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In-form Oisin Murphy notches Ffos Las four-timer

Champion jockey Oisin Murphy extended his lead in this year’s title race with a four-timer at Ffos Las on Tuesday.

Murphy began the afternoon with a tally of 62 winners for the campaign, leaving him four clear of Tom Marquand on 58 and six ahead of William Buick on 56.

Marquand enjoyed a double at Wolverhampton, where Buick drew a blank, meaning Murphy will head to Sandown on Wednesday evening with a six-winner lead – but he will not be resting on his laurels.

He said: “I’m doing my best and Tom and William are riding great.

“I’ve obviously had a lot more suspensions than the two of them, but hopefully we can all stay out of the stewards’ room and keep riding winners.”

The dual champion first struck gold aboard the Andrew Balding-trained Neenee’s Choice (5-4 favourite) in the Download The vickers.bet App Maiden Stakes – and followed up aboard his stablemate Valley Forge (4-11 favourite) in the following race.

“I had some lovely rides on paper and Andrew’s horses have been in great form, so it’s nice to get some winners for him,” Murphy added.

“It’s a lovely track – flat and left-handed and it rides well. I don’t get to come here often, but it’s always nice.

“Neenee’s Choice is lightly-raced and I think there’ll be some winners come out of his race – the first three home are capable horses.

“It was nice to get Valley Forge’s head in front. He’s a staying type of horse and he toughed it out.”

Murphy swiftly made it a treble, with Roger Charlton’s 4-1 joint-favourite Siyata getting up close home in the vickers.bet Free Bets With Our Betclub Fillies’ Handicap, before making it four on the day with Rod Millman’s Silent Flame (100-30) in the penultimate race.

He appeared to hold strong claims of landing a fifth winner in the concluding vickers.bet Try Our Live Casino Handicap, but had to make do with the runner-up spot on 9-4 joint-favourite Fard, with Glamorous Force and Trevor Whelan holding on by a length.

Hopes fading for big weekend card at Newbury

Newbury’s Betfair Super Saturday fixture is already in serious doubt after officials announced a course inspection for Friday morning.

The Berkshire circuit is due to stage a mouthwatering card, featuring the £125,000 Betfair Hurdle, as well as recognised trials for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Queen Mother Champion Chase in the shape of the Denman Chase and the Game Spirit Chase respectively.

Dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux, last season’s RSA Chase winner Champ and superstar chaser Altior are just some of the big names who are set to be on show.

However, with the track already frozen in places under the frost covers and sub-zero temperatures forecast for the rest of the week, clerk of the course Keith Ottesen is not optimistic ahead of a Friday inspection at 8.30am.

He said: “It was only minus 2C overnight, but it didn’t get above zero on Tuesday, so it’s not just the night-time temperatures that are a problem.

“It’s a cumulative effect of the temperature zero or below for a number of days. You’ve got to cover up to give it every chance, but with the forecast the way it is, the fleece covers that we use don’t offer enough protection for such a prolonged period of cumulative frost.

“We haven’t got the best forecast going forward. It’s going to be very cold tonight and into Thursday morning, the same thing Friday night into Saturday and not much better Thursday into Friday.

“At this stage it’s far too early to do anything but to call an inspection for Friday, but really we need a change in the forecast to come.

“Unless there is a complete change, it will be a struggle.”

Nicky Henderson (left) and Paul Nicholls will be hoping races can be restaged
Nicky Henderson (left) and Paul Nicholls will be hoping races can be restaged (David Davies/PA)

High-profile trainers Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson are among those calling for the major races to be rescheduled – and Ottesen revealed discussions are already under way about the possibility of the entire card being moved to a later date.

He added: “We’re definitely talking about it at the moment. We need a number of things to align.

“From a Newbury point of view, we’d like to run the whole day, rather than just move races here and there. We’re just working on whether we can reschedule the day in the next week when conditions allow.

“I can’t really say more than that at the moment. Obviously there’s TV, sponsors, the Levy Board and the BHA (involved). We’ve been talking about it all week to try to find a solution, obviously with the support of Betfair (sponsors).”

Wednesday’s all-weather fixture at Newcastle was called off due to snow.

The venue was due to stage a seven-race card, but overnight snow forced clerk of the course James Armstrong to take an initial look at 8am, before checking conditions again at 10am.

That second inspection showed the track was not fit for action and Armstrong abandoned the fixture, with an inspection called for 10am on Thursday ahead of the planned evening card that day.

Armstrong said: “We’ve had something like three inches of snow, but it’s powdery, dry stuff. It’s cold, the temperatures aren’t going to start rising until later this morning and there’s the possibility of more snow.

“We’ve worked the track, but it’s got into the surface profile and it’s starting to ball up a bit, so it’s a fairly easy decision to make really.

“We’ll inspect at 10am for tomorrow’s meeting. We’ll use the windows of sunshine today to work the track and try to help it thaw out.”

Wolverhampton’s evening card was also subject to a 10am check, but the fixture got the go-ahead.

Racing has been called off at Ffos Las
Racing has been called off at Ffos Las (David Davies/PA)

There will be no jumps action in Britain on Thursday though, as Ffos Las’ meeting has been called off due to a frozen track.

Officials had hoped to escape the worst of the overnight freeze and called a precautionary inspection for 8.30am on Wednesday.

However, that check showed the track to be unraceable with little prospect of sufficient improvement.

The course tweeted: “Despite the huge efforts of our ground staff team to cover the course, tomorrow’s race meeting has been abandoned – parts of the track are frozen and temperatures are not forecast to rise sufficiently for it to thaw.”

Thursday’s Thurles card is also under threat, with a precautionary check planned for 7.30am on race day.

An Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board statement said: “Due to a Status Yellow weather warning in place for snow and ice, there will be a 7.30am precautionary inspection at Thurles tomorrow (Thursday) ahead of the fixture scheduled to take place.

“The track is currently fit for racing and the going is soft (chase) and soft to heavy (hurdle/bumper).”

Newcastle card becomes latest casualty of cold snap

Wednesday’s all-weather fixture at Newcastle has been called off due to snow.

The venue was due to stage a seven-race card, but overnight snow forced clerk of the course James Armstrong to take an initial look at 8am, before checking conditions again at 10am.

That second inspection showed the track was not fit for action and Armstrong abandoned the fixture, with an inspection called for 10am on Thursday ahead of the planned evening card.

Armstrong said: “We’ve had something like three inches of snow, but it’s powdery, dry stuff. It’s cold, the temperatures aren’t going to start rising until later this morning and there’s the possibility of more snow.

“We’ve worked the track, but it’s got into the surface profile and it’s starting to ball up a bit, so it’s a fairly easy decision to make really.

“We’ll inspect at 10am for tomorrow’s meeting. We’ll use the windows of sunshine today to work the track and try to help it thaw out.”

Wolverhampton’s evening card was also subject to a 10am check, but the fixture got the go-ahead.

Racing has been called off at Ffos Las
Racing has been called off at Ffos Las (David Davies/PA)

There will be no jumps action in Britain on Thursday though, as Ffos Las’ meeting has been called off due to a frozen track.

Officials had hoped to escape the worst of the overnight freeze and called a precautionary inspection for 8.30am on Wednesday.

However, that check showed the track to be unraceable with little prospect of sufficient improvement.

The course tweeted: “Despite the huge efforts of our ground staff team to cover the course, tomorrow’s race meeting has been abandoned – parts of the track are frozen and temperatures are not forecast to rise sufficiently for it to thaw.”

Thursday’s Thurles card is also under threat, with a precautionary check planned for 7.30am on race day.

An Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board statement said: “Due to a Status Yellow weather warning in place for snow and ice, there will be a 7.30am precautionary inspection at Thurles tomorrow (Thursday) ahead of the fixture scheduled to take place.

“The track is currently fit for racing and the going is soft (chase) and soft to heavy (hurdle/bumper).”

Frost claims Ffos Las card

Thursday’s meeting at Ffos Las has been called off due to a frozen track.

Officials had hoped to escape the worst of the overnight freeze and called a precautionary inspection for 8.30am on Wednesday.

However, that check showed the track to be unraceable with little prospect of sufficient improvement.

The course tweeted: “Despite the huge efforts of our ground staff team to cover the course, tomorrow’s race meeting has been abandoned – parts of the track are frozen and temperatures are not forecast to rise sufficiently for it to thaw.”

Newcastle and Wolverhampton will both have to pass 10am inspections if today’s meetings are to go ahead.

Newcastle is due to stage a seven-race card kicking off at 1.30pm, but overnight snow combined with temperatures of -5C overnight forced clerk of the course James Armstrong to take an initial look at 8am.

With further snow flurries a possibility, Armstrong then opted to check again at 10am.

He tweeted: “Temps currently -1.5c. Light snow flurries on & off. Course worked from early hrs at least three times. Need temps to rise to assist in melting snow mixed within the Tapeta profile. Will work again soon as temps lift further.”

Wolverhampton’s eight-race fixture starts at 4.45pm and it too is subject to a 10am inspection.

The track had a light covering of snow overnight, but officials remain optimistic of the card going ahead as planned.

Thursday’s Thurles card is also under threat, with a precautionary check planned for 7.30am on race day.

An Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board statement said: “Due to a Status Yellow weather warning in place for snow and ice, there will be a 7.30am precautionary inspection at Thurles tomorrow (Thursday) ahead of the fixture scheduled to take place.

“The track is currently fit for racing and the going is soft (chase) and soft to heavy (hurdle/bumper).”

Hopes rise for Haydock

Officials at Haydock are “pretty hopeful” Saturday’s meeting will go ahead after the course surprisingly passed a Thursday morning inspection.

Prospects of racing at the Merseyside venue appeared bleak on Wednesday, with the ground already described as heavy, waterlogged in places and further rain expected from Storm Christoph.

It was widely expected that a fixture featuring four Grade Two races would be abandoned after clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright called an inspection for 8am on Thursday morning.

However, despite a further 35 millimetres of rain falling on Wednesday, and many parts of the north-west suffering from flooding, Tellwright reported conditions at Haydock to be raceable.

He said: “It is remarkable – we’re fit to race today.

“I suppose we can take certain quantities of rain – and beyond that, it’s just going down the drain.”

A further precautionary inspection has been called for 8am on Saturday morning because of the threat of frost.

Tellwright added: “We’ve called a precautionary inspection for Saturday morning, just to cover us for the forecast frost.

“We’d be pretty hopeful that shouldn’t be an issue. It (the course) is under frost covers. They won’t work as well as they would on dry ground, but we’ll cross our fingers and expect to race.

“In terms of rain, we’re forecast the odd shower, but nothing in the context of what we’ve had in the previous three days.”

Elsewhere, both Ludlow and Wincanton passed 8am inspections for Thursday’s seven-race cards.

At Ludlow, the ground is heavy, soft in places, on the hurdles course and soft over fences – while at Wincanton it is heavy all round.

Friday’s card at Ffos Las was abandoned following an inspection on Thursday morning, with the ground waterlogged, while racing at Musselburgh the same day is subject to a precautionary 8am check, with freezing temperatures the concern.

Haydock reprieve – but Saturday inspection called

Haydock’s meeting on Saturday will be subject to an inspection on race-day morning after the course passed an initial check on Thursday.

An inspection was called for 8am on Thursday, with the ground already described 24 hours earlier as heavy, waterlogged in places and further rain expected from Storm Christoph.

The track passed that early assessment of conditions, but a second inspection was announced for 8am on Saturday before a fixture featuring four Grade Two races – and the possible return of dual champion hurdler Buveur D’Air – can go ahead.

The remaining threat to the feature card is from a forecast cold snap, according to a Tweet on Haydock’s official account.

It read: “Today’s inspection has passed for Saturday’s Peter Marsh Chase raceday. The track is currently fit to race. Another precautionary inspection is due at 8am on Saturday due to risk of frost.”

Elsewhere, both Ludlow and Wincanton passed 8am inspections for Thursday’s seven-race cards.

At Ludlow, the ground is heavy, soft in places, on the hurdles course and soft over fences – while at Wincanton it is heavy all round.

Friday’s card at Ffos Las was abandoned following an inspection on Thursday morning, with the ground waterlogged.

Saturday’s Haydock card hinges on Thursday inspection

Haydock’s classy card on Saturday is already under severe threat with an inspection called for 8am on Thursday.

The Merseyside venue, which is due to host four Grade Two contests including The New One Unibet Hurdle and the Peter Marsh Chase, has been in the “eye” of Storm Christoph, according to clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright.

Conditions at the track are reported to be heavy, waterlogged in places following 18 millimetres of rain on Monday and a further 22mm on Tuesday, with another deluge forecast for Wednesday.

Temperatures are then set to drop markedly on Friday evening with a frost forecast.

Tellwright said: “We’ve called an early inspection, before declarations, and we’ll take it from there.

“We’ve had two very wet days and we’ve got another one coming.

“We seem to have hit the eye of the storm, having had two very wet days and another to come. If that’s not enough, we’re then expecting a frost on Saturday morning yet it is extraordinary how mild it is today.”

Friday’s meeting at Ffos Las hinges on an 8.30am inspection on Thursday.

The track survived an initial inspection on Wednesday afternoon and conditions have marginally improved at the Welsh venue.

The track tweeted: “We’ll be having another course inspection at 8.30am tomorrow morning ahead of Friday’s race day. Rain is forecast to ease tonight with a dry day ahead tomorrow.”

Wednesday’s card at Chepstow went ahead as planned after the track passed a precautionary inspection.

Covers giving Chepstow encouragement for Welsh National card

Officials at Chepstow are hopeful Saturday’s rescheduled Coral Welsh National meeting will beat freezing temperatures.

Covers have been down since Sunday before the current cold snap kicked in, and clerk of the course Libby O’Flaherty is banking on that proving sufficient with a couple of cold nights to come.

O’Flaherty told Sky Sports Racing on Wednesday afternoon: “We’ve covered the whole track, chase and hurdle.

“The cold weather will start to have a greater influence as it starts getting colder from tonight – we’ve done all we can to keep temperatures above freezing.

“The rain isn’t a worry now, it’s cold. Friday we have wintry showers possible. The forecast for Friday into Saturday gives us hope, along with a good grass covering underneath the fleece so fingers are crossed.

“Monday and Tuesday this week we had 25 guys in putting the covers down, but it is easier to take it off. The plan will be to take them off on Saturday morning.

“The official going is heavy, but it has dried out since the heavy rain on Christmas week. With it being dry I expect it will ride testing.

“Looking at the forecast there is the potential for a precautionary inspection. There are declarations tomorrow so there’ll be an update first thing.”

It was not good news at Musselburgh, however, where a precautionary inspection for 8am on raceday morning had originally been called ahead of racing on Thursday but was brought forward to 4.30pm on Wednesday, with clear skies giving an indication of what was to come.

The meeting at Ffos Las on Thursday needs to survive an inspection at 8.30am with the prospect of the mercury dipping to -7C in Wales.

A tweet from the course read: “There will be a precautionary inspection at 8.30am tomorrow to assess prospects for racing. Overnight temperatures are due to fall to potentially -7C. The track was raceable at 11am today after temperatures dropped to -3C overnight.”

Racing at Clonmel in Ireland is also in some doubt, too.

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board said in a statement: “Due to a Status Yellow weather warning in place for frost and ice, there will be an 8am precautionary inspection at Clonmel tomorrow (Thursday) ahead of the fixture scheduled to take place on Thursday 7th January.

“The ground remains heavy, was fit for racing at 8am this morning and remains fit for racing currently.”

Highway One O Two may head to Ffos Las

Grade Two-winning hurdler Highway One O Two may make his first start over fences at Ffos Las next month – provided scans on a recent sinus infection return clear.

The five-year-old, who won the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton on his most recent outing, suffered the setback days after quick ground ruled him out of his intended chasing debut at Newton Abbot last month.

He has since completed a course of antibiotics, and trainer Chris Gordon has earmarked the Burns Pet Nutrition Beginners’ Chase on November 8 as a potential target.

Gordon said: “At Newton Abbot, the ground was too quick – then about 10 days afterwards, he got this sinus infection.  He has had antibiotics for them and he is now off them.

“He will have a scan on Monday to make sure everything is okay – because with a sinus issue, it can blow up quickly again afterwards.

“He has been working, but not as much as he usually would.”

Gordon has not ruled out the possibility of Highway One O Two staying over hurdles for another season, should the sinus problem flare up again.

He added: “If he doesn’t go to Ffos Las we might just stick over hurdles this season.

“If you leave it too late, all of a sudden you have lost the first half of the season, and it would then be a waste going over fences.

Sceau Royal returns with Welsh Champion Hurdle victory

Alan King’s Sceau Royal made a triumphant return to action in the Potter Group Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las.

Better known as a high-class two miler over fences, the eight-year-old was last seen finishing last of five runners in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March – having finished third behind Altior in the same race 12 months earlier.

Back over the smaller obstacles for the first time since filling the runner-up spot in the 2019 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, Sceau Royal was a 10-1 shot in the hands of Daryl Jacob.

Always travelling strongly, the Doctor Dino gelding moved smoothly into contention in the home straight before pulling two and three-quarter lengths clear, with Ballyandy best of the rest in second.

King said: “We didn’t really have too many options over fences at the minute, and Anthony (Bromley, racing manager for the owners) felt this looked a good starting point for him when the ground started to dry up, because he’s rated about a stone lower over hurdles.

“He had a little wind operation a month or two back. It was very slight, but you never know, it might just have helped him a little bit – it doesn’t look to have hindered him, anyway.

“We’ve got all sorts of options now. We could look at the Elite Hurdle, which is in three weeks’ time at Wincanton. If we didn’t fancy that, he might have an entry in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham next month – and there’s also the Shloer Chase on the same weekend.

“He doesn’t have to go straight back over fences. The ground is the key to him, because he doesn’t want a slog – running in those heavy-ground Tingle Creeks are no use to him.”

Jacob and his retaining owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede were completing a quick-fire double on the card, with If The Cap Fits having earlier made a successful fencing bow in the Canter Carpet High Performance Surfaces Novices’ Chase.

The Grade One-winning hurdler faced a far from straightforward task, with the quality pair of Fiddlerontheroof and Emitom in opposition, and he was not entirely convincing in the jumping department through the early stages.

However, he was good when he needed to be over the final two fences – and it was impossible not to be impressed by the way Harry Fry’s stable star careered seven and a half lengths away from Fiddlerontheroof on the run-in.

“I’m delighted with that,” said Fry.

“He was a bit novicey early on, but Daryl gave him a lovely introduction and I was delighted with the way he attacked the fences in the straight.

If The Cap Fits in action at Ffos Las
If The Cap Fits in action at Ffos Las (David Davies/PA)

“There’s loads more to come from him, both in terms of experience over fences and fitness. Today was far from the be all and end all – it was about hopefully getting a nice round of jumping in and some confidence.

“We’ll get him home and see how he is, but I was thinking something like the Rising Stars Novices’ Chase at Wincanton might be a nice next target for him. Bags Groove actually won this race today for us, before going on to win the Rising Stars.

“Today was very exciting, and I hope it’s onwards and upwards.”

Estelle Ma Belle made a winning first start for Paul Nicholls in the Follow pottergracing On Twitter Mares’ Maiden Hurdle.

Part of the batch of horses moved to Ditcheat from Willie Mullins’ yard by owner Jared Sullivan, the French import finished second on her only start in Ireland at last year’s Galway Festival.

Estelle Ma Belle was much too good for her rivals
Estelle Ma Belle was much too good for her rivals (David Davies/PA)

Ridden by 3lb claimer Lorcan Williams, the six-year-old came home with five lengths in hand over Spring Run.

Nicholls was at Kempton, from where he said: “Estelle Ma Belle is a nice mare. She had one run for Willie last year and then had her problems – saying she is very fragile would be an understatement.

“We’ve done a lot of work with her and got her right. I thought she would run tidy today – and she won well

“She is not the most fluent jumper. But we have been doing an awful lot on that at home, and Lorcan has been riding her home schooling, which is why he rode her today – and he did a good job with her.

“She could be a nice mare. First and foremost, we have to see how she is tomorrow, and that is the most important thing.

“I do think she needs to go left-handed, which is a plus. I will talk to Jared, and we will find a nice mares race left-handed.”