Candy was second for the second year running, with Le Breuil four and three-quarter lengths away in third place.

There was drama from the outset, with Yala Enki falling at the first and Walk In The Mill – winner for the last two years – exiting at the Chair along with Coo Star Sivola, while Minellacelebration stumbled and unseated Ben Poste as the the field was about to set off on its second circuit.

The well-fancied Le Breuil led for some way, but a bad mistake four out did not help his cause as Vieux Lion Rouge made his way into contention and victory.

O’Farrell said: “That was super. He’s an old star who knows his way around here and is brilliant over those fences.

“There was plenty of pace today, so we took our time and let him get into a rhythm and he saw it out very well.

Vieux Lion Rouge comes home victorious under Conor O'Farrell
Vieux Lion Rouge comes home victorious under Conor O’Farrell (Tim Goode/PA)
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“There was a lot going on, but the course is wide enough and you can give yourself light everywhere if you want to.

“He has a fair record over these fences and to win this race for a second time, at his age, is fantastic.

“I’m delighted for David and for Caroline (Tisdall, part-owner) as well. I spoke to her beforehand and all she said was ‘make sure you both come back safely’.”

Vieux Lion Rouge was given a quote of 50-1 for the Randox Health Grand National with Betfair, although he has not managed to complete in the National itself to date.

Speaking from home, Pipe said: “What a horse over those fences. Jumping is the name of the game and it’s a great effort by the team.

“He’s dropped a few pounds in the handicap, the rain came and I thought he was in good form. I said to Conor this morning and said ‘he’ll take you round there, just take your time and creep into it’.

“Conor rode him to win a veterans’ chase last year and used to work here (Pond House). He’s obviously based up north now, but when Tom (Scudamore) chose Ramses De Teillee (finished seventh), Conor was the obvious choice.

“I believe the horse has now jumped 223 fences around the National course at Aintree – he seems to light up for the occasion and his record is second to none. He’s like Fred Astaire around there!

“He doesn’t seem to stay the Grand National trip and I didn’t think he’d even get into the race before today, but now he might.

“He’s in the Welsh Grand National and is also qualified for the veterans’ final at Sandown as well, so possibly one of those two races might be his next target.”

Tom Lacey was proud of Kimberlite Candy’s effort and he could be back in April for the National.

Lacey said: “He’s run an absolute cracker, but nobody wants to be second.

“I saw most of the race on the big screen and it looked like he put in an almost perfect round of jumping, excluding the first.

Runners and riders in the Becher Chase
Runners and riders in the Becher Chase (Tim Goode/PA)

“He’s run a cracker, but obviously we’re hugely disappointed to bump into a very impressive winner.

“He’s done nothing wrong and seems to relish these fences. I can’t see why he won’t be back here in April if we get a wet spring, but we’ll get over today first and speak to Frank Berry (racing manager to owner JP McManus) and see what the plan is – maybe the Classic Chase at Warwick will be an option again.”

Of Le Breuil, Ben Pauling said: “Kielan (Woods) doesn’t know how he stood up at the ditch – it was a mad mistake and it knocked the stuffing out of him.

“He paid the price for that one mistake, but apart from that he’s run a blinder and he’s quite clearly able to jump these fences.

“The aim would be to come back here in April, but at the moment his mark would be nowhere near getting in and we’ve got a few pounds to find.”

Vieux Lion Rouge out to extend unique Aintree record

David Pipe’s Vieux Lion Rouge returns to Aintree for the William Hill Becher Chase – and what will be his ninth run over the famous Grand National fences.

Winner of the Becher Chase in 2016, the 11-year-old has completed the course every time he has turned up on Merseyside – which includes four attempts in the big race itself.

He finished sixth behind One For Arthur in 2017 and has also been second in the 2018 Becher to Walk In The Mill, who will bid for a hat-trick on Saturday.

“Vieux Lion Rouge has jumped more Grand National fences than any other horse – 202,” said Pipe.

“He’s run in four Grand Nationals, four Bechers and he lights up to the occasion – and he actually jumps those fences better than the normal park fences.

“While he’s not getting any younger, he’s in great form at home, and for both of mine the more rain the better before Saturday.”

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Pipe is also set to run the fancied Ramses De Teillee, who won at Cheltenham first time out this season.

“We haven’t worked out who rides him (Vieux Lion Rouge) yet, but whoever does will no doubt be in for a wonderful ride,” Pipe added, in a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“Tom (Scudamore) will ride Ramses De Teillee after his great run at Cheltenham the other day.

“Obviously there won’t be the same amount of people as normal, but Vieux Lion Rouge knows the occasion. He knows the paddock – and once he gets shown the first fence, he knows what it is all about.

“I don’t know why he is better over these fences, but his track record tells you that he is.

Ramses De Teillee (left) came out on top in a battle with Yala Enki at Cheltenham
Ramses De Teillee (left) came out on top in a battle with Yala Enki at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We’ve had both horses since they were four. Ramses is only eight, (and) I keep thinking he’s older than what he is – he loves soft ground, he battled well at Cheltenham and came out of that race extremely well.

“Obviously he ran in the Grand National last year – and while it said he didn’t complete what happened was at the Canal Turn second time round one of his reins broke and he did actually finish but just on one rein.

“We watched the video of the 2019 National with his owners, John White and Anne Underhill, to decide whether to come here or the Welsh National.

“He made mistakes at the third and fourth – but apart from that he jumped everything else very well, and we think it warrants having another go.

“Ramses would have to be the stronger fancy of the two – he’s going there in good form, which is why he’s running on Saturday, to strike while the iron is hot rather than wait another month (for the Welsh National), because you never know what is around the corner.”

Pipe has his own experience in the saddle over the famous fences as an amateur – having ridden Aherlow Glen for his father Martin in the 1993 Fox Hunters’.

“I stupidly rode over the fences in the Fox Hunters’ and finished nearly last,” he said.

“I had a great thrill. The tapes went up, and they went so quick I got left behind.

“There was a poor lady at the side of the rail taking pictures, which you were allowed to in those days. My dad asked her to take a picture of us – she was a complete stranger but she very kindly sent a picture in the post.”