Tag Archive for: Huntingdon

Roving Reports: Chasing the Easter Money

It’s a busy time for bookmakers, is Easter, with a whole raft of meetings both Flat and Jumps to attend, although the early news on Saturday is not great, writes David Massey. Not only has Musselburgh bitten the dust after an early morning deluge, but for the Midlands bookmakers, the point-to-point at Sandon, near Stafford, has also been called off. That’s usually a really well-attended event, and will be a big miss for them. There will be no chance to see Eddie Redmayne, and his dogs, there this year. 

This matters not to us, as we’re off to Haydock for their family fun day. The weather looks mixed, to say the least, and it’s grey and damp as we set off. By the time we get there, however, the sun is trying to break through and things look brighter, literally. 

Other meetings being off means more bookmakers than there were last year at Haydock; four more, in fact, and this means betting on two lines rather than the one we were in last year. (The line takes 17 bookmakers.) When all the punters are in front of you, business is better; if you’re on the front line, you run the risk of a bookmaker betting behind you, and taking a share of your business. Such is the bookmaking life. 

We know what today will be like - all small money, lots of bets on “named” horses (it cannot be coincidence that one of the best backed horses all day with us is called Holly) and now the sun is fully out, we should have a decent day. 

Quiet to get going, as ever, and putting the forecast up for the four-runner first event is a waste of time. Nobody has a clue what it is, and nobody asks. I’d have been better putting the weather forecast up. It might have been more informative. 

As stated, the aforementioned Holly is an each-way disaster in the second race for us, and with the favourite, Brentford Hope, winning it’s a losing race. Secret Trix is much better in the next, but there’s a dinosaur show on for the kids, and business isn’t as strong. 

There are often dinosaurs in the betting ring - most of them will take your bets with a smile - but these two are bigger than the norm. One is a T-Rex and the other one isn’t. Some of the younger kids find it all a bit much. If you’ve bought “crying children” at 15 at the start of the day, go collect. 

Numitor is actually an okay result but Daly Tiger finishing third knocks a fair bit of the place money out. I go to get the coffees and offer up a loyalty card. Despite buying three drinks, it’s only stamped once. “One stamp per visit”, we are told. I shake my head. Come racing. 

Duke Of Deception is a good result but the enormous gamble on One Big Bang is joined in by a fair proportion of the crowd, and that’s not. Said crowd ebbs away pretty quickly after the sixth, with tired and emotional children in tow, carrying their dinosaur merchandise. Elleon wins the last, a good result, and it’s time to go home, although somehow I manage to join the wrong lane at the Haydock Island roundabout and end up taking a three-mile detour to get myself on the M6. 

Sunday sees me at Southwell, and in truth there’s little to say. Southwell are only allowing 100 public in, on top of owners, trainers and annual members, with the downstairs grandstand still out of operation. There’s only three bookmakers in the ring, and one on the rail, and whilst there’s enough business for the four, there’s only just enough. It’s families again, although with a cold, grey day, most are in the warmth upstairs, bar one family determined to stick it out on a couple of picnic tables. There’s an ice-cream van on the premises, but you wouldn’t want a share in it today. Results are irrelevant with the business - at least for four races - when suddenly a big punter appears, wanting a grand each-way Squeaker. He gets laid, and the business, rather than going back to the machine, is shared around the books. Squeaker looks beat at halfway but rattles home and is beaten under a length. He’s copped the each-way money for him, at least. He doesn’t bet the next but smashes into Brother Dave in the penultimate, and when that cops, it looks bleak. We get a bit back off him in the last but we’ve stood all day for very little. And it’s freezing. 

On to Huntingdon on Monday. This is more like it. My first McDonalds of any description for 41 days (not that I’m counting, you never do when you’re on a diet, do you?) is a Bacon Roll and Hash Brown as we make our way down the A14. God, I’d forgotten how good a bacon roll tastes. Everyone knows calories don’t count on Bank Holidays. Just for once, the Shredded Wheat can be passed over. 

After a rainy start, the sun really does come shining through - I contemplated sun cream at one point, no, honestly - and a good crowd are still piling in as the first goes off. If the money was small at Haydock, it’s positively minute here, with about 50% of the bets either £2 win or £1 e/w. Families having five or six bets, novices placing their first ever bets, mums taking advice from their kids, they’re all here today. Two families, from Cambridge, apparently remember my face from last year and have their knicker each-way bets with me all day. “You were very polite”, they tell me. That’s the game on these days - price is irrelevant, customer service everything. This is proven by the very first bet I take - £10 on Annie Day at 10-1 in the first race, when next door to me is 11s. Smile, be nice, have a joke. It works. 

However, I’ve got a problem. Two, to be precise. Because the firm have no fewer then seven pitches running between Huntingdon and the other half of the crew at Fakenham, it means that bits of kit that wouldn’t normally be used are wheeled out today. The laptop I’m using was the very one that Noah used to count the animals onto the Ark two-by-two with. The light board is old too, and for some reason, the bottom half of it isn’t working, which is far from ideal. The laptop crashes, at various inconvenient points throughout the afternoon, no fewer than eight times, and each time I have to restart everything. At the end of the day, I reckon that’s probably cost me a monkey’s worth of business. The temptation to launch the damned thing into the bin at close of play is great, but it’s not my equipment...

This is doubly frustrating with results as good as they are: not a winning favourite in sight until the last two races, by which time business has notably dropped off anyway, with many families off home after the sixth. We’ve won and won well on the day, and although the urge to double-dip at Maccy D’s on the way home is great, I resist. Just. 

And so finally, to Pontefract. I’m not working, just a day out. It normally takes me an hour and 10 minutes from my house to get to the track, so I leave in good time. Or so I thought. 

I drive into the track as they are going into the stalls for the first. The M1 was bad, the A1 worse, and finally Pontefract town centre itself appeared to be at a standstill. The nearer I got to the track, the further away I got, time wise, according to Google Maps. That’s never a good thing. So as you can imagine, I’ve fallen out with myself before I’m even parked up, and when the only parking space left appears to be in the middle of a lake of a puddle, the appeal of turning the car around and going home is strong. 

But I'm glad I didn’t, as it was quite an enjoyable day overall, bumping into a few old friends, backing a winner, then giving most of it back, and probably seeing a future winner in Vallamorey. However, if anyone wants to pop round and clean my car in readiness for Aintree next week (when it’ll DEFINITELY get dirty again) then don’t let me stop you...

- DM

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Waterlogging claims Huntingdon card

Thursday’s meeting at Huntingdon has been called off due to a waterlogged track.

The venue was due to host a six-race National Hunt card but the course is not fit for action, with areas of standing water and further rain forecast ahead of the fixture.

Clerk of the course Roderick Duncan inspected the track on Tuesday morning and had little option but to abandon.

He said: “We flooded again on Sunday and while the water levels have dropped, there are still areas of standing water on various parts of the track.

“While the river levels are dropping, the forecast for more rain on Wednesday and Thursday is just not helpful.”

The British Horseracing Authority has already announced an additional meeting on Thursday at Chelmsford.

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Dunskay heading for Aintree after Huntingdon win

Dunskay booked his ticket to Aintree in the spring when capping off a fine afternoon for Ben Pauling at Huntingdon in the manner of a smart operator.

Pauling had earlier won the feature M1 Agency Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle with Handstands and was doing somersaults after seeing Dunskay bounce back to his very best in the concluding PHP Architects Open National Hunt Flat Race.

A taking winner at Exeter on debut, he was disappointing in Listed action at Ascot prior to Christmas, but carried a penalty to a comfortable success at odds of 4-1 in the hands of Harry Cobden to tee-up another step up in class at the Grand National meeting in April.

“It’s been a good day and this is a lovely horse,” said Pauling.

“He trach washed dirty after Ascot and I was fairly easy on him between there and now, so I thought he might need today. He’s done it nicely, so I’m really pleased.

“He’s a very nice, straightforward, big, gorgeous horse – a big, powerful horse. He’s going to be one for the future again, but he’s a lovely horse and I was delighted with that. Winning under a penalty is never easy, so I’m pleased.

“He will go to Aintree for the Grade Two next. We have some nice novices and bumper horses and it’s going the right way – we’re building a nice team of young horses, which is what it is about.”

Gavin Sheehan’s fine season continued with a double at the Cambridgeshire track.

He got the day off to a brilliant start aboard Christian Williams’ Fortunefavorsdbold (16-1) in the Newlands Developments Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase, before following up on Katy Price’s 6-4 favourite King Of Brazil in the Winvic Construction Handicap Chase.

Fortunefavorsdbold ridden by Gavin Sheehan (left) on their way to winning the Newlands Developments Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase
Fortunefavorsdbold ridden by Gavin Sheehan (left) on their way to winning the Newlands Developments Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase (David Davies/PA)

Another jockey hitting the headlines was 10lb conditional Lewis Saunders, who made the early mornings on the gallops at Olly Murphy’s Warren Chase base worthwhile when earning the praise of his boss after putting his claim to good use aboard Barricane.

It was just the second winner of the 20-year-old’s career and, having won aboard the nine-year-old at Uttoxeter in December, he showed his talent in the saddle to drive the 4-1 shot home to a three-length victory in the Urban Logistics Reit Handicap Hurdle.

“He’s a good little rider who came to me from Oliver Sherwood,” said Murphy.

“A lot of things went through my mind there. I was giving him a telling off for being left at the start, he was then getting a telling off for not pulling him up and then I thought, you know what, you have done the right thing and this is going to be the ride of the season.

Barricane (right) winning the Urban Logistics Reit Handicap Hurdle
Barricane (right) winning the Urban Logistics Reit Handicap Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

“Well done to the young lad. He’s ridden his first two winners on Barricane and is good value for his claim and works hard.

“I’ll give young lads chances if they work hard and muck in. I make them work hard and they ride early lots – all my conditionals are in at 6.30am riding an early one – but I do it for the right reasons.

“You have to work hard for what you get in life – and if they work hard and have ability to go with it, I will look after them.”

Harry Derham’s gamble to run Nordic Tiger (11-10 favourite) quickly after his wide-margin win at Wincanton last week paid dividends when the game five-year-old held on by a neck in the Mulberry Developments Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

Nordic Tiger winning the Mulberry Developments Novices’ Handicap Hurdle
Nordic Tiger winning the Mulberry Developments Novices’ Handicap Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

“I was so nervous about running him because it was only seven days after his last race and it is not normally my style at all,” explained Derham.

“But he’s about to go up 10lb, which is a fair old hike, so we said we would try our luck and Alice (Stevens, jockey) takes off 5lb, which is very helpful – and he’s just a lovely, genuine horse.

“When it was raining all morning driving up here, I thought it was his chance gone, but he really knuckled down well.

“He’s going to be 10lb higher now and life will get tough, but when you have an attitude like him and you jump and try like him, then he will always have a decent chance and he is a horse who will probably win a few more races next season.”

Hermes Le Gris lands a blow for Robbie Llewellyn at Huntingdon
Hermes Le Gris lands a blow for Robbie Llewellyn at Huntingdon (David Davies/PA)

Meanwhile, you may have seen Hermes Le Gris (2-1 favourite) on your television in adverts in the past, but he put his name in lights when gaining compensation for a fall when leading at Southwell last week by claiming the Oxenwood Real Estate Handicap Hurdle for Robbie Llewellyn.

“He’s been in a Coral advert, so he’s had a few spins round Newbury,” said the trainer.

“After last week, where we thought he would have won and it was disappointing for him to fall, to come back six days later and produce a performance like that shows he obviously has a bit more left in the tank.

“You never quite know when you run them that quick if they will bounce, but I’m delighted.”

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Handstands impresses once more in Sidney Banks

Handstands appears to have earned himself a place on Ben Pauling’s Cheltenham Festival squad after maintaining his unbeaten record in the M1 Agency Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon.

Bought for £135,000 after winning his only start in the point-to-point field in October, the five-year-old made an immediate impact under rules at Hereford two months later before following up under a penalty at Newcastle early in the new year.

Pauling’s charge faced a step up in class for his hat-trick bid, with Nicky Henderson’s Grade One winner Jango Baie among his rivals, but he proved more than up to the task under Harry Cobden.

Bugise Seagull took the four-strong field along for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey before 9-4 shot Handstands took over before the home turn, at which stage Jango Baie was being niggled along by James Bowen and was briefly caught in behind the other two runners.

The 5-4 favourite, winner of the inaugural Formby Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree on Boxing Day, stuck to his guns in the straight and was not far behind Handstands at the final flight, but the latter never looked in any serious danger of being caught and had a length and a half in hand at the line.

“He’s so raw and looking at him walking around the paddock there against a couple of those he looked a shell,” said Pauling.

“He looks a horse for next year, but there is just no bottom to him and he has just lobbed round there as easy as you like and when Harry wanted him he’s come alive really – he didn’t pick up the bridle for the first two miles and it’s really pleasing.

“I don’t think he is short of speed either and I’m very pleased. I don’t think he has had to try too hard again there and I couldn’t be happier. He was a bit careful at the second but other than that he has jumped brilliantly and it was a brilliant ride from Harry.”

Coral cut Handstands to 16-1 from 33-1 for the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival, while Paddy Power offer 10-1 from 20-1 in their non-runner money back market.

Handstands and Harry Cobden on their way to victory (
Handstands and Harry Cobden on their way to victory (David Davies/PA)

Pauling added: “It’s job done today and then we will see what we do next. He’s an exciting horse for the future and we might look at the Baring Bingham.

“I think we will probably go (to Cheltenham), why not? He doesn’t have to do an awful lot does he and that won’t have taken too much out of him. He’s won on good ground and he’s won on heavy ground – it doesn’t really matter to him.

“There’s not much to separate him and Tellherthename (runs in Saturday’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury). I still think Tellherthename is probably a bit better, but that isn’t to say this lad is not class in his own right.

“They are different horses – Tellherthename travels that bit sweeter, whereas this lad goes to sleep then comes alive afterwards.”

Henderson was far from disappointed with the performance of the runner-up Jango Baie, who was conceding 5lb to Handstands.

Nicky Henderson was pleased with Jango Baie's performance in defeat
Nicky Henderson was pleased with Jango Baie’s performance in defeat (John Walton/PA)

“James said it was a bit of a stop-start sprint,” said the Seven Barrows handler.

“I’m sure he got the trip all right and he stayed on well. He got messed around a bit (in running) but I’m not making excuses. We were giving them 5lb and well done to the winner. I think they are two smart horses, it is always a decent race and I think it was.

“He probably wants all of this trip. He’s finished both of his races very strongly – he certainly did at Aintree when he stayed it out very well and finished very strong.”

On whether Jango Baie could run at Cheltenham, he added: “These are young horses and we’ve got to see who is coping with what.

“Aintree (over two and a half) would look the obvious place for him, but we will see. I will talk to the owner.”

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Sean Bowen sets sights on title charge after injury comeback

Title-chasing rider Sean Bowen was delighted to return to the saddle at Huntingdon on Thursday, despite being narrowly denied a dream comeback aboard Roccovango.

The 26-year-old has been leading the race to be crowned this season’s champion jockey for several months, but has been sidelined by an injury since suffering a nasty fall from from Gordon Elliott’s Farren Glory in the Grade One Formby Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree on Boxing Day.

During the intervening period, Harry Cobden has significantly eroded Bowen’s advantage, with only four winners splitting the top two prior to Thursday’s action.

Bowen headed to Huntingdon for a solitary ride for his boss Olly Murphy, with Roccovango a 3-1 shot for the Mulberry Developments Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

Roccovango and Sean Bowen in action
Roccovango and Sean Bowen in action (David Davies/PA)

Despite being hard at work some way from home, Roccovango responded to his rider’s urgings to ensure he was still in the fight jumping the final flight, but in the end he had to make do with the runner-up spot, going down by a neck to 11-10 favourite Nordic Tiger.

“It’s nice to be back and the horse ran well. We didn’t quite get there in the end, but it was a nice one to get me back started on,” Bowen said.

“To be fair he absolutely winged the last and showed a good attitude, but he just couldn’t get me the fairy tale comeback.

“All felt in good working order and I’m good to go.”

When asked if it has been tough watching Cobden eat into his lead since the turn of the year, the jockey added: “You can’t get frustrated by it because when I was off, unless Harry was doing something seriously wrong, he was going to ride a lot of winners in that time.

Sean Bowen is interviewed by the press at Huntingdon
Sean Bowen is interviewed by the press at Huntingdon (David Davies/PA)

“It was inevitable what was going to happen and I just need to come back and ride plenty of winners.”

Weather permitting, Bowen’s next port of call is Kempton on Friday before he heads to Newbury to partner the Murphy-trained Go Dante in the Betfair Hurdle.

The latter has been saved for this lucrative prize since winning at Cheltenham in mid-December and his rider is looking forward to being reunited with the eight-year-old this weekend.

“I’ll have a couple of warm-up rides and he’s the exciting one for the weekend,” said Bowen.

“I saw him the other day and he seems in really good form, so he’s one you’ve got to be looking forward to.”

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Jango Baie leads quality quartet hunting Banks prize

An intriguing field of four will go to post for the M1 Agency Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon on Thursday.

Some good horses have won this Listed affair over the years – including the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin in 2020.

Representing Seven Barrows this year, and heading the market, is Jango Baie, winner the Formby Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree on Boxing Day.

That win in what was the Tolworth Hurdle took his record to two from two over timber, and he will once again be partnered by James Bowen.

“We’re going two-mile-three with him this time and it’s a slight step up (in trip), he was around Aintree over two last time,” said Henderson.

“I thought he was finishing that race very strongly, so I wanted to have a look at him around two and a half just to see. He’s in both the Supreme and the Baring Bingham (at the Cheltenham Festival) come March.

“The owner has both Jango Baie and Jingko Blue – and I’ll put the wrong horse in a race someday soon – and the other horse won very nicely at Sandown on Saturday.”

Two others in the field are unbeaten so far in their hurdling careers – Bugise Seagull for Charlie Longsdon and the Ben Pauling-trained Handstands.

Like Jango Baie, both are two from two and the latter was most recently seen scoring in a novice event at Newcastle.

“He’s a lovely horse who does everything you ask of him at home but no more,” said Pauling.

“I hope his jumping is sharp enough, but he’s certainly a horse that we’ve got no idea where the bottom is and we like him a lot really.

“He’ll be a fabulous chaser next year, but I think he can be a good hurdler this year as well.

“This is a lovely race, it’s cut up in numbers but the quality is there I suppose and it’ll be interesting to see where we fit amongst these and give us a steer towards where we go in the spring.”

The other contender is the Joe Tizzard-trained Diamond Ri, who confirmed the promise of his debut second when winning at Warwick last month.

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Sean Bowen eager to reignite championship charge

Sean Bowen is looking to make up for lost time when he makes his return from a lengthy absence at Huntingdon on Thursday.

Bowen held a significant advantage over Harry Cobden before he suffered a nasty fall from Gordon Elliott’s Farren Glory in the Grade One Formby Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree on Boxing Day.

A problem with a knee has kept him on the sidelines since, and Cobden has whittled away at his advantage to such an extent that before racing on Wednesday the gap had been reduced to just four.

Bowen returns on Olly Murphy’s Roccovango in the Mulberry Developments Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

“It’s been a long six weeks out of the saddle, and I really can’t wait to get back riding on Thursday,” said Coral ambassador Bowen.

“I don’t tend to watch much racing when I’m out of action, but I do watch James (brother) and support him, and I’ll always check the results to see how Olly’s horses have got on. It is always tough seeing the horses you’d have been on go out there and win, because even though you’re happy they’ve won, you always want to be the jockey to win on them.

“Harry has been riding right at the top of his game recently, and Paul’s (Nicholls) horses are also in great form, so I really need to get back riding winners if I want to be champion jockey, which make no mistake, I do!

Harry Cobden has closed the gap on Sean Bowen
Harry Cobden has closed the gap on Sean Bowen (Nigel French/PA)

“I’d much rather still have a comfortable lead, but the fact Harry is now breathing down my neck at the top of the championship has given me that extra bit of fire in my belly to want to get back out there and ride as many winners as I possibly can.

“It’s very much going to be a numbers game for me for the rest of the season, so wherever I think I have the best chance of riding a few winners is where I’ll be heading, regardless of the high-profile action that might be taking place elsewhere.”

He added of Roccovango: “He’s not a horse we know much about as he’ll be having his first start for Olly on Thursday, but he’d look potentially well-handicapped on some of his form in Ireland, so he goes there with a chance.

“I’d say we’ll have to go some to beat Harry Derham’s horse Nordic Tiger though, as he looks particularly well-in at the weights.”

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Sean Bowen back in action at Huntingdon on Thursday

Title-chasing rider Sean Bowen has been cleared to make his comeback from injury at Huntingdon on Thursday.

Bowen, out of action since a fall at Aintree on Boxing Day, has seen his long-established lead at the top of the jump jockeys’ standings chipped away at in recent weeks by Harry Cobden.

Before racing on Tuesday Cobden had reduced the lead to just five, and that during a time when his main backer Paul Nicholls is habitually quiet. His runners have clicked back into gear recently, though, and he provided Cobden with a four-timer at Musselburgh on Sunday.

Bowen has one ride at Huntingdon, on Olly Murphy’s new recruit Roccovango in the Mulberry Developments Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

Olly Murphy is Sean Bowen's biggest supporter
Olly Murphy is Sean Bowen’s biggest supporter (Simon Marper/PA)

“It was great to jock Sean back up on a horse this morning,” said Murphy.

“He’s riding out tomorrow, his rehab has gone well and he told me he was on the Equicizer yesterday, did some exercises and all was good.

“We’re looking forward to having him back. He’s a huge part of our team and is someone all the young lads look up to as well.

“He’s a big part of the furniture at Warren Chase and we’ll be doing all we can to get back behind him, along with many other people, to make him champion jockey.

“He was flying up to Christmas, he’d been riding extremely well all year but unfortunately the life of a jump jockey means injuries are a part of it and he had a bad fall at Aintree on Boxing Day and missed six weeks.

“Harry Cobden has clawed back a lot of his lead, he is riding extremely well as well and he’s ultra-talented. We wish the two of them the best of luck, but obviously our loyalty is to Sean.

“It will be good for jump racing if the two of them stay injury-free until the end of the season and have a good tussle.”

Asked to sum up Roccovango’s chance, Murphy said: “He’s a new recruit who had some nice novice form. I’d like to think he’s got a nice each-way chance.

“Harry Derham’s horse (Nordic Tiger) will be hard to beat escaping a penalty for winning last week, but I’d like to think my lad could be competitive and it would be magic if we can give Sean a winner on his first ride back.”

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‘Brilliant’ Brides Hill completes hat-trick at Huntingdon

Gavin Cromwell’s Brides Hill remains unbeaten this season after a smooth success in the Pertemps Network Lady Protectress Mares’ Chase at Huntingdon.

The seven-year-old has been in the money twice in her native Ireland this term, taking a Listowel novice event by eight lengths in September and then winning by a head at Fairyhouse last time out.

She already had Listed form on her CV and was incredibly well-fancied to win for a third time after travelling over to England and starting as the 10-11 favourite under Keith Donoghue.

That faith in the mare proved well placed as she made light work of the contest to stride to an unchallenged six-length win ahead of Dr Richard Newland and Jamie Insole’s La Renommee.

Though members of the Brides Hill Syndicate may not have previously been able to place Huntingdon on a map, their journey was made worthwhile as they returned nearly £30,000 better off after taking the first-place prize fund.

Co-owner Pat Murphy said: “That couldn’t have gone any better. She was brilliant. The horse running out in front (Sacre Coeur) helped her and we have ended up winning it by a mile and that is all that counts.

“In fairness to Gavin Cromwell, he is the man that picks the races for us and he targeted and told us about three months ago he was going to come for it. We were saying ‘where the hell is Huntingdon?’

“She did have some nice form in the book last season. We were over in Perth at the end of last season and we were disappointed with that (when falling at the first fence), but we got her sorted out and here she is.

“We were reasonably confident, but you can never be over-confident. She did what we expected her to do, but Gavin is a good trainer.”

Following the race, Brides Hill was cut from 25-1 into 8-1 for the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival by the race sponsor, though Murphy said that an outing in the Grade Two contest was not set in stone.

He added: “That is a matter up for debate. I’m not going to make any comment on that, as I don’t want to put any pressure on anybody.

“It could be that we go there, but we don’t know that for sure. We will see how she comes out of the race.”

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Brides Hill seeking Huntingdon double for Cromwell

Gavin Cromwell has the chance to go back-to-back in the Pertemps Network Lady Protectress Mares’ Chase when he saddles the hat-trick-seeking Brides Hill at Huntingdon on Thursday.

The Irish handler made a successful raid on the two-and-a-half-mile Listed event with Jeremys Flame 12 months ago and now attempts to repeat the dose with the in-form seven-year-old who is unbeaten this term.

A winner at Listowel in September, she showed plenty of guts to oblige favourite-backers at Fairyhouse last month and now crosses the Irish Sea looking to continue on her upward curve.

Cromwell said: “She’s really suited to the race, conditions should suit and she’s going there fresh. She hasn’t run since the Winter Festival meeting at Fairyhouse in December and I’m looking forward to her running.

“It would be great to win it again. This has always been the plan after Fairyhouse to come here.”

Cromwell is no stranger to plundering these mares events and as well as winning this in 2023, his Limerick Lace landed a blow at Doncaster in the Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase over the Christmas period.

Pink Legend is one of the horses standing in Brides Hill's way at Huntingdon
Pink Legend is one of the horses standing in Brides Hill’s way at Huntingdon (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Dr Richard Newland and Jamie Insole’s La Renommee (second), Amy Murphy’s Carole’s Pass (third) and Venetia Williams’ Pink Legend (fourth) were left to fight it out for minor honours on that occasion and will be hoping for a better result this time, while Syd Hosie’s Plenty Of Time arrives off the back of a wide-margin victory at Wincanton.

Dan Skelton has got his hands on this prize twice in the last 10 years and entrusts the versatile Sacre Coeur with providing him with another success.

The eight-year-old’s victory at Ludlow last month was her fifth in 10 chasing appearances and having struck up a useful partnership with conditional jockey Tristan Durrell, could now provide the 22-year-old with the first Listed triumph of his career.

Durrell said: “This is a step back in trip and grade for her, but she was really good at Ludlow last time out. She always runs her race and she has had a bit of a freshen up since the last day.

“I won on her over an extended two miles five (furlongs) earlier in the season at Fontwell and that is a stiff enough finish there up that hill so going back up in trip should be no problem at all.

“I thought she ran a good race at Aintree as she was keener than usual, but she kept going on ground that was really testing.

“I think when you have ridden a horse a few times on the track it does mean that bit more when you win on them and we will be doing our best to go for it here.”

Elsewhere on the card, the Nicky Henderson-trained Steal A March bids to make up for lost time in the Pertemps qualifier and move a step closer to giving the King and Queen a runner at the Cheltenham Festival.

The nine-year-old – who has the distinction of being a winner for the late Queen on Platinum Jubilee weekend – had been in line to become the royal couple’s first runner at the showpiece meeting last year after winning a qualifier for the Pertemps Final at Wincanton on Boxing Day in 2022. 

However, a late setback meant those plans had to be shelved and while he was only fifth of six on his return at Newbury in December, Henderson is expecting a step forward back up in trip.

Steal A March (left) pictured in action at Newbury
Steal A March (left) pictured in action at Newbury (John Walton/PA)

“Steal A March was going to the Cheltenham Festival last year, and he was all ready for it, but he had a little issue three weeks before which was real bad luck,” said the Seven Barrows handler, who also runs Chantry House.

“He has got a run under his belt, which is a help, as he needs a huge amount of work. He is a horse that takes plenty of getting ready.

“I hope he is more ready than the first time as he definitely needed it, but that is him. The step back up in trip to three-miles-one (furlong) will suit him as well.

“That was the plan, to have Steal A March run at the Cheltenham Festival last year, so let’s hope we can do it this year.”

He added: “This is a good race for Chantry House as it has been a long-term project for him back over hurdles. That ground at Sandown last time was desperate so you have got to excuse him that run. 

“I need them both in this race as I want them both qualified for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham so we will be trying to win it, don’t you worry.”

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Huntingdon still looks favourite for Jeriko Du Reponet

Jeriko Du Reponet remains likely to head for the M1 Agency Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon, despite the Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle being rearranged for Doncaster next Saturday.

The two-mile Grade Two event was lost from Haydock’s abandoned Saturday card, but was swiftly added to Town Moor’s fixture on January 27.

However, despite discussing a trip to Yorkshire with owner JP McManus, trainer Nicky Henderson is content to follow the ‘Shishkin route’ to the Cheltenham Festival and visit Huntingdon on February 8 with his unbeaten Supreme Novices’ Hurdle contender, who has done nothing but impress in two facile Newbury victories.

“It will probably still be Huntingdon, although I did talk to JP about it (Doncaster),” said Henderson.

“If JP wants him in there (then he will be entered for Doncaster), but he did say he did have the other horse (Jonjo O’Neill’s Fortunate Man) who was going to Haydock anyway. We weren’t going to Haydock because we don’t like the track in bad ground.

“The race goes to Doncaster and my first reaction was ‘goody-goody, we can go there with Jeriko’, but he did say the other horse was due to go to Haydock and he’s entitled to have first pick – and I’m perfectly happy with the Sidney Banks.”

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Kabral Du Mathan makes Huntingdon splash for Nicholls

Paul Nicholls’ Kabral Du Mathan looks to have a very bright future after he cruised to victory on his British debut in the Weatherbys Chatteris Fen Juvenile Hurdle.

A winner in France on his only previous start, he had to carry 8lb more than all his rivals but it mattered not a jot.

There were four other previous winners in the race and one of those, Dan Skelton’s Kartoon And Co, led them until halfway down the back straight when he suddenly came under pressure and dropped to last.

Alan King’s Whispering Royal was the next to crack but by the second last, Harry Cobden had loomed up on Kabral Du Mathan (100-30) and breezed by Latin Verse to win by a length and a half.

Charlie Davies, assistant trainer, said: “It was a very pleasing performance. He has done everything nicely in Ditcheat. When they come over from France, you don’t know what to expect and we were very nervous about having to give all of them 8lb.

“He has jumped brilliantly, done it all very professionally and I think he has done it quite cosily. Hopefully he might be one for the Fred Winter (Boodles) in March.

“I think he is more a Fred Winter horse as to be a Triumph Hurdle horse you have got to be a really good horse, and you would have to take on Burdett Road, while Sir Gino looked very smart the other day.

“I think we will go the Fred Winter route for the time being. He has got to have one more run and maybe we will run him in a decent race and see how good he is.

“You couldn’t be more pleased with how it went as he travelled and jumped brilliantly. It was a very taking debut, giving them all 8lb.”

Ben Pauling was delighted to get Tellherthename’s career back on track with a straightforward success in the Arkle Finance EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle.

Pauling has made no secret of the regard in which he holds the £200,000 purchase but the wheels came off when upped to Grade One company at Aintree last time out.

Back down in class and following extensive tests, the five-year-old landed odds of 1-4 with the minimum of fuss under Kielan Woods.

“We are back on track. We turned a lot of stones to try to find out what happened at Aintree. We found a few little bits and bobs, but nothing that put us out for that long as you could see,” said Pauling.

“I was just keen to get his season back on track before we dwelt on it for too long. The ground there was soft enough and it is not the good to soft that they have advertised, but he has handled it very well. He is an unbelievably class horse.

“That now gives him his fourth run so he has got the option of the Betfair Hurdle, but the ground would have to be spot on for that otherwise we will go straight to the Supreme with him.

“I think he is a class horse with gears galore and I sometimes think they are best fresh. They go such a gallop in that race (Supreme) and if you are anything but absolutely ready for the day, then you might get caught flat-footed.”

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Cheltenham possibles lining up for Chatteris Fen challenge

Whispering Royal will attempt to put himself in the Cheltenham Festival picture when he lines up in the Weatherbys Chatteris Fen Juvenile Hurdle at Huntingdon on Friday.

A useful cast of six have assembled for another competitive running of the juvenile event, with Paul Nicholls’ French import Kabral Du Mathan heading most bookmakers lists ahead of his first outing for the Ditcheat team.

Whispering Royal has already tasted defeat at the hands of the same connections’ Liari earlier in the season, but stepped up markedly on that Wincanton third when a taking winner at Doncaster last month.

Alan King’s youngster now has the chance to follow in the footsteps of recently-retired Barbury Castle stalwart Sceau Royal, who won this contest in 2016, while also going a step closer to booking his ticket to Prestbury Park in the spring.

“It looks like a hot race on paper, as it always is,” said Ella McNeill, National Hunt racing manager for owners Chelsea Thoroughbreds.

“Alan has been really pleased with him at home and he’s a horse that takes his racing really well. He’s been running since the beginning of the summer on the Flat and I hope we go there with a nice chance.

“I think he prefers the better side of soft so hopefully it keeps drying out and doesn’t get too tacky, but I think we will really know what we have got on Friday.

“He obviously won really nicely at Doncaster in the middle of December and I think this is the perfect next race to see what we have really.

“I think most of the horses in there will be looking at the Boodles (Fred Winter) at the Festival so it is nice timing in terms of it being six weeks until Cheltenham. We will see if we can go there after this.”

Gary Moore has won this with Kotmask and Perseus Way in the past two years and will be relying on wide-margin Fontwell scorer Soigneux Bell to bring up the hat-trick.

“He schooled well over hurdles, but then the first time I ran him over them he was disappointing and he was disappointing the next day at Huntingdon,” said Moore.

“When he won at Fontwell I was much happier, and I think he is just starting to come together.

“He needs to improve a lot to win this on Friday, but I did have this race earmarked out for him.

“He seemed much happier on the softer ground the other day as it was his first time on it over here since coming over from France. Hopefully he will continue improving.”

Although that was Soigneux Bell’s first victory in the three starts over obstacles at Fontwell, Moore is yet to totally give up on the four-year-old taking his place at the Festival in March.

He added: “I hoped this lad was going to be a Triumph Hurdle horse, but I don’t think he is that at the moment. He would have to win well on Friday and prove me wrong.

“There are some nice handicaps at the end of the season for juveniles and that is the route he is likely to go down.

“If the owners want to go to the Cheltenham Festival then he would run in the Fred Winter (Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle), but he would need to go up in the handicap to get in that.”

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Huntingdon upbeat on prospects for Friday fixture

Conditions are much improved at Huntingdon after severe flooding caused by the overflowing of the Alconbury Brook.

The track is due to host a meeting on Friday, its first since November as the Peterborough Chase fixture was lost last month, as was a further fixture last week.

The Cambridgeshire circuit was virtually underwater just days ago due to the deluge brought in by Storm Henk, but most of that water has now cleared and officials are optimistic about racing going ahead on Friday.

Clerk of the course Roderick Duncan said: “The river is down to pre-flood levels, all the drainage systems are now working and the floodwater has cleared.

“There is just a small area that often accumulates at the two-mile-four (furlong) chute, but not on the racing line.

“There’s a bit of standing water that remains, but we believe we’ve an opportunity of getting this meeting on with the forecast as it is.

“We’ve had a big team in, all the ground staff at Newmarket have given us a hand because there was a lot of debris about, but we’ve found nothing of concern.

“We were lucky that racing-critical buildings like the stable yard have all been flood-defended so that water couldn’t enter them.

“We wouldn’t want a lot of frost, but our forecast indicates that we shouldn’t get it and for that reason we’d be quite optimistic.”

Exeter abandoned Tuesday’s meeting due to frost, losing a seven-race card with temperatures dropping to minus 3C overnight.

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Huntingdon finally succumbs to heavy rain

Today’s meeting at Huntingdon has been abandoned following flooding of the course last night.

The Peterborough Chase card survived inspections on Thursday and Friday but the Cambridgeshire track could not cope with further rain.

This afternoon’s fixture at Kelso was called off yesterday due to excess rainfall and areas of false ground.

That leaves Britain without a Sunday National Hunt meeting, although there will be Flat racing on Wolverhampton’s all-weather circuit.

Over in Ireland, Cork will stage a high-class jumps card featuring three Graded races, including the reappearance of El Fabiolo in the Bar One Racing Hilly Way Chase.

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