Tag Archive for: Haydock

Royale Pagaille shines in Peter Marsh repeat

Royale Pagaille knuckled down to register back-to-back victories in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock.

The Venetia Williams-trained eight-year-old produced a jaw-dropping display when sauntering to a 17-length success 12 months ago.

A year on the performance was not as spectacular, but he displayed plenty of heart under the welter burden of 11st 12lb to become the first horse to successfully defend the Peter Marsh since General Wolfe, trained by Williams, in 1999.

Royale Pagaille’s wide-margin success in the Grade Two contest last season earned him a tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in which he finished sixth and returned lame.

He made a promising start to the new campaign when runner-up to Gold Cup second A Plus Tard in Haydock’s Betfair Chase, only for another setback to rule out an intended tilt at the King George.

Ridden patiently by Charlie Deutsch on his return to Merseyside, the 5-2 favourite was coaxed into contention leaving the back straight and was soon challenging for the lead.

Sam Brown proved a willing opponent and refused to go down without a fight, but Royale Pagaille dug deep on the run-in to prevail by half a length, with Betfair cutting him to 16-1 from 25-1 for this year’s Gold Cup.

“I’m thrilled. It was tough today, it was a more competitive race than last year and he had loads of weight,” said Williams.

“They went a good gallop, I don’t actually think the ground is that bad and it didn’t look like he was travelling all that well but his jumping held up well.

“I thought Charlie gave him a superb ride, he had to battle all the way to the line.”

Williams had wanted to run n the King George but an injury picked up in the Betfair Chase prevented that.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that he missed a lot of work and he’d had three slaps down the shoulder before they even turned for home, so it was tough,” she said.

“He got a nasty wound on his hind fetlock joint and every time he move it opened up so he was confined to his box for quite a while.

“We could just do with a wet few weeks before Cheltenham now. Believe it or not this is the first time Rich (Ricci, owner) has seen the horse!”

Deutsch said: “That was a really good performance, he had to really tough it out.

“He didn’t travel like he normally does so I had to just sit for a while and try to make my way down the back straight but he jumped very well, bar one down the back.

“He was very good up the straight when I needed him but he was getting tired, he had to be brave.

“We need the rain at Cheltenham, last year on good ground it just caught us out.”

Ricci was visiting Haydock for the first time and was impressed.

“I haven’t been racing recently because of restrictions and this is my first time at Haydock, but I’ve got to say I love it,” he said.

“People are asking me for photos, I’ve been having drinks with them, they are all so friendly.

“As long as it is soft enough he’ll go to Cheltenham. Last year he finished sixth and he pulled two shoes off and finished lame. With his rating he’s got to go for it.

“We’re having a transitional season, we don’t have the likes of Faugheen or Douvan anymore, but I’m still as keen as ever – I absolutely love the game and days like this are fantastic.”

Tommy’s Oscar puts case for Champion Hurdle bid

A tilt at the Champion Hurdle looks to be on the cards for Tommy’s Oscar after he extended his winning streak to four at Haydock.

Handicap victories at this venue, Doncaster and Musselburgh had seen the seven-year-old’s mark rise from 138 to 156 – earning him a step up to Grade Two level for ‘The New One’ Unibet Hurdle.

The 4-7 favourite was given a cool ride by champion conditional Danny McMenamin, who was happy to sit several lengths behind last year’s winner Navajo Pass and Global Citizen for much of the way.

Ann Hamilton’s charge readily made up the ground in the home straight and was driven out after the final flight to beat the latter by five lengths.

Coral cut Tommy’s Oscar to 25-1 from 33-1 for the Champion Hurdle – and despite having doubts about the suitability of the undulating track at Cheltenham, connections will consider giving it a go.

Hamilton’s husband, Ian, said: “He couldn’t have done it any easier really. He was there to be shot at today, odds-on favourite, he had quite a bit to lose and not a lot to gain.

“He’s seven, his improving all the time. We bought him as three-mile chaser but he doesn’t stay, he’s a two-miler.

“I’m chuffed to bits with him. If someone will drive the box we’ll go (to Cheltenham)!

“The only thing is he’s been winning races here and at Musselburgh and they are flat tracks, Cheltenham is very undulating which will be different.

“I suppose we’ve got to give it a go.”

Ann Hamilton is of a similar mindset, adding: “The horses are very well this year, next year they might not be, things might go wrong, so we’ll probably have a go.

“It was quite a hard watch for a bit until they turned in from the bottom corner when Danny started to move up. He’s a lovely horse and he tries his best.

“If we’re going to go to Cheltenham this is the year to do it, when the horses are well.”

Minella Drama in the Haydock winner's enclosure
Minella Drama in the Haydock winner’s enclosure (Nick Robson/PA)

Minella Drama stamped his class on the Patrick Coyne Memorial Altcar Novices’ Chase.

Fifth in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown last month, Donald McCain’s charge was the 85-40 favourite as he stepped up top two and a half miles in the hands of Brian Hughes.

The seven-year-old moved smoothly to the lead early in the home straight – and while Hardy Du Seuil threatened to make a race of it, Minella Drama was nine and a half lengths too good.

McCain said: “I couldn’t believe he wasn’t favourite to begin with because we think he’s a genuine Grade One performer.

“It’s been a slow process with him because he’s wild, but Adrian (Lane, assistant trainer) rides him every day and has done a great job with him because he’s not easy.

“It was always the plan to come here, but we felt we had to run him over two miles a few times first to get the freshness out of him.

“Aintree has been discussed, but what before then I don’t know because he’s difficult to make plans for. Brian wants me to go to Ayr which comes first this year.”

Jonbon gets the job done at Haydock

Jonbon maintained his unbeaten record with a workmanlike victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock.

A £570,000 purchase by owner JP McManus after winning an Irish point-to-point, the full-brother to the mighty Douvan had since won a bumper and a maiden hurdle at Newbury and a Grade Two event at Ascot.

Nicky Henderson’s charge was the 2-5 favourite to double his Grade Two tally on Merseyside – and while it was not entirely straightforward, he ultimately got the job done in good style.

After travelling freely behind the pacesetting pair of Richmond Lake and Donny Boy for much of the two-mile contest, Aidan Coleman asked Jonbon to move closer at the third flight from the finish, when he ran into the back of Donny Boy and had to switch inside.

Richmond Lake was still in with every chance at the final obstacle, as was Might I, who was last seen chasing home Jonbon’s stablemate Constitution Hill at Sandown.

Just for a moment it looked like Richmond Lake might make a real race of it, but Jonbon found another gear after Coleman drew the whip and was three lengths clear at the line.

Coleman said: “It was hard work in that ground, it’s a sharp two miles around here, a bit of a speed track.

“We were all going flat out turning in but he’s picked up well and then, like every horse that hits the front here, he pulled up inside the last half-furlong. But I was very happy with the performance.

“He’s a pleasure to ride, the only moment of alarm was three out when Conor (O’Farrell on Donny Boy) jumped right and I winged it and landed on top of him. It wasn’t ideal, but everything went well other than that

“He’s so straightforward, people need to stop talking about him being precocious because he’s not, he’s a lovely ride. He’s beat a good field and I was very happy with him.

“In his last two races he tipped away in front and had it easy, today we went an end-to-end gallop, it was a very good race.

“I felt I was always going to go away after the last, he did but then pulled up a bit. But how many times do you see that here? He just got lonely. You won’t see many horses win on the bridle on that ground.

“He has another win under his belt and that rode a very good race.”

Sky Bet left Jonbon unchanged at 3-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, while Coral left him alone at 7-2 behind 2-1 favourite and stablemate Constitution Hill.

Speaking from Ascot, Henderson told ITV Racing: “I thought that was good. It was a different test today, a speed track, very soft ground.

“They quickened once in the straight and you thought he’s got something to do here, but he got there nicely. Then he quickened again and I like horses that can quicken twice. He’s gone right away at the end. I’d say job done.”

Royal Pagaille eyeing Peter Marsh repeat

Royale Pagaille bids to become the first horse in over 20 years to claim back-to-back victories in the Peter Marsh Chase on Saturday.

Four Cheltenham Gold Cup heroes are among the previous winners of the prestigious handicap, with Little Owl (1981), Bregawn (1982), The Thinker (1987) and Jodami (1993 and 1997) all on the roll of honour.

The last horse to successfully defend the Peter Marsh crown was General Wolfe in 1999 – and his trainer Venetia Williams will be hoping Royal Pagaille can repeat the feat at Haydock this weekend.

The eight-year-old produced a performance of rare dominance 12 months ago, with his 16-length romp earning him a 10lb rise in the weights and tilt at Gold Cup glory.

He returned lame at Cheltenham, but made an encouraging start to the new season when a clear second to Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard in Haydock’s Betfair Chase in November.

A further setback ruled out an intended tilt at the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, but Royale Pagaille will nevertheless be expected to put up a bold showing on his return to Merseyside.

Williams said: “It is nice to know we are going back to a course where he knows his way round there. The top-weight is 11-10 and it is not quite the same – half a dozen pounds less than in a normal handicap, but he is there for a reason, there because of what he has done before.

“He has to give away a lot of weight, but we hope he will go well.”

Richard Hobson’s Lord Du Mesnil bids to bag his fourth big-race victory at Haydock, having previously landed the Tommy Whittle, The Last Fling Chase and the Grand National Trial.

Runner-up in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby last month, the nine-year-old would become the first horse to win the track’s four major staying handicaps over fences, a fact not lost on his trainer.

“He’s come out of his Wetherby run really well and has been given plenty of time to recover from that,” said Hobson.

“It would be nice to do the four-timer, I don’t think anybody has done it in its current guise.

“He just loves Haydock, he’s really at ease with his action there and it’s all about having one speed where he can go in his conditions and keep it up – so the track brings the best out in him.”

Remastered was runner-up to Enqarde in the latest running of the Tommy Whittle five weeks ago after suffering a heavy fall on his previous outing in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury.

Remastered is a major contender for the Peter Marsh
Remastered is a major contender for the Peter Marsh (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Trainer David Pipe said: “It was either run here or go to Lingfield on Sunday and we just felt he was probably better off in a handicap.

“We are hoping he will have come on for his last Haydock run. Conditions will suit and he will think he is running loose with the weight he has on his back.

“I don’t think we’ll know how much that fall at Newbury took out of him until after Saturday – I think his performance this weekend will answer that question.

“He came back quickly after that fall and hopefully there’s more to come.”

Empire Steel is a major contender for Borders-based trainer Sandy Thomson.

The eight-year-old was still travelling when falling four fences from home in the Rowland Meyrick, having finished second to Strictlyadancer at Haydock on his previous start.

Thomson said: “He has a nice weight on his back and we’re looking forward to it.

“Whether it was a blessing he came down last time I don’t know, but I think he would have had a very hard race and I don’t think he would be going on Saturday.

“He ran well at Haydock earlier in the season and we’re very happy with him.”

Three course winners in Sam Brown (Anthony Honeyball), Lake View Lad (Nick Alexander) and Sam’s Adventure (Brian Ellison) also feature in a 10-strong field.

Crunch time looms for Jonbon at Haydock

Nicky Henderson admits only victory will suffice for Jonbon as he prepares to put his unbeaten record and huge reputation on the line at Haydock on Saturday.

On the same afternoon his illustrious stablemate Shishkin locks horns with Energumene in a much-anticipated clash at Ascot, Jonbon will be in action some 200 miles north on Merseyside.

Henderson is well aware of the magnitude of the day for all at Seven Barrows, as he unleashes not only the stable’s biggest star but also one of its most exciting prospects.

He said: “This weekend is big. Really big. Because it is Jonbon and Shishkin. You relish the pressure because you are lucky enough to have horses like this – it is fascinating.

Nicky Henderson faces a huge afternoon
Nicky Henderson faces a huge afternoon (Steven Paston/PA)

“We are in good shape and it is going to be very interesting. They are very important days in each of the horse’s lives.”

Jonbon’s ultimate aim this season will be to follow in Shishkin’s considerable hoofprints by lifting the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

But first the £570,000 purchase must cement his claims for the Festival curtain raiser by adding to his previous wins at Newbury and Ascot in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle.

“Jonbon has got to continue on his upward curve and can’t really afford not to – he really has to do it,” Henderson continued.

“He did his last piece of work on Saturday and has just ticked over since.

“Jonbon isn’t a horse you want to wind up too much – that’s why I want the run now and I have plenty of time to just let him off for a bit and bring him back.”

A decade on from saddling subsequent Supreme winner Cinders And Ashes to claim this Grade Two prize, Donald McCain is represented by Richmond Lake.

The Westerner gelding, who carries the colours of the late Trevor Hemmings, steps up in class following a 27-length demolition job at Sedgefield.

“We’re going to take a punt and see where we are,” said McCain.

“We have a few nice novices and with one or two of the others you’d just question the ground a bit and they’re a little bit more immature.

“The Henderson horse is turning up and he probably shouldn’t be beaten, but there’s no point making it too easy for them!”

Other hopefuls include Nick Alexander’s unbeaten youngster Donny Boy and the Harry Fry-trained Might I, who was last seen chasing home Jonbon’s stablemate and fellow star novice Constitution Hill at Sandown.

Tommy’s Oscar is the star attraction in the New One Unibet Hurdle.

A hat-trick of handicap wins have seen the seven-year-old’s rating rise from 138 to 156 and he will be the hot favourite to add to his tally in this recognised Champion Hurdle trial for Ann Hamilton.

Tommy’s Oscar is enjoying an excellent season
Tommy’s Oscar is enjoying an excellent season (Simon Marper/PA)

Owner Ian Hamilton, the trainer’s husband, said: “We’ll find out on Saturday if he’s good enough to go down the road (to Cheltenham)!

“He’s been fine since Musselburgh. The ground could be hard work, but it’s the same for them all.

“He’s got to go and win to go to Cheltenham. It (Cheltenham) is an undulating track and he likes a flat track, I think, but I suppose we’ve got to go if he wins.”

Tommy’s Oscar’s rivals include Olly Murphy’s veteran Hunters Call, who was a close third in last month’s International Hurdle at Cheltenham, and McCain’s defending champion Navajo Pass.

Murphy said of Hunters Call: “He’s in good form and we’re looking forward to running him.

“For a 12-year-old to be 5-2 for a Champion Hurdle trial doesn’t seem quite right, but he’s been in good form since Cheltenham and I’d like to think he’ll go very close.”

Navajo Pass has finished well-beaten in two starts at Sandown so far this season and his trainer is hoping a return to Merseyside can help him to bounce back to form.

“To be honest we were going to step up in trip, but this race needed supporting, there’s not a massive field and it’s very hard to avoid it when you’re last year’s winner,” said McCain.

“It’s not really happened for him so far this year. I don’t know if he’s really loved that ground up the straight at Sandown.

“I know Haydock will be slow ground, but it won’t be quite like Sandown, so we’ll see how we go.”

Minella Drama leads the way at Uttoxeter
Minella Drama leads the way at Uttoxeter (Tim Goode/PA)

The Cholmondeley handler has high hopes of winning the first of four Grade Two prizes on the card, with Minella Drama expected to go well in the curtain-raising Patrick Coyne Memorial Altcar Novices’ Chase.

The son of Flemensfirth steps up in trip after finishing fifth in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown over two miles on his latest outing.

McCain added: “On nice ground he definitely wants two and a half. On this ground, we’ll find out.

“We’ve been waiting for the race. We know it’s there every year and it’s an obvious race to aim for with a horse like him.

“I think Sandown proved he’s not a true two-mile chaser. I thought they wouldn’t go that quick, but Dan Skelton’s horse (Third Time Lucki) got revved up and it turned into a different type of race.

“We were just out of our comfort zone for long enough so that although he was staying on, he ran out of gas in the last 100 yards. We’ll go to Haydock and see where we are.”

Ballycoose ’50-50′ for Jonbon clash at Haydock

Stuart Crawford will wait until later in the week before deciding whether to allow Ballycoose to take on Jonbon in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock.

A £570,000 purchase by leading owner JP McManus, Jonbon is a hot favourite to extend his unbeaten record for Nicky Henderson in the Grade Two contest.

Ballycoose is also yet to taste defeat, but would be stepping up in class if given the green light to travel to Merseyside following wins in a Down Royal bumper and a maiden hurdle at Ayr.

Crawford said: “I’d say it’s 50-50 as to whether he’ll run. If he doesn’t go to Haydock, he’ll probably go to Down Royal next Tuesday.

“You’d hope the race at Down Royal might be a bit easier, but there’s nothing easy these days!

“He’s a nice horse and a horse for next season really. We won’t get too excited and too ambitious this season, I wouldn’t think.”

The County Antrim handler also provided an update on another exciting novice owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede in O’Toole.

O'Toole looks a bright prospect for Stuart Crawford
O’Toole looks a bright prospect for Stuart Crawford (Michael Graham)

Having split the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard when runner-up in the Grade One bumper at Punchestown last spring, the six-year-old bolted up on his hurdling bow at Down Royal.

“He might end up in the auction series races in Ireland,” Crawford added.

“There’s a novice hurdle coming up in early February and that might be his next appearance. The final of the series is at Punchestown, so that could be a realistic target for him this season.

“They’re two very similar horses. You’d be looking forward to them going over fences sometime.”

Sherwood leaning towards Haydock date for Guerlain De Vaux

Oliver Sherwood is slightly favouring the Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock over the River Don at Doncaster for Guerlain De Vaux.

Owned by the Million In Mind partnership, the six-year-old has won both his starts over hurdles at Market Rasen and Catterick.

Clearly blessed by stamina, Sherwood is not entertaining thoughts of the Cheltenham Festival this season and just hopes he is still training the Tiger Groom gelding next term given he will be heading to the sales in May.

“The fact we’ve won two means we’ve got to go upmarket a bit now,” said Sherwood.

“The River Don has been mentioned, although I haven’t had a proper chat with Anthony (Bromley, racing manager) yet, I just want to see how he comes out of his race but he seems good.

“As the River Don is next weekend, it might just come a bit soon so we could wait for the Haydock race in the middle of February (19).

“He won’t have an entry for Cheltenham. He’s a horse who has only had three races in his life, so that would be too much.

“I think the River Don will be unlikely, he might have an entry, but I think it will be the Haydock race.

“He’s a big horse. If you’d have told me he’d be winning at Market Rasen and Catterick, I’d have thought you were barking mad because he wants Doncasters and Newburys, but he’s an exciting horse going the right way.

“Like all horses owned by Million In Mind, he’ll be going to the sales at Doncaster in May, which is standard. It’s a shame but we’ll have to find somebody wealthy to buy him back.”

Jonbon tops 11 contenders for Haydock’s Supreme Trial

Jonbon is the star name among 11 entries for the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday.

Bought for £570,000 by owner JP McManus after winning an Irish point-to-point, the full-brother to the mighty Douvan has been faultless in three starts so far for Nicky Henderson.

The six-year-old made a successful debut under Rules in a Newbury bumper last spring and is two from two over hurdles – most recently dominating his rivals in Grade Two company at Ascot.

Jonbon is second-favourite behind stablemate Constitution Hill for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, with his best odds of 7-2 sure to be trimmed with another victory this weekend.

His potential rivals on Merseyside include the Harry Fry-trained Might I, who was runner-up to Constitution Hill at Sandown in December, and the unbeaten Donny Boy from Nick Alexander’s yard.

Another Irish point-to-point winner, the Westerner gelding has since impressed in a Kelso bumper and over hurdles at Newcastle.

Alexander said: “The Rossington Main is the plan. It’s obviously a big step up in class and who knows what will happen, but we’ll give it a go.

“We’re very excited about him, we believe in him and hopefully he’ll run well.

“It’ll be fine if Jonbon scares everything else away!”

Minella Drama (centre) in action at Uttoxeter
Minella Drama (centre) in action at Uttoxeter (Tim Goode/PA)

Donald McCain could saddle wide-margin Sedgefield winner Richmond Lake, while Ballycoose is a potential raider from Northern Ireland for Stuart Crawford.

There are also 11 entries for the Grade Two Patrick Coyne Memorial Altcar Novices’ Chase, with McCain’s Minella Drama setting the standard on ratings.

Other hopefuls include Ben Pauling’s course scorer Shakem Up’Arry and Papa Tango Charly, who is two from two over fences for Jonjo O’Neill.

Tommy’s Oscar is the potential star on show in the New One Unibet Hurdle – a recognised trial for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

Ann Hamilton’s charge has won his last three starts and will be well fancied to extend his winning streak on Saturday.

His six possible opponents include last year’s winner Navajo Pass (McCain) and Olly Murphy’s admirable veteran Hunters Call.

Royale Pagaille could defend his crown in the Peter Marsh Chase, with his 16-length demolition job 12 months ago earning him a tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The eight-year-old was runner-up to A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase here in November, but has been sidelined since after suffering an injury.

Royale Pagaille could face another Haydock mud-lover in Bristol De Mai, although Nigel Twiston-Davies has also given his triple Betfair Chase-winning grey an entry in the £150,000 Fleur de Lys Chase at Lingfield on Sunday.

Royale Pagaille winning last year's Peter Marsh Chase
Royale Pagaille winning last year’s Peter Marsh Chase (David Davies/PA)

Alexander is planning to run Lake View Lad, who was last seen finishing fourth in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day.

“He’s come out of his Wetherby race very well,” the trainer added.

“He was was a little bit disappointing that day, but he got stuck for over an hour between the A1 and the racecourse stables. He got a bit hot and bothered in the lorry and I think that may have taken the edge off him a little bit.

“He’s fine now and he’s won at Haydock before. He’s beginning to look quite nicely handicapped if the years haven’t caught up with him too quickly and we’re looking forward to running him.”

Lord Du Mesnil (Richard Hobson), Lieutenant Rocco (Harriet Brown) and Remastered (David Pipe) are also in contention for the extended three-mile-one-furlong contest.

Champion Hurdle poser for Tommy’s Oscar team

Ann and Ian Hamilton have to decide whether or not to enter Tommy’s Oscar in the Champion Hurdle before he tests his mettle in the New One Unibet Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock on January 22.

The seven-year-old has won his last three, rising to a rating of 156 which considering former champion hurdler Epatante is only rated 153 having dead-heated in the Fighting Fifth and won the Christmas Hurdle on her last two starts, compares favourably.

The Hamiltons are not exactly used to making entries for early-closing races, with a string of just six horses and two of those currently out injured, but they will have to bite the bullet soon.

“He came out of Musselburgh well and it’s Haydock next,” said Ian Hamilton.

“The press are trying to build him up, but he’d have to win at Haydock to go to Cheltenham – the thing is we’ve got to enter for Cheltenham before he goes to Haydock.

“I personally think he’s still a bit off Champion Hurdle class, he’d have to go really well at Haydock but we’ve got to pay £500 before Haydock!

“He’s a smashing horse, he really is. The horses are healthy and well, but we’ve only four in training as we’ve two off sick.

“We’ve tried him over two and a half miles before, and he did have top-weight in heavy ground but he didn’t get home – that’s why we’re not thinking of Aintree.

“With his rating, he’s got to go in the level-weights races.

“We should have had him in the Fighting Fifth really – although he still wouldn’t have run as we were coming to the Rehearsal Chase with Nuts Well but we couldn’t get out because of the storm.”

Nuts Well instead ran in the Castleford Chase over two miles at Wetherby, finishing third, and will step up to three miles next time out.

“Brian (Hughes) gave him a lovely ride at Wetherby with a big weight to be third,” Hamilton went on.

“He’ll go to Doncaster next for the Sky Bet Chase at the end of the month (January 29). That’s three miles, but the ground never gets too bad there and it’s a flat track so there’s a good chance he’ll get the trip.

“He’s 11 now but he seems as good as ever.”

Blaklion roars home for Skelton team

Trainer Dan Skelton was thrilled to see Blaklion continue his resurgence with a bloodless victory in the Last Fling Handicap Chase at Haydock.

Bought for six figures by owner Darren Yates in 2019, results have been largely disappointing since, although he did manage to finish sixth in the Grand National last spring.

Blaklion registered his first success since winning the Becher Chase over the National fences four years ago when making most of the running in a veterans’ chase at Haydock at the start of the month.

And while he will officially turn 13 on Saturday, Skelton’s charge proved the fire still burns bright with an even more dominant front-running display on his return to Merseyside.

Ridden by the trainer’s brother Harry, Blaklion jumped impeccably throughout and already had his rivals in serious trouble before the home turn.

While the remainder were struggling to put one foot in front of the other in demanding conditions, the leader continued on his merry way and a huge leap at the final fence sealed his 28-length success.

Dan Skelton said: “He’s a credit to himself that he’s kept his enthusiasm as long as has and he’s in fantastic nick.

“I wouldn’t say he’s better than ever as I didn’t have him as a younger horse, but he’s the best I’ve ever had him. He’s remarkable and a pleasure to have about the place.

“I think the last win probably just topped up his enthusiasm and he probably thought it was all possible again. It never looked in doubt today – he was magic.”

Dan Skelton at Uttoxeter
Dan Skelton at Uttoxeter (Mike Egerton/PA)

The trainer is now eyeing another bid for National glory, adding: “We’ll give him an entry and see what the handicapper has to say and go from there.

“We’ll see what the handicapper does next Tuesday to give us an idea of what our potential fate might be for the Grand National.

“He’s good round those fences and we’ve got to take it seriously.”

The Jennie Candlish-trained Mint Condition stayed on best to secure top honours in the Campbell Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.

Ashtown Lad was in a clear lead jumping the final fence for the Skelton brothers, but was mowed down late by 7-2 chance Mint Condition and Henry Brooke. Bushypark was 85 lengths further behind in third.

Jungle Jack maintained his unbeaten record in the EBF ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle.

A point-to-point winner in Ireland for Colin Bowe last year, the son of Doyen made a successful debut for Donald McCain and Brian Hughes at Sedgefield in early December.

Conceding weight to all but one of his opponents, Jungle Jack dug deep to seal a half-length verdict over another point-to-point scorer in Captain Broomfield.

McCain said: “He’s still quite babyish and still doing a good bit wrong, but he’s a nice horse.

Donald McCain is enjoying an excellent season
Donald McCain is enjoying an excellent season (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I think it’s nearly better than them being impressive all the time. He’s doing a lot wrong and still getting the job done. Hopefully he’s got a nice future ahead of him.

“He’s going to jump a fence and he’s going to take time, so we’re in no hurry this season.”

The formidable McCain-Hughes combination doubled up with Forpaddytheplumber (100-30) in the concluding Raglan Open National Hunt Flat Race.

Enqarde makes no mistake in Tommy Whittle this time

Enqarde made amends for crashing out in the Virgin Bet Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase 12 months ago when returning to land the stamina test in style at Haydock.

Dr Richard Newland’s seven-year-old unseated his rider at the 13th fence in 2020 – but there was no repeat this time as Enqarde (8-1) put his rivals to the sword with a authoritative performance.

Jockey Charlie Hammond brought him into the race steadily after Calipso Collonges and Remastered had looked to be the two principals early in the home straight.

Challenging on the far side of the course, Enqarde began to pull away going to the final fence and went on to win by 10 lengths from Remastered. Calipso Collonges was four and a quarter lengths away in third place with Just Your Type fourth.

“It’s our second Tommy Whittle win and I thought a very good ride by Charlie Hammond,” said Newland.

“We’ve trained him for the race. He was running well in the race last year when he lost his rider. He’d been training well and I was hopeful of a good show, but I thought it was a competitive race in paper – I’m thrilled to bits with his performance.

“He lost his way a bit last year and I think it might be best to keep him a shade fresh and go for another good race but not rush him.

“He might go back to Haydock for the Grand National Trial. He ran in it last season so we might have another go at that. The alternative would be a race like the Midlands National at Uttoxeter. He looks like an out-and-out stayer.

“We’d consider a race like the Eider as well, but I haven’t got a clear plan yet.”

Newland completed a double when Jesuitique ran away with the Virgin Bet Fives Handicap Hurdle.

Ridden by 5lb claimer Cillin Leonard, the 11-4 joint-favourite kicked on in the straight and won unchallenged by five and a half lengths from Tokyo Getaway with Padleyorowncanoe a head away third.

“I was looking forward to running him over three miles on soft ground and he didn’t let me down. It was a very good performance,” Newland said.

“If the ground came up soft he might run in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham, but I think we’d probably have to run him somewhere before because he wouldn’t get in at the moment.”

Adrimel got back on track with a convincing display to get off the mark over fences in the Virgin Bet Novices’ Chase.

Pulled up on his chasing debut at Exeter earlier this month, Tom Lacey’s six-year-old was helped by the application of first-time blinkers as he returned to the promise he showed as a hurdler in the first half of last term.

Jumping well throughout, Adrimel (7-2) pulled clear of the favourite Dreams Of Home from the third-last fence to win by 15 lengths in the hands of Stan Sheppard.

Lacey said: “Exeter was completely my fault, the ground wasn’t to suit. We schooled him over a mile and a half on the grass and he went with such enthusiasm that we thought we wouldn’t even bother with cheekpieces, but it backfired on me and he’s a horse that we wouldn’t ever considering running again without headgear.

“I don’t think he’s an ungenuine horse at all, he’s just one of those horses who goes around with his head elsewhere and again at Exeter I was probably guilty of not doing enough sharp work with him before hand to engage his brain. I let the horse down at Exeter as much he let me down.

“He’s more ground dependent that trip, but it was really important that we got through today before thinking of anything else. Warwick is an option for the Kingmaker, but I’m sure there are other options for him as well.”

Haute Estime (11-1), ridden by Derek Fox, held on in a desperate finish to take Listed honours for Lucinda Russell in the Virgin Bet Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Haute Estime and long-time leader Current Mood looked to have the race between them, having pulled several lengths clear of the pack at the final flight.

However, Nina The Terrier, the 11-10 favourite finished with a flourish and got within a half a length of the winner at the line to finish runner-up, a nose ahead of Current Mood.

Peter Scudamore, Russell’s assistant and partner, said: “We’ve always been very fond of her, but trainers say that sort of thing when they’ve won!

“We have Paul McIvor to thank who does our form for us, he told us to run her here and we have to thank Derek too who gave her an unbelievable ride.

“He’s riding better than ever now and I’m very glad that he doesn’t get too many outside rides because he’s priceless for us – I’ve rarely seen a better man on a horse, he’s a bit like me in that he’s not the most stylish but effective!”

Festival winner Vintage Clouds back at favourite hunting ground

Sue Smith reports Vintage Clouds to be in tip-top shape ahead of his return to Haydock for the Virgin Bet Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase on Saturday.

The 11-year-old grey won the Ultima Handicap Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival – a race he had been placed in twice previously.

Vintage Clouds could finish only fifth of six runners on his seasonal reappearance at Kelso and was again down the field at Warwick last month, but Smith has been pleased with her stable stalwart since.

“He goes to Haydock. He seems in very good form with himself. He schooled on Wednesday morning and he jumped very well. We’re looking forward to it,” said the Bingley-based trainer.

“I hope the ground doesn’t get any heavier, which I don’t think it will.”

Vintage Clouds has an excellent record at Haydock, with his three course victories including a dominant display in last year’s Peter Marsh Chase.

In 12 previous visits to the Merseyside venue, the veteran has won or been placed on 10 occasions. He was third, albeit beaten a long way, in the Tommy Whittle in 2019.

Smith added: “With a bit if luck all will be well. He’s got a lot of weight, but he likes Haydock.”

The likely favourite is David Pipe’s Remastered, who was bang in contention when suffering a heavy fall four fences from home in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury three weeks ago.

“It was a horrible fall and he had a lot of treatment afterwards, but thankfully he came out of it in good order and this is the right race to go for,” said Pipe.

Remastered in action at Ascot
Remastered in action at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He can take a lead or make the running, he’s versatile like that, so hopefully he can run well.

“The encouraging thing at Newbury was how he handled the better ground, but we know he handles soft.”

A summer wind operation appeared to have the desired effect for Olly Murphy’s Calipso Collonges judged on his successful return to action at Kelso.

The nine-year-old also has a Haydock victory on his CV and was runner-up to Lord Du Mesnil in the Tommy Whittle two years ago.

“I’m very happy with him. He’s been very well since his last win. Hopefully that will have done his confidence a world of good,” said Murphy.

“He stays well, handles soft ground and fingers crossed, he’ll run well.”

Anthony Honeyball is hoping the high-class Acey Milan puts his best foot forward.

Acey Milan (right) in winning action at Plumpton
Acey Milan (right) in winning action at Plumpton (Andrew Matthews/PA)

He said: “He seems in good health and he obviously has some very good form – finishing fourth in a Champion Bumper and second in a £100,000 hurdle at Haydock.

“He had his excuses and needed it a bit at Ffos Las first time out this season.

“You can’t discount him. He’s been a bit below his best of late, but I think we’ve got him about right and it’s worth a go at a pot like this as he is a quality horse.”

Dr Richard Newland saddles Enqarde, and said: “He was running a nice race in the race last year when he unseated, so we thought we would have a go with him again.

“If all goes to plan, he should run a nice race and you’d expect him to have come on a bit for Exeter, as that was his first run for a while.”

When the mud is flying Venetia Williams is usually worth following and she runs bottom weight Fuji Flight.

“He is off a light weight and it is a big step up in class for him,” she said.

“The form of his lower grade third at Lingfield has worked out quite well, which is what encouraged me to have a go at a better race off a light weight. The soft ground would be helpful to slow the pace for him.”

Moffatt excited by Moonlight Spirit’s potential

Jimmy Moffat believes Moonlight Spirit has earned a step up in class after the former Godolphin-owned five-year-old scored on his stable debut at Carlisle on Sunday.

The son of Dubawi, a French Group Two winner on the Flat for Charlie Appleby, is the brother of Alqamar, who won four consecutive hurdles races for Moffat over the summer.

Moffat paid £75,000 for Moonlight Spirit at the Goffs UK Spring Horses In Training sale in May and he has started to repay some of his price tag with a three-length success on his first start over hurdles.

The Cartmel-based handler, who tasted plenty of success with the likes of Aintree specialist Highland Lodge and Grade One-winning hurdler Chief Dan George, sees plenty of potential in Moonlight Spirit.

Moffat said: “We bought his full brother, Alqamar, at the September Sales in 2020. He took to jumping very well and won four on the bounce – a maiden, novice and two decent handicaps – so with that background, Godolphin bloodstock sales manager Marie Sullivan rang me and said they had his full brother going to the sales.

“Obviously I was interested, given the attitude of the other horse. He is a bigger model than Alqamar, but his last four runs on the Flat disappointed Godolphin.

“Yet when he ran in the Ascot Gold Cup last year, which Stradivarius won, he was upsides, albeit off the bridle, a furlong and a half from home.

“So, I thought, ‘that bodes well for a maiden hurdle’.

“He was slightly slow to pick up the ball jumping hurdles. That was why we were taking a little longer to get to the point where we were ready to run.

“I feel he was about 80 per cent fit on Sunday, he still had quite a round tummy on him and maybe was a few kilos overweight.

“We were concentrating on his jumping and it was an education that, if all went well, he would run very well – which he did. His work is not flashy, but he is very laid back at home.

“You can only beat what is in front of you and I thought the second horse (Fabuleaux De Clos), who was not far behind Ahoy Senor in an Ayr bumper, was pretty strong and the third (Roxanya) had run well twice up to about a 120-rating, so I’m happy enough and hopefully he will go on to better things.

“We are toying with the Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock on January 22. It will all be down to his jumping and whether he can learn from that experience. That might be an interesting race for him.

“We have always felt that if you do have a good horse, don’t be shining your light under a bushel.

“But we’d be just as happy about going in another one at a lower level with a penalty, as Charlotte Jones takes 5lb off.

“Chief Dan George and Highland Lodge were really the top horses we have had, but while you always want to keep your feet on the ground with a nice horse, at the same time, this horse is the apple of our eye.”

Blaklion jumps rivals into submission at Haydock

Blaklion rolled back the years with a tremendous front-running display in the Jewson Altrincham Veterans’ Handicap Chase at Haydock.

The 12-year-old, who won the RSA Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, had not managed to get his head in front since winning the Becher Chase over Aintree’s Grand National fences almost four years ago.

Results have been largely disappointing since being snapped up by owner Darren Yates in 2019 and joining Dan Skelton, although he did manage to finish sixth in the Grand National itself last spring.

With a comeback run at Bangor three weeks ago blowing away any cobwebs, Blaklion was a 3-1 shot for his latest assignment and jumped impeccably in front under champion jockey Harry Skelton.

Another name familiar to jumps fans, the Venetia Williams-trained Aso, looked a big danger after jumping the final fence, but the leader dug deep and had almost four lengths in hand at the line.

Harry Skelton said: “That was great today. The horse is a credit to himself really and for older horses to have the opportunity to run in races like this is fantastic.

“He gave me a great ride and the horse deserves it. At home he shows all that old enthusiasm and it’s great for Darren and Annaley (owner’s wife) – they put a lot in and they’ve had a fantastic day.

“It’s just brilliant and what National Hunt racing is all about.”

A Different Kind (7-4) made it four from four since joining Donald McCain in the preceding Oakmere Homes “Introductory” Hurdle.

Runner-up on his sole start in the Irish point-to-point field, the four-year-old had since won two bumpers and a novice hurdle at Sedgefield.

The son of Doyen was not even favourite to beat two rivals on Merseyside, but knuckled down for Brian Hughes to give weight and a one-length beating to 8-11 shot Green Book.

“He has just done everything we wanted him to do. Maybe he didn’t love the ground but he is just good at his job,” said McCain.

“We will have a look at the Rossington Main (at Haydock in January). We can certainly have a look, as he has not been beaten yet. There is no reason why we can’t consider races like that, we’ll just see what the ground is in the meantime.

“It was a difficult sort of race to ride today – we didn’t quite know what to do for the best on what was bad ground. They had previously run two three-mile hurdle races on it, so Brian kept him out of trouble and he’s picked up and done really well.”

Southwell and Haydock upbeat despite calling inspections

Officials at Southwell and Haydock are optimistic about their chances of racing despite calling inspections ahead of their fixtures.

Southwell’s meeting on Tuesday needs to survive a 7.30am check on raceday, while Haydock’s meeting on Wednesday is subject to a 2pm inspection on Tuesday.

Clerk of the course at Southwell, Paul Barker, said: “We’re very optimistic of racing and if the forecast is correct, we don’t envisage any problems.

“We got down to -2C Saturday into Sunday, the frost came out yesterday but we’re below freezing again now (10am Monday). It’s going to get gradually warmer throughout the day, possibly up to 6C this evening, so we’re just making people aware.”

Haydock is currently covered in a light frost and a dusting of snow, but a thaw is set to kick in on Monday afternoon.

As conditions are currently unraceable an inspection was called before declarations, but with temperatures due to rise to 10C on Tuesday, clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright is also upbeat.

“If you are at any stage unfit (to race) you are obliged to call an inspection, so it is for that purpose,” said Tellwright.

“In the context of the forecast we are pretty optimistic. We are not fit at the moment, but a thaw is to start this afternoon.

“We have a couple of days for it to sort itself out and the frost is not very deep in the ground.”