Hillcrest will not run again this season after the 9-4 favourite failed to fire in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The towering seven-year-old was unbeaten in each of his completed starts over hurdles for Henry Daly and had won at the track previously, scoring on New Year’s Day.
Yet one of the leading British hopes for success in a week dominated by Irish-trained horses could not muster a blow in the three-mile Grade One event, won by Willie Mullins-trained The Nice Guy.
Having made a slow start under Richard Patrick, Hillcrest was never happy on the tacky ground and was pulled up on the second circuit.
Daly is still searching for answers and is now looking ahead to next season when he will go novice chasing.
“I’d stop worrying,” said Daly. “He is fine. We are going to take some bloods on Monday and run some tests on him.
“But the plan is to school him over fences while the ground is nice at home and them turn him away for the summer.
“I’m afraid we have found nothing as yet.
“I don’t know what happened. He was never travelling, he never entered the contest and I can’t explain it.
“It was one of those days, maybe he woke up with a headache!
“There is nothing apparent. He just didn’t seem to travel, but he will school over fences and go that route now. That is the plan at the moment.”
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Archie Watson, who is more accustomed to training winners on the Flat, rolls the dice with Stag Horn in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday.
The Lambourn handler has a 29 per cent strike-rate over jumps this winter and Stag Horn has won both his starts over hurdles, at Hereford and in Grade Two company at Warwick.
Now he takes on the Irish battalion in the three-mile Grade One with the five-year-old, who is bred to win a Derby, being by Golden Horn out of a Galileo mare.
“It was probably last summer that the idea of hurdling came about,” said Watson. “It became apparent at Pontefract the previous October that he wanted a trip.
“He ran in the Queen Alexandra at Royal Ascot which really suited him and he finished fourth.
“Speaking to his owners, they were very happy to give it a go over hurdles to see if he could be a high-class animal over an obstacle and so far it has been amazing really.
“We sent him down to Henrietta Knight’s and she did all the preliminary jumping with him. She loved him. He took to it very naturally, which isn’t particularly usual for a Flat horse going hurdling.
“I’ve always felt Stag Horn wants three miles, so hopefully he will take another step forward upped in trip in the Albert Bartlett. If he jumps as well as we know he can, I hope he can put a bit of pressure on the others.”
John O’Connell runs both Bardenstown Lad, who has won four of his last five over hurdles, and Mahler Mission, who landed the Grade Two River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster last time.
Both horses are on a hat-trick for the County Meath handler, who said: “Bardenstown Lad is going there in great form and obviously he is a fresh horse. He hasn’t had a hard winter campaign.
“It is a very open race and you will need a lot of luck in running, but we couldn’t be happier with him.
“The other horse, Mahler Mission, isn’t out of it, either. He is rated 1lb higher than Bardenstown, having won the River Don. We have two chances who deserve to be there.”
Bardenstown Lad won a novice hurdle over course and distance in October and has had just one run since, taking a three-runner affair at Musselburgh early last month.
“Bardenstown winning at Cheltenham is a big factor,” added O’Connell. “That was one of the reasons we took him there, as we wanted to give him some course experience as we have always had this race in mind for him. I wouldn’t swap him in the race, anyway.
“Mahler has bundles of stamina and that is what you need for this race, so he will be interesting as well.”
Henry Daly took a while before making a decision on whether Hillcrest would line up in the shorter Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle or this three-mile contest.
The towering seven-year-old, who is the highest-rated British runner, won a extended three-mile Grade Two at Haydock last time.
Daly said: “It was fairly obvious after his win at Haydock that he got the three miles, so he should get the same trip at Cheltenham.
“He’s won over two and a half there, but this looked like the obvious race.
“He is in good form and schooled well last week. It is a tough race but it is a Grade One, so deserves to be.”
The Gordon Elliott-trained Ginto is well fancied, having won all three of his starts over hurdles including a Grade One at Naas last time.
The Irish challenge is a strong one, with Willie Mullins saddling a quartet, who include Minella Cocooner, the mount of Paul Townend, and The Nice Guy, who will be ridden for the first time by Sean O’Keeffe.
Seven-year-old The Nice Guy has won two bumpers and scored on his first run over hurdles with ease at Naas last time.
Mullins said: “He’s a horse that’s surprised me. At home I couldn’t get that type of feeling that he could win one bumper, never mind two, and then win a hurdle very easily.
“He’s not a big, strong, three-mile chaser to look at, but the way he jumps, I think he’s going to be a nice chaser. I’m very happy with his progress.”
Imperial Cup winner Suprise Package, who barely turned a hair when scoring by nine lengths at Sandown on Saturday, carries 5lb extra in another hugely competitive renewal of the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle.
Kevin Sexton renews the partnership with the Paul Leech-owned six-year-old, with James Bowen having deputised last weekend.
His trainer, Peter Fahey, said: “He is in great form and seems to have come out of the race really well. Nicola, who looks after him, is very happy with him.
“He did the job really well and it was a great performance on the day, but this looks a tougher race – although I wouldn’t be swapping him for anything!”
While there is no bonus for the Imperial Cup winner should he follow up in any race at Cheltenham this year, Brian Ellison hopes Cormier can strike for the north and pick up £100,000 cheque after scoring in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso 13 days ago.
“He’s in good form and he has taken his last run well,” said Ellison.
“He likes the course and won there in January, so is well worthy of his place.
“He has to run because of that hundred-grand bonus, doesn’t he? He has schooled well and we’re looking forward to it.”
The unexposed State Man, who fell two out on his debut for Mullins at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, but bounced back to score by a wide margin at Limerick, tops the market.
Top Bandit, who took a course and distance maiden in October and is seeking a fourth consecutive success, heads a strong team for Elliott, while the British challenge is spearheaded by Greatwood Handicap Hurdle winner West Cork, trained by Dan Skelton, and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ I Like To Move It, who won over course and distance in November.
Runner-up in the Grade Two Kennel Gate at Ascot, Colonel Mustard represents Lorna Fowler, who felt he had a hard race when subsequently third to Sir Gerhard in a Grade One at Leopardstown last month.
“He tried so hard,” said Fowler. “The way he has matured this season has been unbelievable. He just gave it everything on ground he didn’t really like.
“He was quite tired afterwards, so we gave him plenty of time to recover and he seems to have come back to himself really well.
“Hopefully he will be going there on his A Game. There are plenty to beat, but we will have a go, anyway. I hope he would have every chance.”
Henry Daly has given Hillcrest the green light to run in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham next week.
The giant seven-year-old is unbeaten over hurdles when he has completed and had been towards the head of the betting for the three-mile event even before Minella Crooner’s withdrawal on Wednesday.
Daly had been weighing up his options with Aintree also in the mix but following some extensive schooling this week he is now happy to seek a first Grade One success since Mighty Man’s Long Walk Hurdle in 2006.
“We came to the conclusion that if the horse is well, which I think he is, the plan is to run in the Albert Bartlett,” Daly told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast.
“We know we get the trip, we know we don’t mind the track, the ground is fine from anything from good through to heavy so why wouldn’t we have a crack if he’s OK, which he is.
“I rang Yogi Breisner (jumping guru) after Haydock and asked if he’d watched the race, which he had. He said his back end overtakes his front end so if we could help that a bit it wouldn’t hurt.
“We schooled him Tuesday morning having been to Laura Collett’s a couple of times, with Yogi there and Laura riding and we schooled him yesterday and he went nicely.
“I think he will miss one – I can’t get over that – but if we can only miss one and not three that will be a bonus.”
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Exciting novice hurdler Hillcrest has been pleasing connections in additional schooling sessions with Olympic gold medallist Laura Collett.
The towering Hillcrest, who sports the colours of the late Trevor Hemmings, landed the Grade Two Prestige Novices’ Hurdle on his last outing at Haydock, having previously lost his unbeaten record when unseating Richard Patrick after being hampered by a faller in the Classic Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The seven-year-old is entered in both the two-mile-five-furlong Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett over three miles at next week’s Cheltenham Festival, with trainer Henry Daly admitting the shorter race is all but ruled out.
While the handler is uncertain as to whether Hillcrest will turn up at Prestbury Park at all, having run – and won – on February 19, he has been pleased that the additional schooling sessions with top eventer Collett have given him more experience.
Hillcrest schooled well at Downton Stables on Tuesday under Patrick, and Daly said: “He is fine. It was a good session.
“He did some schooling at Laura’s last week and the week before. Whether it has helped his jumping or not, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. But he schooled nicely yesterday and we are very happy with him.”
The Shropshire trainer is keeping his options open before deciding which option Hillcrest will take up.
He added: “We haven’t decided yet. More likely it will be Albert Bartlett, if we go there. Cheltenham, as I’ve said, isn’t the be-all and end-all with this horse. If not, it will be Aintree (Sefton Novices’ Hurdle), we just haven’t made that decision.
“Whichever race, whatever the trip, it is like all those things, it is a championship race and none of them are easy.
“We will make a decision towards the end of the week. I will have a chat with Mick (Meagher, racing manager) and see how we go.”
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Connections of Hillcrest will leave it late before deciding on whether to run at the Cheltenham Festival.
The seven-year-old is entered in both the two-mile-five-furlong Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett over three miles, with trainer Henry Daly admitting the shorter race is all but ruled out.
However, the handler is uncertain as to whether Hillcrest, who sports the colours of the late Trevor Hemmings, will turn up at Prestbury Park at all, having run – and won- at Haydock on February 19.
Daly said: “I’m very undecided and it very much depends on how he is in the next couple of weeks.
“Me and Mick (Meagher, racing manager) were talking about it this morning and I’d be amazed if he ran in the Ballymore – I can’t see that happening.
“He ran at Haydock in heavy ground the other day, which so wasn’t the plan, but it worked out pretty well in the end. He ran there because of the whoopsie here on Festival Trials Day.
“I just think there’s no point in getting hamstrung and saying we’re going to come here, as I’m very conscious of people that have ante-post vouchers and that sort of thing.
“We’ve given him a bit of time off since and a bit of a quiet time. He will continue to fiddle around this week and we’ll do a bit of work, but he’s very straightforward and has come out of the Haydock race absolutely fine.
“It was only 10 days ago that he ran in the Prestige and that’s really the issue. He was very impressive and did some remarkable times, but I’m very conscious of the fact that it really isn’t about hurdling with this horse – he’s about next season and novice chasing.
“I’m thinking about that bit rather than this bit. Obviously, to win a race at the Cheltenham Festival with him would be fantastic, but there’s no guarantee in that and he could always go to Aintree and run there in the Sefton.
“I’m just trying to keep all our options open.”
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Henry Daly is keen to find out more about Hillcrest in Saturday’s Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock.
The seven-year-old was unbeaten in his first three novice hurdles this season, including a Listed Cheltenham race, before taking in a Grade Two back at Prestbury Park last month.
However, his unbeaten record went up in smoke when he was hampered by a faller and unseated Richard Patrick.
None the worse for the experience, Daly’s gelding has been in fine fettle at home and is poised for another tilt at Grade Two glory on Merseyside.
“He’s in good order, we’re very happy with him – I just hope it’s on!” the trainer said.
“He was absolutely fine after Cheltenham, it made no difference to him whatsoever, in fact I think he cared far less than everybody else.
“It didn’t bother him in the slightest, it was just one of those things.”
The extended three-mile contest is a step up in trip for Hillcrest and his performance could inform the decision as to where he heads next, with the Stowaway gelding holding entries for both the Ballymore and the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival.
“This is our plan and we’ll see what we want to do next,” Daly said.
“Cheltenham, as I’ve said, isn’t the be-all and end-all with this horse.
“We might end up at Aintree, we’ll see. I think it’s very important for us to just wait and see what happens at the weekend. I just hope it’s on so we can get a bit more information on him.”
Chief among Hillcrest’s rivals is Venetia Williams’ Green Book, a winner at Sandown in early February.
Anglers Crag also comes into the race in winning form having scored at Leicester on his last outing for David Pipe.
Pipe said: “It was a good performance at Leicester and he will have come on for that. We are stepping him up to three miles, so it will be interesting to see how he gets on.
“He came over from Ireland and he had some good bumper form, finishing third behind Sir Gerhard.
“He had to have a wind operation so we have been playing catch up a bit. He is entered at Cheltenham in both the Ballymore and Albert Bartlett, but he would have to probably win on Saturday to warrant going there for one of those races.”
Crystal Glory (Nicky Richards), High Stakes (Warren Greatrex), Readysteadybeau (Lucinda Russell) and Scipion (Tom Lacey) complete the field of seven.
Earlier in the afternoon, Gary Moore’s Porticello will be a hot favourite for the William Hill Super Odds Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle.
It will be a similar story in the Pertemps Network Walrus Open Hunters’ Chase, with David Maxwell’s Irish Champion Hunter Chase winner Bob And Co kicking off his season in a race he won 12 months ago.
Trained by Paul Nicholls, he unseated Sean Bowen when travelling well at Cheltenham last season and is in line for a return to Prestbury Park after his Haydock comeback.
“He enjoyed a highly rewarding campaign last season which included a tremendous victory at Punchestown, ridden by his enthusiastic owner David Maxwell,” Nicholls told Betfair.
“Bob And Co also won this race a year ago and it again looks a suitable prep race for him before the Hunters’ Chase at Cheltenham.
“While he has done plenty at home, I’ve left enough to work on to fine-tune him for that race.”
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Crack novice hurdler Hillcrest could head to the Prestige Hurdle at Haydock after Saturday’s unfortunate mishap at Cheltenham.
Henry Daly’s seven-year-old went into the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on the back of a three-race unbeaten run.
However, at the third flight in the Grade Two contest, the odds-on favourite was forced to shimmy to avoid faller Harper’s Brook and prone jockey Kielan Woods. Hillcrest’s rider, Richard Patrick, was unbalanced and exited out the side door.
The Stanton Lacy handler is now mulling over options for the huge Hillcrest, who is 16-1 with Coral for both the two-mile-and-five-furlong Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and the three-mile Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
However, the Exors Of The Late Trevor Hemmings-owned gelding are in a quandary, with few suitable opportunities open to them.
Daly said: “If only I knew what the plan was! He is absolutely fine. Mick Meagher, Trevor Hemmings’ racing manger, and I have been mulling this over, as you can imagine.
“The opportunity of the Prestige Hurdle on February 19, which is about the only race he can run in now, is a possible option.
“It is one of those things. It really isn’t foremost in our minds – it is just that it is there.
“The trouble is, he has learned nothing and we have learned nothing. The whole point of novice hurdles is to teach them their job.
“Of course, you have missed an opportunity of teaching him his job a bit more.
“But I’m really not sure about Haydock. That is the only race if we wanted to run somewhere, but I’m not sure if that’s what we are going to do.
“We will take a view and see how we get on. Saturday was just one of those things. It was very frustrating what happened, but we have to move on and do something else.”
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North Lodge is unbeaten in two runs after triumphing in a dramatic renewal of the Grade Two Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The race was incident-strewn from the off, with hurdles missed out due to the low sun and Harpers Brook coming down early on and hampering Henry Daly’s 4-5 favourite Hillcrest, who jinked and unseated Richard Patrick.
Joined by Nicky Henderson’s Balco Coastal up the hill, the Alan King-trained North Lodge then drifted across the track on the run to the line, slightly impeding the Seven Barrows runner, who was eventually beaten by two and a half lengths.
After a stewards’ inquiry the placings remained unaltered and King’s 7-1 chance added a Cheltenham success to his prior hurdle win at Aintree in early December.
King said: “I hoped he’d run very well, but I thought whatever he did he’d improve again.
“Ideally I’d have liked to have gone a slightly lower route with him, but we had a little chat midweek and decided we’d be brave and come and have a look and see.
“I always felt a step up in trip would suit. Aintree, over two miles, I thought would be sharp enough.
“I think he’s fairly adaptable ground-wise. I had his full-brother years ago, Winter Escape, who was smart as a young horse.
“I thought he jumped well. The hurdles being taken out was actually a hindrance as he got a bit green going round them. It probably confused him a little bit.
“I don’t know about the Festival. I just said to the boys (owners) let’s enjoy today and chat about it next week.
“I think potentially he’s a very good horse and we’ve just got to do it right. Whether he wants to come to Cheltenham this year, I’m not sure.”
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Hillcrest is “going to be a very hard horse to beat” in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday, according to Nicky Henderson.
The Seven Barrows handler saddles Balco Coastal, who is in receipt of 5lb – but Henderson insists Henry Daly’s seven-year-old is the one to aim at in the six-runner field for the extended two-and-a-half-mile test.
Balco Coastal has won two novice hurdles this term – both over two miles, at Huntingdon and Ludlow – but is pitched into Grade Two company for the first time in the race registered as the Classic Novices’ Hurdle.
“He is taking a bit of a jump, but his form is very respectable,” said Henderson.
“He has beaten two horses (Extraordinary Man and Frere D’Armes) and beaten them well, but they have both come out and won well subsequently.
“Yes, it is a big step into a Grade Two. I was thinking that Henry Daly was going to go to Doncaster over three miles for the River Don, but I can see why he has changed his mind.”
He went on: “Hillcrest is going to be a very hard horse to beat. We know what he is, because I Am Maximus (trained by Henderson) jumped the last with him last time, but we are going to have another crack with a horse I like a lot.
“Balco Coastal does everything well. He has so far, anyway, so here we go. He is an improving young horse and he needs this test – and he is ready for it.”
Hillcrest has won three novice hurdles this term and is proven over course and distance, having landed the Listed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle by two lengths from I Am Maximus on New Year’s Day.
Daly is hopeful that he can deliver again but has slight concerns about the drying ground.
He said: “I hope he has a favourite’s chance. Obviously, I would like the ground to be a little bit softer from a safety angle for want of a better way of putting it.
“But he has won his bumper on ground at Wetherby which they said was good to soft, but it wasn’t, so I’m not particularly alarmed by the ground.
“It is a tough race, but that’s how it should be.”
A Different Kind comes into this with an unblemished record, having backed up two bumper wins with a trio of successes over hurdles for Donald McCain.
However, the Dene Rowe-owned five-year-old is taking a big step up in class following his 11-length win at Catterick last time out.
“He had to go up in grade at some point and the ground won’t bother him,” insisted McCain.
“Obviously, I have huge respect for Hillcrest, but it is time we stepped up and see where we are, because what happens now will tell us where we are going for the rest of the year.
“It is a Grade Two, and Hillcrest is the obvious one to beat, but when you go there with a horse who has won five out of five, we have to go and take a punt somewhere.”
North Lodge, who scored at Aintree on his hurdling bow for Alan King, and Picanha, who took a Warwick maiden hurdle for Richard Phillips, are similarly last-time-out winners in the line-up.
The only one of the sextet who did not register a win last time is Harpers Brook, who finished fourth in a Grade Two contest over two and a half miles at Sandown.
His trainer, Ben Pauling, said: “He had form with Hillcrest in a Wetherby bumper last year but he wasn’t right at all after the race and he had a dirty scope.
“I was obviously thrilled with him at Carlisle on his seasonal return, and then a bit underwhelmed with him at Sandown – I just don’t think he was right on the day, but I don’t know quite why.
“We think a lot of him and hope he is a really smart horse for the future.
“I think he would be better on the wetter ground, but he is not going to get that. As long as it is safe, we’ll have a look.”
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Connections of the huge Hillcrest are eyeing either a return to Cheltenham for the Classic Novices’ Hurdle on Trials Day on January 29 or the River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster on the same day for his next run.
Having made light work of his opposition in a Listed contest at the Prestbury Park track on New Year’s Day, trainer Henry Daly is conscious that he does not ask too much of the seven-year-old, who is unbeaten in three novice hurdles this season.
The massive horse – nicknamed Rodney – earned Cheltenham Festival quotes after seeing off Nicky Henderson’s highly-touted I Am Maximus in the extended two-and-a-half-mile Listed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
“Hillcrest is absolutely fine after the race – no problem at all,” said Daly. “What he is going to do next is a very leading question.
“There is an ongoing debate as to what the next plan is. There is the race at Cheltenham on the 29th, similar to the race he ran in the other day, a two-and-a-half-mile Listed race. There is also the same race on the same day – the River Don, a three-mile novice hurdle.
“Quite honestly, it is a bit of a toss-up and there is also the possibility of not running in either of those races.
“He wants nice ground. Good to soft would be fine. He won his bumper in good to soft at Doncaster and handles it perfectly well. It is not an issue. It was the same at Aintree first time this year.
“He is a big boy and like most of those, they don’t take a whole lot of hammer, so we are very conscious of that and we are trying to do the best thing without making a balls of it, really. Such is a trainer’s lot!”
Hillcrest, who runs in the colours of the late British billionaire Trevor Hemmings, stands at 18 hands (around 6ft to the shoulder), and barely came out of a canter at Cheltenham last time.
That win earned him quotes of 16-1 for both the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle with Coral but Daly says he is not leaning one way or the other.
He admitted: “I keep being told to think ‘Cheltenham’ for him. It is an interesting conundrum, being told to think things.
“It is pretty obvious the Festival has to be on the radar, doesn’t it? But it is not the be-all and end-all.
“When you start leaning, you tend to fall. Therefore it is better to be vertical and keep it that way.”
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Henry Daly has credited the patience of the late Trevor Hemmings after Hillcrest’s impressive success at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
The seven-year-old was an eyecatching winner of the Listed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, strolling around Prestbury Park to beat Nicky Henderson’s I Am Maximus by two lengths.
The victory was a fourth consecutive win for the gelding, who was narrowly denied success on his racecourse debut when beaten by just a nose in a Doncaster bumper but has since won a Wetherby bumper and three times over hurdles.
“He’s done nothing but please us, if they all ran five times and won four, you’d be quite pleased,” said Daly.
“He’s going along nicely. We hope he’s a good horse and we’re beginning to find out, aren’t we?”
Daly was pleased to see the gelding take well to the Cheltenham hill and felt he was not particularly hard pushed in claiming his first success at Listed level.
“It was interesting (to see him take to Cheltenham), more so than a relief. It’s always interesting find out if a horse can go on an undulating track and he obviously does.
“I don’t think he had a particularly hard race, getting there to win, he found it relatively easy.”
Hillcrest is owned by Exors of the late Hemmings and due to his towering build he has required more time to develop than a comparatively compact type of horse.
Hemmings was willing to allow him to mature physically and it is that patience that Daly believes will prove essential to the gelding developing into the archetypal chaser the businessman became associated with throughout his long connection with National Hunt racing.
“He’s all of those things in spades and it’s very lucky that someone like Trevor owned him because he has given him the time necessary to get to where we’ve got so far,” the trainer said.
“It’s undoubtedly been crucial to him, it obviously helps now that’s he’s mature enough to do what he’s doing. He’s not complicated, he just needed that time.”
Hemmings’ racing interests are still overseen by his racing manager Mick Meagher, someone Daly will have a conversation with before Hillcrest’s next steps are planned.
“We’ll see how we go from here, I’ll speak to Mick Meagher and we’ll see what we do next,” he said.
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/2.64554510-scaled.jpg12802560Geegeez Newshttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngGeegeez News2022-01-04 10:22:012022-01-04 10:22:01Hillcrest profiting from Hemmings’ patience
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