Tag Archive for: Hughie Morrison

Hughie Morrison sends Not So Sleepy straight to Champion Hurdle

Not So Sleepy is set to go straight for the Unibet Champion Hurdle after putting in a disappointing performance on his latest start.

Hughie Morrison’s enigmatic 10-year-old was last of five to Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton after dead-heating for first place with the Nicky Henderson-trained mare in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on his previous start.

Not So Sleepy was a creditable fifth behind Honeysuckle in the 2021 Champion Hurdle and after his Newcastle success, Morrison feels Grade Ones is now where the horse belongs.

“He’s very well. He obviously didn’t fancy Kempton that day, which he’s entitled to do after 55 races. He’s old enough to look after himself,” said the East Ilsley handler.

Trainer Hughie Morrison
Trainer Hughie Morrison (Julian Herbert/PA)

“Now he’s a Grade One winner there’s little point in going for anything else other than a Grade One, but as he gets older he runs best fresh. He’ll go for the Champion Hurdle and we’ll hope he can run into a place. He’ll go straight there – he won’t run before.”

Morrison is looking forward to sending Filanderer novice hurdling next season after the gelding made a winning debut in a bumper at Warwick on New Year’s Eve.

The six-year-old, owned and bred by Morrison’s wife, Mary, made the long wait for his racecourse introduction worthwhile when beating Samurai One by a length and a quarter.

Morrison remains in no rush with the son of Kayf Tara and is likely to run him in just one more bumper before putting him away until the autumn.

Filanderer is bred for the job as his dam, Flirtatious, is a half-sister to both 2002 Champion Hurdle runner-up Marble Arch and Tom Paddington, who was a three-time winner over hurdles and was fifth in the 2003 Cesarewitch.

Morrison said: “I’ve left him alone. I think they all put a lot into these bumpers on this ground. He came back in good shape but he looked quite tired, if nothing else.

“We’ll see where we go. I’ll probably give him one more run this season and then look to go novice hurdling next autumn.

“He’s taken a long time to come right. Now he’s right, let’s hope we can keep him right. He’s obviously got ability and he’s got a nice full-sister for next season. That’s something to look forward to.”

Morrison wants rain to aid Not So Sleepy’s Kempton bid

Hughie Morrison is keeping his fingers crossed for a rainy Christmas Day ahead of Not So Sleepy’s outing in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day.

The nine-year-old posted a career best effort when dead-heating with Epatante to share Grade One glory in last month’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

That race was run in testing conditions with snow falling throughout the day, but Kempton is expected to provide a different examination with the ground currently described as good, with rain forecast before the race.

Epatante (left) and Not So Sleepy (second right) shared the Fighting Fifth honours
Epatante (left) and Not So Sleepy (second right) shared the Fighting Fifth honours (Tim Goode/PA)

Morrison said: “It’s the only real option for him now that he has won a Grade One. We are a bit reticent about the ground as we would like plenty of rain, but we have what we have got.

“He had a hard race at Newcastle and he has not had that hard a race for a while, but then I think everything did as you saw the third (Sceau Royal) run two weeks later and he didn’t run any sort of race.

“He seems in good order though and we are looking forward to it, but I just hope they have a very wet Christmas Day there.

“The ground is far more critical than the track as soft ground just takes a bit of the edge off the other horse’s speed.”

Tritonic was a winner at Ascot last Saturday
Tritonic was a winner at Ascot last Saturday (Nigel French/PA)

Six remain in contention for the Christmas Hurdle, with last weekend’s Ascot winner Tritonic set to make a swift reappearance, while Soaring Glory would be seeking redemption after a disappointing effort at Newbury last time.

Morrison has full respect for that pair, along with the reopposing Epatante.

He added: “Epatante on better ground will be difficult to beat, especially with her mares’ allowance.

“Tritonic is improving though and he is looking back to being the horse that won the Haynes, Hanson and Clark conditions race at Newbury as a two-year-old judging by his last display at Ascot.

Soaring Glory (centre) disappointed at Newbury recently
Soaring Glory (centre) disappointed at Newbury recently (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Soaring Glory disappointed last time at Newbury but he looked very good previously at Ascot and you don’t win a Betfair Hurdle if you are not a good horse.

“We are looking forward to it but if he doesn’t turn up for whatever reason and gets beat, we will have to take it on the chin.”

Goshen and Glory And Fortune are the other two possibles ahead of Thursday’s final declaration stage.

Monday Musings: Of Hughie’s Fighting Fifty-Fourth…

They could have done a better job of it. After all, the two ITV racing presenters, Ed Chamberlin and Francesca Cumani, on Saturday sitting in their studio at Newbury and principally watching the Ladbrokes (morally the Hennessy) Trophy Chase did have some high-grade professional help, writes Tony Stafford.

You would have thought Ruby Walsh, normally the best race reader among television pundits who knows exactly where every rider and horse are throughout every race, jumps or flat, and Sir Anthony McCoy would have known better.

Their preamble to the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at snowy, windy Newcastle was restricted by its proximity to Newbury’s feature, but A P found plenty of time to laud former Champion Hurdler Epatante and, after the thrilling finish, praise Nicky Henderson for getting her back in top shape.

It was a fan club all round rather than an objective appraisal and they got half their wish, Epatante clinging on for a share of the £88k combined first and second prizes. I’ll come to her co-star in a moment, after saying there was plenty of mention in the short time available beforehand for Paul Nicholls’ second favourite Monmiral, evergreen Sceau Royal, and the striking grey, Silver Streak.

One name missing from their deliberations was that of Not So Sleepy, making his return to jumping following an unplaced effort at Aintree after a much better fifth in last year’s Champion Hurdle, two places and just over three lengths behind Epatante but ahead of Silver Streak.

As such, these were the first three home-trained finishers in Honeysuckle’s first Champion Hurdle and, Buzz apart if he takes the shorter route, there isn’t too much around that will obviously subvert their position come March. Neither, on the evidence of yesterday’s outstanding Hatton’s Grace hat-trick by the Champion, will the now 13-race unbeaten record for the mare be challenged seriously any day soon.

Saturday’s partisan attitude would be understandable if Epatante was still being considered as having a chance to avenge her defeat, but it is routine enough for serious Champion Hurdle contenders to begin their season at Newcastle. Nicky Henderson has achieved more mind-boggling feats of a revivalist nature than this. She really must be the apple of A P’s eye. It certainly sounded it.

Now seven years of age, J P McManus’ mare is the veteran of 14 races and nine victories, the first two coming from three runs as a three-year-old in AQPS Flat races in her native France.

Not So Sleepy has also won nine races, four on the Flat and five over hurdles for owner-breeder Lady Blyth and trainer Hughie Morrison. He is rising double digits in age, a factor that never phases Morrison who can always point to the victory of his ten-year-old gelding Alcazar in the 2005 Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak at Longchamp, a race in which the second and third home were respectively six years and seven his junior.

Not So Sleepy has had an unusual as well as a lengthy career for a high-class dual performer. He won first time out in October of 2014 as a juvenile over a mile and half a furlong at Nottingham. First time out at three, he was the narrow winner of Chester’s Dee Stakes, a Listed race but perhaps one long overdue a re-grading.

Successful before Not So Sleepy were Derby winners Oath (1999) and Kris Kin (2003), while since then, future Irish 2,000 Guineas and Breeders’ Cup winner Magical and the multiple Group 1-winning Circus Maximus (2019) have also won the race.

I was with the Oath team at the time and, forgive the after time, managed to get a nice price about Oath’s following up at Epsom from Simon Clare, Corals’ course rep at the time. If you think Not So Sleepy is long-lasting, then the same Mr Clare was presenting the prizes on behalf of Saturday’s sponsors to connections of Cloudy Glen who won the Ladbroke Trophy in the colours of the late Trevor Hemmings. Simon hardly looks a day older and deserves congratulations for the way he has sailed serenely through all the mergers and takeovers that have been so prevalent in the world’s biggest betting organisations.

The Chester 2015 win for Not So Sleepy understandably brought a reaction from the handicapper and he started life in that sphere on 107. Equally unsurprisingly, wins proved elusive and it was not until his 17th career run, on Oaks Day 2017, more than two years later, that he won a ten-furlong handicap off 98 under Adam Kirby.

Another 18 months were destined to pass with continued struggle meaning that not until January 19th 2019, after he had run 32 times, did Morrison experiment with hurdles. Sleepy ran three times, fourth running free at Kempton, then winning unchallenged at Wincanton before proving much too exuberant on a return to the West Country track where he finished a well beaten fifth of eight.

Back on the Flat and still with a mark in the 90’s, that summer he had a programme of six runs culminating with an excellent fourth of 30 to Stratum in the Cesarewitch. Here is where the Morrison imagination stepped in. Clearly believing a hurdles mark of 122 would be manageable given the jumping and the tearaway tendencies could be overcome, Morrison lined up an Ascot handicap that November. He bolted in and, a month later and raised just 5lb, he ran away with the £85k to the winner Ladbroke Hurdle back at Ascot on only his fifth jumping appearance.

Not So Sleepy was as a result one of the favourites for that season’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury but after a couple of false starts he found himself on the wide outside of the massive field and was hampered at the start, losing all chance. His 15th of 24 was disappointing but not enough to dissuade connections of a Champion Hurdle challenge. This soon fizzled out as Epatante strode home up the hill to a popular success.

Back on the Flat he polished off a little race over a mile and a half in late summer at Pontefract under Graham Lee, the prelude to another fourth place in the Cesarewitch, as Willie Mullins completed a hat-trick in the great Autumn staying race.

That was the ideal preparation for another jumps campaign. Unfortunately in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle he set off in front but unseated Johnny Burke at the first hurdle. Chastened, Hughie and Lady Blyth sent him to more familiar surroundings of Ascot where he delivered win number two in the Ladbroke.

This time, it was doubly satisfying as Buzz, a horse Hughie had nurtured (I used that word about their relationship last week and I still like the sound of it!) through his early career but had been whisked off by connections to Nicky Henderson for jumping, could get no nearer than second.

Buzz, two years his junior, was well ahead of Not So Sleepy later on when second at Aintree and he has since won the Cesarewitch, denying Mullins a fourth consecutive win in the race by beating Burning Victory and then the Coral Hurdle this month.

Although only fifth in the Champion Hurdle of 2021, Not So Sleepy far exceeded his handicap mark. At the time he was 7lb clear lowest in the entire field on 149, raised briefly to 155 before Aintree but again down to 152 for Saturday.

Again in a big race, he improved on anything he had done before. Epatante had been dropped to 154 after last season’s Champion Hurdle, but she received 7lb from the geldings on Saturday. Sceau Royal, another length and a half back in third and fourth-placed Silver Streak were both on 158 while the disappointing Monmiral is rated 153.

After Sceau Royal the gaps were six and a half and then eight and a half lengths. It seems inevitable that Not So Sleepy should be raised to at least 158, so his highest-ever figure will have been achieved as a rising ten-year-old. Not many trainers could manage that!

As to the way the race evolved, the complete outsider Voix Du Reve, Not So Sleepy and the grey Silver Streak formed the leading trio all the way round with the others grouping behind them.

One acknowledgement of Not So Sleepy’s performance was forthcoming afterwards, one of the experts saying he had been in the lead group but still rallied at the end.

My contention is that had he bothered to jump either of the last two flights properly, he would probably have won outright, and the verve with which he battled back, running in between the other pair up the run-in after the second mistake, spoke volumes.

Tough doesn’t cover it and when you consider how most of the way round with his unusual head motion out to the right between the jumps, you got the feeling he was playing rather than racing in a championship race, that is doubly valid.

I don’t suppose as a ten-year-old he will end the trainer’s Champion Hurdle blank – and something would need to cause Honeysuckle to miss the race on yesterday’s showing. Yet as long ago as 2002, Marble Arch, another of his Ladbroke Hurdle winners the previous December, finished second to Hors La Loi in the Champion Hurdle with a very youthful Ruby Walsh in the saddle.

Hughie is on target for his usual tally of around 50 Flat wins but at a markedly highest-ever strike rate of 18%. It is widely accepted he can train anything - juveniles, champion sprinters, middle-distance stars or top stayers. Indeed if he hadn’t come up against a future Irish St Leger winner, Sonnyboyliston, running off a gift mark in the Ebor, he would have easily beaten his best prizemoney tally too.

And what of Not So Sleepy, a veteran of 54 races, yet sound as a pound and honest – if quirky – as the day is long? He no doubt will continue to thrill and entertain us hopefully for a year or two to come. Maybe after Newcastle A P and Ruby will give him a little more pre-race respect next time he turns up when they are on the telly!

- TS

Epatante and Not So Sleepy dead heat in thrilling Fighting Fifth finish

Defending champion Epatante and the mercurial talent that is No So Sleepy shared the honours after the judge called a dead-heat in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

Nicky Henderson’s 2020 Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante made a brilliant reappearance in the Gosforth Park feature 12 months ago, but subsequent defeats at Kempton, Cheltenham and Punchestown meant she returned to Gosforth Park with a point to prove.

So too did the Hughie Morrison-trained Not So Sleepy, who showed his worst side when jinking violently right and unseating his rider at the first flight in last year’s renewal, then running loose and carrying out the re-opposing Silver Streak at the second obstacle.

Having undergone back surgery during the summer, Epatante was the 11-8 favourite to get back on the winning trail and provide Henderson with a record seventh Fighting Fifth success under Aidan Coleman.

Not So Sleepy, meanwhile, was an 18-1 shot in the hands of Jonathan Burke off the back of finishing second on the Flat at Doncaster last month.

Epatante travelled with her customary zest for much of the two-mile journey and moved smoothly into contention from the home turn, but was made to fight for it by both Not So Sleepy and Sceau Royal.

To the naked eye, Henderson’s mare looked to have just got the better of Not So Sleepy in a driving finish passing the post, but the they could not be split in the photo.

Speaking from Newbury, Henderson said: “She has run a great race. From what I could see, her jumping was fantastic and that was her biggest weapon.

“That is what she had lost last year and she hurdled beautifully all the way and if she got up, we’d be grateful – we’ll take anything.

“It will be the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton next – no doubt about that.

“I know the plan. JP (McManus, owner) and I said Fighting Fifth and then Kempton, and then we’ll decide what we do after that. It is not going to stop me going to Kempton!”

Paddy Power trimmed Epatante to 10-1 from 14-1 to regain her Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham in March, while Not So Sleepy is a 50-1 shot.

Morrison was rightly proud of the performance of his stable star, saying: “What a horse. He won as a two-year-old on the Flat and here he is winning a Grade One coming into his 10th year.

Not So Sleepy (right) after the Fighting Fifth
Not So Sleepy (right) after the Fighting Fifth (Tim Goode/PA)

“We’ve trained him basically for this race since he ran in the Chester Cup (in May), where I felt he had a huge amount of weight.

“We wisely didn’t run him in the Cesarewitch or the November Handicap because I felt he had too much weight and great credit to all involved.

“He’s quite a challenge at home. My head lad rides him at home all the time and he actually went on holiday yesterday.

“This summer the horse has turned the corner actually and Johnny gave him a brilliant ride today.

“It’s my first Grade One National Hunt winner, so I think we’ll have a bit of a celebration.

“I don’t know where we’ll go next. Kempton at Christmas might be a bit quick.”

Epatante faces five rivals in Fighting Fifth defence

Last year’s winner Epatante heads a field of six for the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday.

The 2020 Champion Hurdle heroine, trained by Nicky Henderson, comfortably took the prize by four and a quarter lengths from Sceau Royal last term.

Alan King’s nine-year-old has race fitness on his side this time, having won a Listed contest at Kempton and the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton this autumn as he seeks to reverse that form.

Evan Williams will be hoping for better luck with Silver Streak, who was taken out at the second flight by the loose Not So Sleepy in this race 12 months ago. The grey has had the advantage of a run this season, finishing second to Sceau Royal at Kempton.

Not So Sleepy has a point to prove after unseating his rider and causing mayhem in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle last year
Not So Sleepy has a point to prove after unseating his rider and causing mayhem in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle last year (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Hughie Morrison gives Not So Sleepy the chance to redeem himself on the back of a run on the Flat at Doncaster five weeks ago.

“He’s going to go and have a day out at Newcastle. Hopefully, he’ll behave better this time. He hadn’t jumped a hurdle for a while, like he hasn’t this time, but he’s always been one that has a look around when he’s doing something new,” said Morrison.

“Hopefully he’ll be better this time now he knows the geography of the place a bit better.”

Monmiral had a tremendous first campaign over hurdles for trainer Paul Nicholls. The four-year-old won all his four starts, culminating in the Grade One Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.

Nicholls accepts it is a big ask at this stage of his career but he could not be happier with him.

Monmiral takes on classy seasoned campaigners for the first time at Newcastle
Monmiral takes on classy seasoned campaigners for the first time at Newcastle (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“He’s schooled this morning. He’s in good order. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” said the Ditcheat handler.

“It’s a step up in class for him, obviously, from what he’s been running in but he couldn’t have done more. He’s won all his completed starts.

“The form from Aintree has turned out well but it’s another step up in class for him. It is hard, that second year for four-year-olds. They don’t get any allowance over hurdles so he has to be at the top of his game and improve from last year.”

The Iain Jardine-trained Voix De Reve, fourth last year, completes the line-up. Belfast Banter was the only withdrawal at the 48-hour final declaration stage.

Quickthorn aiming to bounce back in Prix Royal-Oak test

Quickthorn bids to put a disappointing Ascot run behind him when he goes for Group One glory in the Prix Royal-Oak at ParisLongchamp on Sunday.

The four-year-old was beaten 10 lengths by Hukum in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes after making most of the running over a mile and a half.

He had put up an amazing performance to win at Salisbury on his previous outing after losing many lengths at the start and he was only beaten a head by subsequent Irish St Leger hero Sonnyboyliston in the Ebor at York.

Hughie Morrison runs Quickthorn in France
Hughie Morrison runs Quickthorn in France (Julian Herbert/PA)

This will be Quickthorn’s seventh racecourse appearance since May and trainer Hughie Morrison is slightly concerned he may not be in the same kind of form as earlier in the campaign.

“He’s up against good, improving three-year-olds,” said the East Ilsley trainer.

“He slightly disappointed us last time, so we are a bit nervous he might have had enough for the year, but we’ve found no reason not to run him so we thought we’d have a go.”

Kemari represents Charlie Appleby
Kemari represents Charlie Appleby (David Davies/PA)

Charlie Appleby’s Kemari and the Ralph Beckett-trained Scope, who took a Listed race at Ascot by seven lengths after finishing sixth in the St Leger, are two of the three-year-olds in the line-up.

Appleby is hoping Kemari can build on his second place on the Prix Chaudenay at ParisLongchamp three weeks ago.

“We have been pleased with how Kemari came out of the Prix Chaudenay, which was a step back in the right direction following his run at York. He has handled these conditions before and we are hoping he can make the first three in what looks a competitive event,” he told www.godolphin.com.

Search For A Song returned to winning form last time out
Search For A Song returned to winning form last time out (Niall Carson/PA)

Dermot Weld’s Search For A Song flies the flag for Ireland along with Emmet Mullins’ Zero Ten.

Search For A Song bagged a Group Three contest at the Curragh by nine and a half lengths last month to score for the first time since winning a second successive Irish St Leger triumph in September, 2020.

Fiona Craig, advisor to owner-breeders Moyglare Stud Farm, said: “She’s in very good form. We’re hoping there isn’t too much rain, but I don’t think there has been and hopefully the ground won’t be as bad as it was on Arc weekend.

“The Aga Khan’s filly (Valia) could be tough to beat, but we’re hoping she’ll run well.

“When she was younger she used to like the ground fast and firm. I don’t think she needs that now, she just doesn’t need to be stuck in a bog.”

Monday Musings: Gordon’s Cunning Plan?

Six months is a long time in politics, writes Tony Stafford: ask all the Tory ministers who either got sacked, demoted, moved sideways or occasionally up in the latest reshuffle. It’s a long time in the Covid19 story too, ask John Gosden’s mate, former Health Minister Matt Hancock, but it seems it is but a blink of an eye in Irish horseracing.

Gordon Elliott and Charles Byrnes came back from their independent six-month bans for breaches of Rules and in the former case basic decency. Each within days has shown that nothing has changed in their absence.
Immediately after THAT picture of him sitting on a dead horse on his gallops, Elliott was briefly the most hated man who had anything to do with caring for animals. Never mind that all his friends and co-workers insisted he was a true animal-lover, as well he may be and probably is.

But the six months’ absence, conveniently salved by the fact that another local trainer, the little-known Denise Foster, was allowed to be shoe-horned in and keep the show on the road, has been probably a nice summer break for the man.

Denise did her required task to the tune of 30 jumps wins from 275 runners at around an 11% strike-rate. In the latest two-week analysis whereby Racing Post statistics convey whether trainers are hot, cold or lukewarm, she had five runners, all on the Flat, each starting at least 14/1 and with two places before being shown the door – I trust with a nice bouquet of flowers for her trouble.

Elliott, whose last ban-shortened jumps tally was 155 wins from 1,003 thus 15%, started back in the middle of the week before last and already has six wins on the board from 21 jump representatives, at a rate of 29%.

What occurred to my suspicious mind is that the recruitment of Mrs Foster offered a real opportunity for Gordon. Once it became clear that he would be coming back, if not to all the owners – some like Cheveley Park Stud with Cheltenham on the horizon were swept away in all the emotion and opprobrium that descended on the trainer - he could plan for the future.

His biggest supporter, Gigginstown House Stud of the O’Leary brothers, stayed firm, albeit with the well-chronicled promised reductions in the size of their operation beginning to take effect – more than 40 of their horses were in the recent Doncaster sale.

One oddity has already suggested more than a minor reduction. None of the 21 initial Elliott horses wore the maroon livery of Gigginstown – maybe the easing in the holiday Covid regulations will cheer up the always-combative boss of Ryanair?

Having another name on the licence even if Gordie was allowed to keep his nose on the place, was an invitation to get a few horses down the handicap, not that I’m suggesting Denise was breaking any rules. But it’s simple enough to run horses over the wrong trip, on unsuitable ground or even when they are either unfit or out of sorts. The excuses are well-enough noted in the trainers’ lexicon. Expect a constant flood of winners from this undeniably talented trainer.

While Elliott did have some restrictions, the six-month ban on Charles Byrnes, long known as the shrewdest of Irish shrewd trainers, was a ban pretty much only in name.

Even the initial and name on the licence after his misdemeanour was unchanged with Cathal Byrnes holding the fort. Charles was allowed to go into the yard and even take the horses around the parade ring before their races.

Since regaining his credentials Byrnes has had the grand total of two runners, one unplaced jumper and one on the Flat.

UK trainers quite rightly have been moaning for ages about the favourable treatment of Irish horses in our valuable handicaps and I have been right up there in pleading their case. What happened at Cheltenham was a joke and belatedly Dominic Gardner-Hill, head of handicapping has promised a review.

Saturday’s Cesarewitch Trial at Newmarket – the winners of which never seem to get anywhere near in the main event the following month – still carried a highly-desirable £20k first prize. Byrnes selected the race for his 79-rated seven-year-old Turnpike Trip who on his last run for Cathal Byrnes had been a close second in a race over a similar trip but worth only €6k at Down Royal.

Back in the Charles Byrnes fold, virtually untouched for a good run and with the incentive of a valuable winner’s prize and some ordinary opposition, here was an opportunity for Clever Charlie to fill his boots.

As the Racing Post joyfully crowed, the gamble was landed by two lengths from Live Your Dream, trying in vain to concede an improbable 22lb to the invader over the marathon trip. The other seven were eight lengths and more behind.

The last time Charles bothered to bring Turnpike Trip across to the UK, he ran in a handicap hurdle at Ascot at the Christmas meeting in 2019, three months after winning a Grade 3 novice hurdle at Tipperary and three weeks after he ran the brilliant Envoi Allen to eight lengths off  levels in a Grade 1.

Starting only 6/1 from a mark of 146 he finished fourth to Hughie Morrison’s smart dual-purpose horse Not So Sleepy, who at the time was rated 16lb Turnpike Trip’s inferior. The Irish horse was 14 lengths behind the winner, but that horse, who was fifth to Honeysuckle in this year’s Champion Hurdle, is now rated 153 hurdles and 99 on the Flat. All Byrnes had to do once the mark was fixed – and with no sense that maybe he was a blot of Burning Victory proportions at Deauville the other week – he just had to wait for the right valuable race. Job done!

And here was a horse running off 79. Help yourself - Charlie and his pals did.

The new system once it comes into force needs addressing at many levels, not least the ease with which low-grade or rather lowly-rated Irish horses can come and pick off as they like 0-55 races over here.

Handicapping and its potential for unfairness has long been an issue for Hughie Morrison and as he watched his nice three-year-old King Of Clubs toil home behind the placed horses at Newbury on Saturday he must have been screaming with rage.

King Of Clubs has won twice in handicaps, the second off a mark of 86 at Sandown when he finished well and got up on the line to win by a nose. Now there are trainers who would be shocked if such a win entailed more than a 2lb or 3lb extra impost but King Of Clubs got 5lb!
Then when the latest ratings came out on Tuesday, that most hated of concepts in the Revised Handicap ratings feature – collateral form – was brought to bear.

Here horses standing in the box on Tuesday morning can be given more weight because of something a close rival has done since his own last performance. In this case Sandown runner-up Victory Chime won next time at Chester, albeit only by three-quarters of a length, but the BHA handicapper added another 2lb to King Of Clubs’ mark.

Now raised 7lb for a nose, Hughie must have feared the worst for his 93-rated three-year-old. By that single action King Of Clubs can no longer run in 0-90 handicaps whereas without the extra 2lb he still could have.

Faced with horses of a different calibre and with far more experience he predictably found it all too much. Not only is the horse being forced into too strong company too early in his career, with the potential for halting his progress, his owners are now much more likely to succumb to offers to buy him from abroad. These are the sort of horses that should be encouraged to race in this country.

Elsewhere Charlie Appleby continued his world-wide sweep of the big races with two Saturday major pay-days in North America.

Recruiting an available Frankie Dettori for the Canadian International at Woodbine racecourse, Toronto, he collected £206,000 for Godolphin when hard-knocking Walton Street wiped away the opposition by more than five lengths.

Desert Encounter, trained by David Simcock to win the two previous editions in 2018 and 2019, had to be content with second on Saturday.

Then in New York, Yibir, winner last time of the Great Voltigeur at York but side-stepping the St Leger, was found a choice alternative in the Jockey Club Invitational for three-year-olds. Third favourite behind Bolshoi Ballet, already a winner at Belmont in the summer, Yibir came from last to first under guest rider Jamie Spencer, collecting £390,000 for the Appleby yard. That made it an (in the words of Lou Reed) Oh what a perfect day in North America coming home with almost £600,000! For the record Bolshoi Ballet, the favourite, was fourth.

Finally I have to mention my friend Jamie Reid’s (same sound, different spelling!) authorised biography of Victor Chandler which takes us to Longchamp 2007 and his (and three associates’) arrest for unlawful bookmaking at the Arc meeting. I was around in those days and have read this last chapter. Reid is a wonderful writer and was also very close to the subject for the period the book covers, I can’t wait to read the rest of it.

* Victor Chandler, Put Your Life On it. Reach Sport £20.

Morrison mulls Quickthorn options

Hughie Morrison is considering options for Quickthorn after the improving four-year-old’s unlikely victory at Salisbury.

There are several races, from a mile and a half to two miles, which the East Ilsley handler will look at, both at home and in France.

Quickthorn deserves to win a Pattern race on the evidence of his success at Salisbury – where he lost many lengths at the start yet was able to defeat last year’s St Leger runner-up Berkshire Rocco in the Persian Punch Conditions Stakes.

He had run a massive race on his previous start when going down by a head in the Ebor at York behind Sonnyboyliston, who has gone on to lift the Irish St Leger.

“We’ve got lots of little ideas. We might run him in a couple of weeks,” said Morrison.

“There’s a Listed race at Saint-Cloud (the Prix Scaramouche) over a mile and six; there’s the Cumberland Lodge at Ascot over a mile and a half, or we might go big and go for the Prix Royal-Oak (at ParisLongchamp) or go to Newbury for the St Simon.

“There are not that many options. The ideal ones would be over a mile and a six, and there’s also a two-mile race at Newmarket next week.”

He added: “The Ebor was a very good race – and I think his performance last week was too, given the way he gave away so much distance through no fault of his own.”

Morrison mulling the possibilities for Ebor second Quickthorn

Hughie Morrison will ponder the options for his brave Ebor runner-up Quickthorn.

The Royal Ascot winner hit the front a long way from home, only to be headed in the closing stages by eventual winner Sonnyboyliston before battling back near the line.

He was eventually beaten just a head, but Morrison cites a lack of suitable options for the rest of the season.

“He’s well, he moved well this morning which is encouraging as he obviously put a lot into it,” said Morrison.

“Maybe with a bit more experience – who knows, it was only his eighth race and he’d never been in one like that before.

“As he gets bigger and stronger, which he should do as he’s got a big frame to fill, he will improve enough next year to compete in all the decent races over a mile and six (furlongs) and two miles.

“The handicapper can’t hammer him, otherwise they’d have to put the winner up to a Group One-type mark.

“The winner ran in the same race as us at York before the Ebor and he got dropped 1lb for a below-par run but we didn’t. That’s life.

“At the beginning of the week we didn’t think we’d get in the race or get our ground and then during the race I thought he’d get swallowed up but he didn’t, he galloped on.

“I’m going to have to think what to do next as handicaps are probably out. While I wouldn’t say I’d fancy his chances, if the entries for Champions Day hadn’t closed so early I’d have put him in that.

“We might have a look at options in France. Two miles might be too far for him, but I’m trying to think what else to do. Either way he’s an exciting horse for the future.”

Quickthorn in the mix for York

Hughie Morrison is eyeing the John Smith’s Silver Cup at York on Saturday for his impressive Royal Ascot winner Quickthorn.

Having just the sixth run of his career the four-year-old justified 7-2 favouritism in the Duke of Edinburgh Handicap.

Now rated 103, Morrison hopes he has a new stable star on his hands.

“As long as we don’t have any issues I think he’s a proper horse,” he said.

“If you watch him go up the gallops like I do most mornings, he has the most wonderful stride on him. You could imagine him hopping over Becher’s Brook and going round Badminton or Burghley – he’s one of those types.

“We’d like to run him on better ground so he might go to York for the Group Three over a mile and six furlongs.

“I think a little bit of cut helps because he’s strong and it doesn’t stop him.

“We need a good horse, we’ve only got 50 in so you need one. Recently we’ve had the likes of Telecaster and Marmelo and we need one to help us along.”

When asked if one day Quickthorn might go hurdling like stablemate Not So Sleepy Morrison said with a smile: “I think we’ll probably keep him to the Flat!”

Stay Well aiming to stake late claim for Derby honours

Hughie Morrison hopes to see Derby entry Stay Well live up to his name and his ancestry in Goodwood’s British Stallion Studs EBF Cocked Hat Stakes.

Stay Well, one of 29 possible runners in the premier Classic after this week’s forfeit stage, faces five rivals in Friday’s Listed event.

Formerly the Predominate Stakes, the Cocked Hat is one of the last feasible trials for the Derby early next month – and among the opposition at Goodwood, Martyn Meade’s Lone Eagle and Charlie Appleby’s Yibir also both retain Epsom aspirations.

Morrison acknowledges he is setting Stay Well a stern test of his Derby credentials, on just his third career start following a highly-promising runner-up effort on debut in a Doncaster maiden last September and then an impressive Windsor victory in similar company on his return last month.

“He’s going to have to make a quantum leap from his maiden win to compete against proven Group horses,” said the Berskhire trainer, mindful of the presence of last year’s Zetland Stakes winner Lone Eagle.

In addition, Yibir was third in the Group Three Classic Trial at Sandown, while Ralph Beckett’s Aleas is seeking a four-timer and David Simcock’s Man Of Riddles was a winning debutant at Wolverhampton in March.

Stay Well’s eight-length Windsor success under Tom Marquand was eyecatching, and enough to keep the Derby dream alive for owners Ben and Sir Martyn Arbib.

Morrison said: “So far time has proven that those behind him haven’t complimented the form – but you can only win like that really.

“Tom (Marquand) just said he’s a nice horse, and we’ll find out plenty more on Friday – whether that’s ability or liking for ground.”

Any further deterioration from the forecast soft would be a concern for Morrison, who is nonetheless much happier with an ease in the ground than anything faster.

Stay Well, out of a dual winner up to a mile and six furlongs in the same colours, appeared suited by the move up in trip at Windsor.

Morrison is hoping he will be at home too over 11 furlongs this week, and further in time – although he explained the son of seven-furlong specialist Iffraaj derives his name from topicality rather than an anticipated abundance of stamina.

“He was named Stay Well in recognition of the sayings this time last year ‘Stay Alert, Stay At Home’ – not (necessarily) that he would stay well,” he added.

“But his mother did stay very well – she should have won at Goodwood actually (close second at Listed level).”

Stay Well’s owner-breeders hope he may rise to greater heights.

Morrison said: “Martyn and Ben breed to win the Derby – so if you’ve got half a chance of running in the Derby that’s what you do.

“It’s close enough to the Derby. (But) my feeling is, if we were going to the Derby, we’d have to give him a very good gallop some time in the next 10 days.

“(So) if we did end up in it, this is his racecourse gallop.

“If it was firm ground I’d be more worried. I think firm ground takes a lot more out of these horses than soft ground.

“What you don’t know is how much heavy ground will take out – which it could be by Friday.”

Lone Eagle (nearside) returns to Goodwood for the Cocked Hat Stakes
Lone Eagle (nearside) returns to Goodwood for the Cocked Hat Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Meade is expecting an improved performance from Lone Eagle after his seasonal debut at Sandown where was fourth to Alenquer in the bet365 Classic Trial, although he will have to shoulder a 5lb penalty.

Lone Eagle returns to the scene of his first victory in August.

“He was a little bit disappointing at Sandown. He just didn’t seem to spark, but then again it was his first time back and he is a lazyish horse,” said the Manton handler.

“He does need motivating and he was a bit ring-rusty, so maybe tomorrow we will see him in a better light.

“I needed to give him another run. It’s not ideal having to carry a penalty. That’s not good but at the same time if he’s good enough, he should manage with it.

“I just wanted to get him out and get him running. Hopefully the track will suit him. We’ll just see where to go from there.”

Morrison happy to go under the radar with Not So Sleepy

Not So Sleepy is bang on course to emerge from his winter break for a Champion Hurdle challenge next month.

Trainer Hughie Morrison is content with the long-term plan to keep his dual Betfair Exchange Trophy hero fresh for the Cheltenham Festival.

Morrison so far fears only Ireland’s brilliant, unbeaten and Festival-winning mare Honeysuckle, following her hugely impressive 10-length triumph in last weekend’s Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Otherwise, the Berkshire trainer has enjoyed watching Not So Sleepy’s potential rivals scramble to fit in their Cheltenham prep runs through the wintry weather of the past month – with the waters muddying along the way.

“As it gets closer, usually the races start to look more difficult – and I have to say Honeysuckle was very impressive on Sunday,” he said.

“She quickened up, and they couldn’t go with her, could they?

“I suspect the race (Champion Hurdle) could be set up for her as well.

“The rest of them, I wouldn’t be frightened of taking on.”

Among them, Nicky Henderson’s title-holder Epatante met with a shock defeat behind Silver Streak in Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle – and has since reportedly had successful treatment for a suspected back issue.

Hughie Morrison has singled out Irish Champion Hurdle heroine Honesyuckle as the Cheltenham rival he fears most for Not So Sleepy
Hughie Morrison has singled out Irish Champion Hurdle heroine Honesyuckle as the Cheltenham rival he fears most for Not So Sleepy (Niall Carson/PA)

The mercurial Not So Sleepy made an early exit when swerving and unseating his rider as Epatante went on to win the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November, only to return three weeks later with an all-the-way victory as he retained his crown in the valuable Grade Three at Ascot.

Morrison announced there and then that, unlike last year, there would be no attempt at another big handicap pot in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury – due to be run this weekend if the freezing temperatures abate in time.

Twelve months ago, habitual front-runner Not So Sleepy was hampered at the start in the Betfair and never got into the race, before being pulled up in the Champion Hurdle a month later.

Morrison has not been tempted to give the same schedule a second shot.

He said: “Last year, we weren’t sold on going to Newbury – but he was in such good form two weeks after (Ascot) we decided to, and I think he then just probably flattened out in the middle of January, and we never really got him back.”

This time, a winter breather followed Not So Sleepy’s mid-December win – and as long as no snow interrupts his remaining preparations at home, all is well.

Not So Sleepy was a runaway winner of Ascot's Betfair Exchange Trophy in 2019
Not So Sleepy was a runaway winner of Ascot’s Betfair Exchange Trophy in 2019 (Julian Herbert/PA)

“We gave him a break afterwards really,” added Morrison.

“We kept him going, then gave him a week or so off at the beginning of January, not really doing anything.

“Touch wood, I think that’s paid dividends.

“He’s a difficult horse to judge, but I’d like to think he’s in good form at the moment.

“We took him back to build him up again. We (just) wouldn’t want snow now, that’s all.”

Morrison is looking forward to another opportunity to take on Henderson’s reigning champion.

“Epatante was very, very good last year,” he said.

“Whether she’s as good this year, she’s got to prove it again after disappointing at Kempton.

“What we don’t know is what would have happened if Not So Sleepy hadn’t tried to refuse and Silver Streak hadn’t been taken out at Newcastle.

“So it didn’t prove anything really, did it?”

Not So Sleepy has shown his best hurdles form on soft ground – and ideally, Morrison would therefore prefer a return to wet weather following this week’s snow and frost.

“I think we’d probably like it to be very soft (at Cheltenham),” he said.

“He’s won on what I would call ‘soft Flat’ ground, and it suits him better than others.

“It wouldn’t stop us running if it was good ground, because that’s soft on the Flat really.

“You never know with Not So Sleepy. Realistically, he might not be good enough, but he is a very good horse underneath it all.”

In the meantime, should Newbury go ahead after all on Saturday, it will provide Morrison with another indication as to the merit of Not So Sleepy’s latest Ascot victory.

He beat his former stablemate Buzz there – in receipt of 6lb – and Henderson’s grey is set to be in action again in the Betfair, before a possible Champion Hurdle bid himself.

Naturally, a prominent showing from Buzz would breed further confidence at Morrison’s East Ilsley yard.

“It would be great for all concerned if he did (run well) really,” he said.

“Top weight is always difficult, but he nearly carried top-weight (to victory) the other day.”

Morrison targeting Listed honours with Miss Austen

Fresh from picking up a big prize with Not So Sleepy last Saturday, Hughie Morrison has his sights set on Tuesday’s Fitzdares Club Adores Henrietta Knight Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race at Huntingdon with Miss Austen.

While her two outings to date were almost a year apart, she was due to run at the Grand National meeting before the pandemic struck.

She was last seen winning by almost 10 lengths at Ludlow in January and Morrison is hunting for black type.

“We were always aiming for Aintree with her, but of course it never happened,” he said.

“So we reconvened, we were thinking of going to Cheltenham or Huntingdon, but she had a slight niggle so we decided to wait for this.

“She’s got a great temperament and a really good little engine, I think she’s a decent mare. We’re hopeful she can get some black type.”

Michael Scudamore also enjoyed a good weekend with Nada To Prada picking up a Listed prize at Haydock and he is chasing another with Karlie, who won a point-to-point before scoring on her Rules debut on fast ground at Taunton.

Scudamore said: “She won her point on soft ground, but coped with quicker ground well at Taunton so she’s versatile that way.

“It’s hard to know what she achieved at Taunton, but she quickened up and did it in a nice fashion.

“Obviously she’ll have to step up again on that, but she’s fit and well and raring to go.”

Kim Bailey’s Flirtatious Girl is one of the more inexperienced runners in the field having had just the one run, but she did win at Warwick.

“The form hasn’t particularly worked out very well, but I think she’s improved since she ran,” said Bailey.

“It’s a very tough race, so if she’s in the first three I shall be delighted.

“She won on good ground on her debut, but I can’t see why she wouldn’t handle it softer.”

Fergal O’Brien runs both All Clenched Up and Blue Sans, while Alan King’s Nina The Terrier is another likely to be well fancied having won her only outing to date.

Monday Musings: of Hollie, Paisley and Sleepy

So Hollie Doyle finished third in the new-look BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2020 showing that technology can mix with the old-style modesty and courtesy which Ms Doyle, Jordan Henderson and Stuart Broad showed by bothering to turn up on a Sunday night in Manchester, writes Tony Stafford.

Henderson, the genuinely-likeable captain of Liverpool FC, team of the year and whose manager Jurgen Klopp was coach of the year, finished second and favourite Lewis Hamilton won for the second time having been successful six years ago. Standing next to a Christmas tree – “I didn’t decorate it!” he said, Hamilton was presumably at home in Monte Carlo rather than Stevenage. Ronnie O’Sullivan and Tyson Fury didn’t show up either.

Seven world driving championships in overwhelmingly the best car proved too high a hill to climb even for Liverpool’s first winning captain in the life of the Premier League and an unassuming 24-year-old who rode her first Group winners in her eighth year as a jockey only this summer.

It had been quantity rather than quality until her recruitment by Tony Nerses to ride for his boss Imad Al Sagar and it was her win on Sagar’s Extra Elusive in the Group 3 Winter Hill Stakes, the fourth of a record five winners on a single day for her as recently as August 29 at Windsor that propelled her into the public perception.

It was a nice, albeit forlorn, idea to think she could supplant the well-established front-runners for the SPOTY award. At least the belated campaign put a few quid in the bookmakers’ coffers and a nice boost for British Telecom, although I’m sure the BBC will take a chunk of the phone receipts to help pay their quartet of highly remunerated presenters.

What Hollie will need now to be competitive in this rarefied arena is a step up, a job like stable jockey to John Gosden – move over Frankie, your time is up, maybe? Then she can ride steering jobs in Group races around the big tracks and leave the travelling to the gaffs to stack up the numbers to her fiancé, Mr Marquand! Alternatively, in true “promising debut, should win next time” racing tradition, she could even win it, as long as she gets her first championship in the meantime.

While all the talk around racing circles concerned the possible win against the odds of Hollie and the implications of Tier 4 for those of us in the now most contagious part of the country, Ascot provided two wonderful examples of talented hurdlers coming back from adversity.

The new normal won’t make much difference to me, for although I did make it to Newmarket on Thursday morning and actually saw a couple of horses, since March I’ve pretty much stayed at home. Others around where we live are not so compliant.

Later on Thursday evening, police cars swarmed past our block as they sought out the actual venue where hundreds of people, reckoned to be mainly in the 20-30 age bracket, were having an illicit drinking party. Helicopters were right overhead for at least an hour. Wasn’t us, guv’nor!

The Paisley Park story and its connection to his owner Andrew Gemmill was one of the strongest themes of the 2018-9 jumps season. The Emma Lavelle-trained hurdler went unbeaten through a five-race campaign triumphing emphatically in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, all the time accompanied by pictures of his enthusiastic owner who, as is well documented, has been blind from birth.

As a result, when at the track he relies on race commentaries and insights from his friends as to how his horses are going. It must have been a dreadful shock at Cheltenham this March when, with a second consecutive championship and another unblemished season in the offing, he first realised something unusual was happening. Where normally he would hear, “Paisley Park is starting to improve”, instead his star made no impression between the last two flights and finished a very tired seventh.

Initially all the stable representative could tell the stewards, understandably like the owner and many thousands of his supporters around the country wanting an explanation of what did go wrong, was he had lost two shoes during the run; but, soon after, a heart issue was discovered.

While such a finding might be alarming, it would at least be enough to explain what happened and probably why. Emma Lavelle went back to the beginning with Paisley Park after the shock had been accepted and, to her and her staff’s credit, she had him ready for the Grade 2 Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, the race in which he began his previous campaign.

Whereas 2019 brought a five-length win over Thistlecrack, new contenders lined up, understandably sensing a chink in the previously impenetrable armour, making it double the field size of the previous renewal. As well as Lisnagar Oscar, the horse that now it seems may have “borrowed” rather than taken his crown, there were a number of regulars on the staying circuit but, more tellingly, two of the new generation at the top level in McFabulous, who started favourite and Thyme Hill.

McFabulous proved unable to beat Paisley Park, but the latter in turn was unable to match the speed between the last two jumps by Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill. One of the best novices of his generation he was unluckily beaten out of the frame in the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle a year after his close third to Envoi Allen (still unbeaten and frankly untroubled) in the Festival Bumper of 2019.

Thyme Hill was getting 3lb from the old champion at Newbury and made the most of it, winning by a length and a half but Paisley Park was staying on very well at the finish. When they renewed rivalry on Saturday in the Long Walk Hurdle, a race Paisley Park won two years ago, this Grade 1 was a level-weight affair. Understandably, Thyme Hill, better off, and very much the progressive animal, was favourite to maintain his edge.

If Andrew had been nervous at any stage in the 2020 Stayers’ Hurdle, I’d hate to have been the one to tell him, apart from commentator Simon Holt, what his chances were. Until they were well into the straight Holt didn’t have the best of news to report.

After suffering some interference on the bend, he was in an unpromising sixth place coming to two out as Aidan Coleman guided him to the wide outside. By now Thyme Hill was going up to challenge Younevercall and Roksana. Holt said: Paisley Park is under pressure, who is responding, in sixth. At the last he said, “Only three lengths back is Paisley Park, still staying”, and then after the last, “Paisley Park is storming home and he’s got him. He’s pulled it out of the fire!” Thirty or more seconds of agony turned to ecstasy for the owner.

And that’s exactly what it was, a champion showing all his best abilities when everything seemed to be against him, not least his first experience of truly heavy going. After this the regaining of his Cheltenham Festival title must be a strong possibility.

The second back from – if not the dead, then certainly from adversity – was provided by Not So Sleepy, who also made a return win on the track; but, whereas Paisley Park’s first Long Walk was two years ago, Not So Sleepy had been the wide-margin winner of the concluding Betfair Exchange Trophy only last December.

Previously, Not So Sleepy had finished a creditable fourth in the Cesarewitch behind the Willie Mullins-trained Stratum and then won off what at the time looked a gift jumping mark of 122 at the November meeting on the Royal course. A 5lb rise never appeared enough to stop him on his return for the Betfair Handicap Hurdle and he duly romped home by nine lengths as the 9-2 favourite.

Trainer Hughie Morrison, who has managed the one-time Dee Stakes (more than once a precursor to Derby success) winner through seven full campaigns and 49 races, aimed higher after that. The Betfair Hurdle itself at Newbury in February was the plan despite a further, this-time restrictive, hike of 17lb.

Several false starts meant a farcical melee on the outside where Tom O’Brien lined him up in that handicap and, thereafter, he was never in contention. Morrison then took him to the Champion Hurdle and again false starts and interference at the gate precluded against his showing his merits.

So to post-lockdown and a Flat return at Pontefract in late September where he was a ridiculously-easy winner of a two-mile handicap off 94. The 4lb rise which followed in this year’s Cesarewitch could not prevent a repeat fourth place, this time to another Mullins ‘job’, Great White Shark, a six-year-old mare lined up for the purpose and a ridiculously-easy winner under Jason Watson.

Graham Lee set off at the front of the 34-strong line-up and Not So Sleepy did nothing to suggest his powers had declined. Less positive were my feelings after his abortive challenge for the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle last month when he jinked and jettisoned Paddy Brennan at the first flight of the race won so impressively by Epatante.

Lastly to Ascot at the weekend, off 2lb lower than in the “real” Betfair in February and, inexplicably with hindsight, Not So Sleepy was allowed to start at 20-1. I, like many others, was fooled by the trio of hurdles mishaps and temporarily forgetful of his Ascot hurdles and solid Flat form. Fortunately, some less short-sighted members and a few pals reading the From The Stables newsletter I edit every day, kept the faith and profited accordingly.

‘Twas ever thus, don’t do as I do, do as I say, or vice versa!

- TS

Not So Sleepy silences critics with second Betfair romp

Not So Sleepy repeated his front-running tactics to win the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot for the second year running.

Hughie Morrison’s talented dual-purpose performer has been called a few names in recent months because of his antics on more than one occasion.

He has been reluctant to race in the past and only recently decided to unseat his jockey at the first flight in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, before running loose and carrying out Silver Streak at the next.

Ironically Silver Streak’s jockey at Newcastle was Tom O’Brien, yet this time he got the leg-up off Morrison in the Ascot paddock – hoping the 20-1 chance would behave himself.

To his credit Not So Sleepy then never put a foot wrong, and nobody has ever denied his talent – he even ran in last year’s Champion Hurdle.

Having strung the field out, he began to tire having jumped the last – but O’Brien had saved just enough and held off top weight Buzz by a length and three-quarters.

Lightly Squeeze was third, with the well-backed Benson flying home for fourth to pip Belfast Banter.

O’Brien told ITV Racing: “He cost me a few quid at Newcastle – but he’s paid me back now!

“He has his quirks but he seems to love it here. I thought I was pressing on soon enough, but I didn’t want to disappoint him turning for home. He tried so hard.”

The competitive 17-strong race clearly suited Not So Sleepy, and O’Brien added: “It’s different at the start of a big-field handicap.

“We all wanted him to make the running at Newcastle, but he didn’t want to. Five wanted to make it today, so he had to fight for it.”

Morrison had observed before the race that Not So Sleepy won with a stone in hand last year, and just might have to fight a bit harder this time.

After he had done so, the Berkshire trainer was already planning a second Champion Hurdle attempt this season.

“He’s an absolute star, isn’t he?” he said.

Trainer Hughie Morrison is planning to run Not So Sleepy in the Champion Hurdle for a second time
Trainer Hughie Morrison is planning to run Not So Sleepy in the Champion Hurdle for a second time (Julian Herbert/PA)

“He’s in good form and was in great form going into Newcastle – it was just that things went slightly wrong there.

“But he didn’t quicken past (Champion Hurdle and Fighting Fifth winner) Epatante for nothing after the last with no jockey, having been halfway round Newcastle.

“So we were hopeful.”

Not So Sleepy’s route back to Cheltenham in March is set to be a quiet one through the remainder of the winter.

Asked about that date, Morrison added: “I think so, probably – we might as well go straight there, no messing around this year.

“I’ll give him a bit of a break – he obviously runs well fresh. We won’t be tempted by any other races, I don’t think.”