Tag Archive for: Kelso

Wet weather playing havoc with weekend cards

Hopes of any turf racing taking place in Britain on Saturday hinge on a second precautionary inspection at Uttoxeter at 7.30am.

Friday’s jumps cards at Fontwell, Wetherby and Wexford all fell victim to the persistent wet spell, while Saturday’s card at Stratford and Kelso’s Premier Raceday were also abandoned due to waterlogging.

Officials at Uttoxeter staged an initial inspection at 2pm on Friday to assess the latest state of play and while standing water remains in some areas, the track was described as raceable, prompting the team to announce a further check for raceday morning.

A statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, read: “Following our precautionary inspection at 2pm, the track is currently raceable with no rain since 7.30am.

“We are optimistic that we will be able to race tomorrow, however, due to variable forecasts, we will be holding another precautionary inspection at 7:30am.”

Saturday’s Curragh meeting, due to feature the Group Three Tote.ie Alleged Stakes, is also subject to a 7.30am inspection.

Brendan Sheridan, the IHRB clerk of the course at the Curragh, said on Friday morning: “Following a further 6.5mm of rain overnight, the Curragh remains heavy and fit for racing. Having spoken with Met Éireann this morning, there is the possibility of a further 8-11mm of rain between now and 5.35pm tomorrow.

“However, we are also faced with the prospect of Storm Kathleen which has the potential to bring high gusts of wind through tomorrow. On the basis of the forecast for further rain, we will have a 7.30am inspection on Saturday morning to assess if the track remains fit for racing.

“Should the track remain fit for racing at that point, we will continue to monitor the situation and consult with Met Éireann in relation to the high winds.”

Saturday’s racing programme is completed by all-weather cards at Chelmsford and Kempton and the disruption looks likely to continue, with Downpatrick’s Sunday meeting hinging on a 7.30am check.

Tuesday’s Flat meeting at Navan has already been cancelled, while Hexham’s jumps card on the same day also looks in serious doubt, with officials calling an inspection for 7.30am on Sunday.



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Wet spell continues to hit racing hard

This afternoon’s meeting at Fontwell and Saturday’s Premier fixture at Kelso are the latest to fall foul of the persistent wet spell.

Officials at Fontwell held a precautionary inspection at 7.30am following over 30mm of rain through the week and a further 7mm in the last 24 hours tipped the decision over the edge.

Unfortunately for Kelso, where the £100,000 Herring Queen Series Final Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Hurdle was the feature on a valuable card, heavy rain overnight left the course unraceable and more is forecast.

Clerk of the course Matthew Taylor said: “Unfortunately we’ve had a further 12mm overnight and it has left us unraceable.

“We had 22mm yesterday but then we had some improvement which was significant but this further 12mm has set us back quite a way. Up to 50 per cent of the track is waterlogged.

“It has just stopped raining by 8am and it is a bit breezy but we’ve got random sporadic showers forecast this afternoon which will be heavy and there’s a further rain band coming in Friday night and into Saturday morning.

“That wouldn’t give us enough time to do the work needed so we’ve had to abandon. We’re really sorry, we were desperate to get it on as a Premier raceday but we just can’t guarantee the integrity of the structure of the surface underneath.”

Wexford in Ireland were also forced to abandon on Friday, while the meeting at Wetherby had already been called off.

Saturday’s Curragh fixture, due to feature the Group Three Alleged Stakes, is subject to a 7.30am inspection, while officials at Downpatrick will inspect at 7.30am on Sunday ahead of their jumps meeting later that day.

Brendan Sheridan, the IHRB clerk of the course at the Curragh, said: “Following a further 6.5mm of rain overnight, the Curragh remains heavy and fit for racing. Having spoken with Met Éireann this morning, there is the possibility of a further 8-11mm of rain between now and 5.35pm tomorrow.

“However, we are also faced with the prospect of Storm Kathleen which has the potential to bring high gusts of wind through tomorrow. On the basis of the forecast for further rain, we will have a 7.30am inspection on Saturday morning to assess if the track remains fit for racing.

“Should the track remain fit for racing at that point, we will continue to monitor the situation and consult with Met Éireann in relation to the high winds.”



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Wetherby abandoned and more inspections scheduled

Disruption to the fixture list looks set to continue into the weekend after Wetherby’s meeting on Friday became the latest to fall due to a waterlogged track.

With no sign of the current wet spell coming to an end, Southwell flew the flag for jumps racing in Britain on Thursday, with meetings at Warwick and at Clonmel in Ireland both called off.

Officials at Wetherby called an inspection for 3pm on Thursday ahead of Friday’s card and made the decision to draw stumps shortly after.

A statement on the track’s website read: “There has been insufficient improvement during the last 24 hours and the ground remains waterlogged, with false ground in several areas. A further 12-15 millimetres of rain is expected overnight Thursday into Friday morning.”

Fontwell’s Friday fixture is also under threat, with a precautionary check called for 7.30am, while Saturday’s Premier Raceday at Kelso is already in doubt.

The Borders track is due to host a high-profile card, part of which is set to be shown live on ITV, but the ground is described as heavy, waterlogged in places and an inspection will take place at 8am on Friday to assess the latest state of play.

Officials at Uttoxeter will inspection at 2pm on Friday ahead of the track’s meeting the following day, while Chelmsford’s meeting scheduled for Saturday evening has been moved to an earlier start, from 5.25pm to 2.50pm.

A statement from the British Horseracing Authority read: “In light of the current forecast for Saturday April 6, the BHA has agreed to move Chelmsford City’s fixture to a 2.50 start and rearranged the running order.

“This is in order to ensure an appropriate level of racing content for our customers on Saturday afternoon and offer potential ITV coverage to the Woodford Reserve Cardinal Conditions Stakes at 3.30 should other fixtures on Saturday be abandoned.”



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Waterlogging causes Warwick abandonment

This afternoon’s National Hunt meeting at Warwick has become the latest victim of the current wet spell, with course officials left with no option but to abandon the fixture due to a waterlogged track.

While persistent rain continues to play havoc with the racing programme, no inspection was planned at Warwick, with only minimal rainfall forecast overnight.

However, the track posted on X on Thursday morning: “Following 16 millimetres of rainfall overnight and into this morning, which is a significant change from the three millimetres initially forecast, the track is now waterlogged and therefore unraceable.

“All tickets will automatically be refunded.”

Southwell’s Thursday card is set to go ahead as scheduled after the course passed a precautionary check at 7.30am, but racing at Clonmel in Ireland has been called off.

Further disruption looks likely heading into the weekend, with Friday’s meeting at Wetherby subject to a 3pm inspection this afternoon and Saturday’s Premier Raceday at Kelso also under threat.

The Borders track is due to host a high-profile card, part of which is set to be shown live on ITV, but the ground is currently heavy, waterlogged in places and an inspection will take place at 8am on Friday to assess the latest state of play.

Chelmsford’s meeting scheduled for Saturday evening has been moved to an earlier start, from 5.25 to 2.50.

A statement from the British Horseracing Authority read: “In light of the current forecast for Saturday April 6, the BHA has agreed to move Chelmsford City’s fixture to a 2.50 start and rearranged the running order.

“This is in order to ensure an appropriate level of racing content for our customers on Saturday afternoon and offer potential ITV coverage to the Woodford Reserve Cardinal Conditions Stakes at 3.30 should other fixtures on Saturday be abandoned.”



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Persistent rain puts more meetings in jeopardy

Tomorrow’s National Hunt meeting at Southwell and Friday’s jumps card at Wetherby will need to survive inspections to go ahead.

While the Flat season is now under way, the persistent rain is playing havoc with the new campaign, with the meeting at Nottingham on Wednesday abandoned.

Catterick’s card did go ahead after passing an inspection but there is no sign of the wet weather abating and Southwell has called a precautionary check for 7.30am.

The course is currently raceable, but should more rain than the forecast showers fall overnight, then there may be an issue.

There is a jumps meeting at Warwick where the ground is heavy but no inspection is currently planned.

It is a similar story at Fontwell on Friday but at Wetherby there are “multiple areas of standing water/waterlogged ground”.

An inspection will be held at 3pm on Thursday after 7mm of rain fell on Tuesday night and a further 6mm arrived through Wednesday up to 1pm. The forecast for Thursday is mainly dry but another 11mm is forecast for Thursday night.

Kelso are also keeping an eye on the situation ahead of their Premier meeting on Saturday.

A post on social media read: “We are closely monitoring the weather conditions with regard to racing on Saturday. We will be in a better position to assess the impact of today’s rainfall by Thursday morning, when declarations will be made for Saturday’s races.”



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Henderson back winning again, as D-Day looms for Constitution Hill

Nicky Henderson was back among the winners on Saturday to give him something to smile about as he awaits the Cheltenham Festival fate of Constitution Hill.

The champion hurdler scoped badly in the immediate aftermath of his disappointing Kempton workout on Tuesday, while blood test results received on Thursday gave connections even more cause for concern.

A further scope conducted on Friday appeared more encouraging, but Henderson revealed a second blood test to be taken on Monday would be the “acid test”.

He said: “The blood test on Monday will tell us everything and we will know where we are after that.

“If we don’t get the results we want on Monday I wouldn’t go as far as to say it will be the end of the season. Let’s just cross each bridge when we come across it.

“When you train horses you are going to walk into these situations and you’ve got to face up to it.

“It had all been too easy. Everybody thinks it is ‘ABC’ and it has been with him, except he can’t tell you when he’s wrong because he so laid-back about life.

“He’s the slowest walker, the slowest trotter and you have to drag him out of bed on a morning. With most horses you can tell, but with him you can’t as he can’t talk to you, most horses can.”

Spring Note won at Newbury for the Seven Barrows handler, while the Grade One-winning Jango Baie finished second in front of Henderson at Kelso, after which he said: “That’s the second time he’s had to run in a really good race with a 5lb penalty, it stops them. But if you win a Grade One you can’t have your cake and eat it.

“He’s a good horse. He wants to go up in trip, there’s no doubt about that, two-mile-two is tight for him. You could go two and a half but he won over two miles at Aintree, mainly because he stays.

“Over fences he’ll be going three, I’d imagine, and he’ll be very good. This time next year hopefully we’ll be talking about Cheltenham with him.

“Of course it’s nice to see one run well, I’m conscious of what’s happening, but it’s not a lot of pleasure, I can tell you that.

“To be fair the ground in our neck of the woods is so bad, and our horses always want better ground.”



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Thunder Rock gets Bowen rolling again with Kelso victory

Thunder Rock provided Sean Bowen with his biggest success since returning from injury in the Listed bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso.

Bowen – who has seen his lead at the top of the jockeys’ championship eroded and then passed by Harry Cobden – has struggled for winners since his return to action but victory on one of Olly Murphy’s stable stars will have done him the world of good.

Given a patient ride, Thunder Rock grew in confidence as the race progressed, as Minella Drama, Aye Right and Elvis Mail tried to stretch things.

Grand National fancy Monbeg Genius struggled to get on terms and when Thunder Rock went cruising on by as they turned into the straight, it was clear he had no more to give.

Thunder Rock found plenty in the home straight and the heavily-backed 9-4 favourite came home seven lengths clear of Minella Drama, booking himself a ticket to Aintree and a step back up in class.

Thunder Rock and Sean Bowen come home clear
Thunder Rock and Sean Bowen come home clear (Nick Robson/PA)

Bowen said: “He proved he stays three miles. They went quick and every time I gave him a squeeze he picked up.

“I was confident where I was and Olly gave me a lot of confidence going out to ride him. I’d been riding a lot more seconds than winners since I came back and I was getting a bit frustrated. It always helps having a good boss like that.”

Murphy said: “I really enjoyed that. I went to Cheltenham in December when I felt like I’d set him up for a big handicap but he may as well have pulled up and it’s been an upward curve since then.

“He ran well the last day at Musselburgh on the wrong track when he was wheel-spinning for two and a half miles but it did his confidence good.

“I said to Sean not to get in a battle with him and ride him with confidence because he was the classiest horse in the race and to make that tell and he did just that.

“It’s been hard for Sean, he’s riding through pain and we’ve had a quiet couple of weeks ourselves so this will do him the world of good.”

He added: “I think we’ll go to Aintree with him for the Bowl now, it’s a Grade One so he’ll need to step up again but a small field suits him and he’ll be back over 150 in a handicap again.”



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Cracking result for Ewan Whillans in Morebattle Hurdle

Just a week on from seeing an £80,000 prize snatched from his grasp in the Eider Chase, Ewan Whillans was celebrating winning the £120,000 bet365 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso with Cracking Rhapsody.

When Prince Des Fichaux was reeled in by Anglers Crag after the last at Newcastle, Whillans could have been forgiving for thinking his best chance of winning a major handicap had slipped through his fingers.

However, in Cracking Rhapsody he had an unexposed novice on his hands with course form up his sleeve and the 9-1 chance turned what looked a competitive race into something of a procession.

With Nicky Henderson’s morning favourite Under Control a non-runner, it opened the race up and it was 7-2 the field.

But Cracking Rhapsody pulled away with Ginger Mail, another trained locally, early in the straight and by the time he jumped the last the race was won, pulling four and a half lengths clear.

Cracking Rhapsody and Craig Nichol return
Cracking Rhapsody and Craig Nichol return (Nick Robson/PA)

Whillans said: “That was unbelievable and I’m over the moon. Even though he’s still a novice he’s always been a good jumper.

“I thought they’d have gone really quick, but Craig (Nichol) had him in a lovely position and he travelled really well.

“Having been second in the Eider last week I thought that was our chance for a big race gone. We don’t have many good horses and it’s usually a case of getting in good races.

“Since last week there’s been a buzz about the yard, we’ve got about 25 horses in being ridden, we’re down a bit, but those we’ve got seem quite capable.

“There’s a novice handicap final at Sandown on the last day of the season worth £100,000 and if the ground is decent I’d say we’ll go there. He might stay over hurdles next year.”



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Personal Ambition holds off Jango Baie for Grade Two success at Kelso

Personal Ambition is likely to head for Aintree’s Grand National meeting after coming out on top in thrilling renewal of the bet365 Premier Novices’ Hurdle at Kelso.

Never far from the pace set by Choose A Copper, Ben Pauling’s charge – whose only defeat in three prior hurdle starts was when third in this Grade Two company at Sandown – soon had them all at it when Kielan Woods went for home.

To his credit, 9-4 market leader Jango Baie stuck to his task when giving chase, as at one stage it looked as if Nicky Henderson’s Boxing Day Grade One scorer might drop away.

Nico de Boinville’s mount had closed right up jumping the last, but try as he might he could not quite reel the leader in under his 5lb penalty, going down by half a length to the 3-1 winner.

Pauling said: “It didn’t exactly go to plan early doors, there was a good gallop down to the first, probably too much of a gallop I would say, and he missed the first and the second and I was thinking ‘this is not ideal’.

“Thankfully he got into a nice rhythm after that and it was great that he toughed it out, as he needed to today. It wasn’t a facile victory, he had to really dig deep and he hasn’t had to do that before really, so it was great to see him do it.

“He’ll probably go to Aintree, that would be the obvious route. We were never going to go to Cheltenham because I knew that he could make the sort of mistakes he did today.

“I still think he’s a horse that just needs time on the track and I think the flat track at Aintree will suit him more than the undulations of Cheltenham.

“He’s obviously got loads of ability and he’ll be a lovely horse in time.”

Woods only returned this week after serving a 45-day suspension related to his use of the whip.

He said: “This is massive. It’s not easy for Ben Pauling to convince owners to put me up after what I’ve been doing, but I’ve learned my lesson and it’s great that Angus and Lynne (Maclennan), who are big owners, have put me up. It means a lot.

“That was brilliant. He stuck at it really well, he was good and tough. He’s very talented, but he’ll be a nicer chaser, he doesn’t have much respect for hurdles. He’ll be a good horse when he gets fences.”



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Serious Operator well named for Russell and Wadge

Serious Operator provided Patrick Wadge with another valuable winner in his quest to be champion conditional jockey when seeing off Brewin’upastorm in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle at Kelso.

Trained by Lucinda Russell, Wadge’s main supplier of winners, the seven-year-old had finished fifth in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton last time out and was a well-backed 7-2 chance.

With Wadge, who still claims 3lb, full of confidence looking for a sixth winner in his last seven rides, he waited for the right time to kick for home and jumped the last with an advantage he held to the line, winning by a length and three-quarters.

“He’s improving, his jumping was perfect but we were a bit worried about the ground because he prefers it good to soft than soft,” said Russell.

Serious Operator with winning connections
Serious Operator with winning connections (Nick Robson/PA)

“Halfway down the back I was thinking the ground was catching him out, but it wasn’t and he was entitled to go close based on his Lanzarote run.

“We’ll go chasing next year, he probably should have done it this year, but to be fair his hurdling is outstanding. He’ll go to Aintree now and he’ll stay around at two and a half miles, it suits him.”

On Wadge, she added: “I’m so proud of him and he’s riding with such confidence, it’s great.

“The title would be great, but it’s a fickle old world and there are two months still to go. He’s certainly riding at the top of his game.”



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‘Home game’ giving plenty of hope to Cannock Park team

Paul Robson is keen for Cannock Park to make the most of home advantage in the bet365 Premier Novices’ Hurdle at Kelso on Saturday.

The six-year-old has enjoyed a fine season so far, winning a Bangor bumper and a maiden hurdle at Cheltenham before finishing a fine third behind Jango Baie as a 40-1 shot for the inaugural running of the Formby Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree on Boxing Day.

With Nicky Henderson’s Jango Baie again in opposition, Robson is fully aware his stable star his work cut out to turn tables, but is delighted the rematch is taking place on his local track.

“Cannock Park is in great fettle and seems very well in himself,” he said.

“There’s no pressure as he’s been beaten by Jango Baie in the past and the betting suggests he’ll get beaten again. We’re going there very hopeful, but without any pressure.

“He (Jango Baie) is still going to have to come and get us as it is probably the first time we’re going to have our ground. If you go down through the horse’s pedigree he wants top of the ground, we’re going to get it on Saturday and Craig Nichol (jockey) knows Kelso like the back of his hand.

“Jango Baie has got to come six hours up the road and we’ve got 20 minutes to go down the road, so I’m absolutely thrilled we’ve got a race of this magnitude at Kelso.

“Whether six hours travelling will equate to the 12 lengths he beat us at Aintree, probably not, but he did get beat the last day so it’s not as if he’s super human. We’ll have a crack at him anyway.”

Jango Baie in action at Huntingdon
Jango Baie in action at Huntingdon (David Davies/PA)

Jango Baie was impressive at Aintree, but was no match for Ben Pauling’s Handstands in the Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon last month.

Pauling is represented this weekend by Personal Ambition, who has his sights raised after notching a second win from three starts over hurdles at Doncaster early in the new year.

Pauling said: “He’s in great order and this has been the aim for a long time. The ground will be fine and two-mile-two is ideal, so I’m looking forward to seeing how he gets on.

“He won first time over hurdles at Warwick as he liked, beating Jingko Blue of Nicky’s, who I think is a decent horse and has since won a handicap at Sandown very nicely.

“We then went to Sandown for a Grade Two novice where he got stuck in the mud and nothing really went his way, then he went up to Doncaster and did it as he liked, so I think he’s fairly unexposed.

“He’s in very good form and seems to be going the right way, so hopefully he can put up a good show.”

Brucio on her way to victory at the Dublin Racing Festival
Brucio on her way to victory at the Dublin Racing Festival (Niall Carson/PA)

Stuart Crawford’s Brucio is an interesting contender from Ireland, having followed up a low-key win at Catterick with a wide-margin handicap victory at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

Crawford said: “She seems in good form at home, hopefully she’s in as good a form as what she was going to Leopardstown.

“We were torn between going for the Morebattle and going for the novice race on Saturday and if the handicapper is right, she probably is better off in the novice. She’s carrying less weight and she’s higher rated than most of her rivals in it.

“Things have just fallen right for her and hopefully she can put in another big run this weekend.”



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Kelso ‘perfect timing’ for National fancy Monbeg Genius

Jonjo O’Neill views Saturday’s bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso as an ideal stepping-stone to Aintree for his leading Grand National contender Monbeg Genius.

The eight-year-old has not been seen in competitive action since finishing third in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury in early December, subsequently missing planned engagements in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow and the Classic Chase at Warwick.

There was concern his season could be curtailed after assets linked to owners Baroness Michelle Mone and her husband Doug Barrowman were made the subject of a restraint order, but the British Horseracing Authority subsequently confirmed Monbeg Genius would not be affected and he is able to travel to the Scottish Borders this weekend as he looks to enhance his National claims.

Jonjo O'Neill has high hopes for Monbeg Genius
Jonjo O’Neill has high hopes for Monbeg Genius (John Walton/PA)

“He’s had a few little issues, nothing serious but they were enough to make us miss the Welsh National and the Classic Chase at Warwick. He’s back on track now and hopefully all goes well,” said O’Neill.

“This looks a nice race for him, the conditions suit and it’s perfect timing with Aintree in mind – and he’s in good form, so we’re as hopeful as we can be.

“It’s a great race and the rest of the card is brilliant, fair play to Kelso for putting on a card like this.”

Monbeg Genius won three of his five starts as a novice over fences last season and also finished third behind Grand National hero Corach Rambler and leading Gold Cup contender Fastorslow in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

He again holds an Ultima entry but appears unlikely to turn up at Prestbury Park in less than a fortnight’s time.

O’Neill added: “He wouldn’t go to Cheltenham now. If everything goes according to plan, it will be straight to Aintree. He’s been left in just in case he tips up early or something on Saturday.”

It is 14 years since the Jackdaws Castle handler claimed Grand National glory with Don’t Push It, who memorably provided perennial champion jockey Tony McCoy with his first and only victory in the race.

O’Neill feels Monbeg Genius ticks plenty of boxes in terms of the world’s most famous steeplechase, even if his stamina needs to be taken on trust.

He said: “You can’t be confident a horse is ever going to stay the National trip until they try it, because there’s no other race like it, but he’s the type to do it if there is one. He’s a grand, simple horse, who just gallops and jumps.

“He might get to the Melling Road and run out of air, as they say, but you take your chance.

“He’s a different type to Don’t Push It, he had a touch of class, whereas this lad is a grand, honest to God horse who just might lack a bit of class, but what he lacks in class, he puts in through energy and he jumps well. You need a good horse now to win the National.

“We were disappointed when he didn’t win the Ultima last year, but it didn’t work out too bad did it!”

The admirable Aye Right is shooting for Kelso glory
The admirable Aye Right is shooting for Kelso glory (PA)

Monbeg Genius’ rivals include the admirable veteran Aye Right, trained in partnership by Harriet Graham and Gary Rutherford.

The 11-year-old has been placed on each of his three starts so far this term and another bold bid is anticipated from his connections.

“He’s in good form and he likes Kelso. It’s not quite level weights, but he’s much better off at the weights against other horses than he normally is, so it will be interesting,” said Graham.

“I’m quite excited about it, no doubt there’ll still be one too good for us – there’s always something!

“I think he has only run two bad races and it’s fairly obvious he likes to dominate the race and make a good pace. We won’t be changing anything on Saturday, as we’ve tried other things like holding up out the back and he does not have much speed at the end of a race, but is fairly relentless through it.”

Thunder Rock represents Olly Murphy
Thunder Rock represents Olly Murphy (John Walton/PA)

Nick Alexander saddles his five-time course winner Elvis Mail, while Olly Murphy is looking forward to giving Thunder Rock another opportunity to prove his stamina over this three-mile distance.

He said: “I’m not so sure he stays three miles, but we want to give it one last go, hopefully on a bit of nicer ground in a smallish field.

“He’ll be dropped in and ridden to run well. If he stays the trip, I think he’ll run well and he’s overpriced, but we’re kind of having a go more so than knowing he’ll definitely stay.

“The way he finishes off over two-and-a-half, you’d think he definitely would stay the trip, but I don’t think he has the couple of times we’ve tried thus far. Maybe he’s a year older and a year stronger and maybe he might do now, and I don’t think the ground is going to be too bad up there.”

Minella Drama (Donald McCain), La Renommee (Dr Richard Newland and Jamie Insole) and Cooper’s Cross (Stuart Coltherd) complete the field.



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Morebattle favourite has everything Under Control

Under Control can put herself in line for a £100,000 bonus when she heads to Kelso for the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old signed off last season by downing stablemate – and subsequent Greatwood and Betfair Hurdle winner – Iberico Lord at Sandown and although misfiring when favourite for the Gerry Feilden in November, she bounced back to form when second to Ashroe Diamond in a Doncaster Grade Two in January.

She holds a plethora of entries for the Cheltenham Festival and has the chance to scoop the sponsor’s six-figure incentive on offer if following up victory in the Scottish Borders at Prestbury Park later this month.

Under Control winning at Sandown last season
Under Control winning at Sandown last season (Steven Paston/PA)

That was something achieved by The Shunter in the very first year this race was run as a handicap and although set to carry a hefty weight burden, Under Control rates as one of the classiest operators in the field.

“She ran a blinder at Doncaster and was beaten by a good mare there,” said owner JP McManus’ racing manager, Frank Berry.

“Nicky has been very happy with her and although she has a lot of weight to carry, we are hoping for a good run. She did well to get back to Doncaster and run well and everything has gone well since.”

On the bonus, he added: “We’ll work it (Cheltenham) out after Saturday, once we’ve seen how she goes. If she doesn’t run well on Saturday, she will have no business going anywhere else.”

Benson provided Sandy Thomson with a popular local victory in this contest 12 months ago and, having advertised his well-being since the turn of the year, is another aiming not just for back-to-back Morebattle triumphs, but to tee-up a second shot at the Cheltenham bonus.

“His last two runs have been really good and two miles at Musselburgh last time would be sharp enough for him,” said Thomson.

“Obviously, he has a lot of weight to carry, but he seems well and he carried that weight at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day, so we will go and give it a shot.

“He was very new to us last season and we know a lot more about him now – and hopefully we have trained him accordingly. Whether we get the same result (as last year), who knows? But we’re very happy with where we have him.”

Plenty of this year’s Morebattle contenders arrive looking to extend a winning run – including the hat-trick-seeking pair of Kerry Lee’s Black Hawk Eagle and Donald McCain’s Geromino.

However, they still have some way to go to match James Moffatt’s Bingoo, who arrives at Kelso unbeaten in three and rapidly climbing the ranks.

“He’s in good order with himself,” said Moffatt. “We’re dropping back in trip a bit, but hopefully there is a very strong gallop up in front, which we should get – I think there’s three or four front-runners in it.

“We’re just going to take our chance and it’s well worth a punt at that sort of prize-money.”

Another in good order is Dr Richard Newland and Jamie Insole’s Rewired, who has followed up some encouraging performances last term by winning both outings this season.

Newland believes now is the time to give his charge a shot at a valuable prize and said: “He’s done really well and certainly seems in a very good place.

“He came out of his race at Taunton well and is in good form and we’re very happy with him.

“He possibly doesn’t want too much rain, but I just thought he deserved a chance at a slightly better race, really. The owners are excited and we are excited to have a go at it.

“I think if you had asked me if we would be going for this off this mark, I wouldn’t have been as confident, but he’s become a very sharp, quick hurdler and that is helping him. Let’s hope there is more to come.”

Skycutter got off the mark for new trainer Dan Skelton at Carlisle last month and will bid to go two places better than the stable’s L’Eau Du Sud did 12 months ago, while Brian Ellison won this with Cormier two years ago and will saddle Scottish Champion Hurdle fifth Salsada, who returns from 315 days off.



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Monbeg Genius in line for National prep at Kelso

Monbeg Genius, one of the leading fancies for this year’s Randox Grand National, is among 13 entries for Saturday’s bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso.

The British Horseracing Authority confirmed earlier this month the gelding would be permitted to run as he will not be affected by a restraint order placed on the assets of owners Baroness Michelle Mone and her husband Doug Barrowman.

Jonjo O’Neill trains the eight-year-old, who has not run since finishing third in the Coral Gold Cup back in December, with a setback scuppering any plans for a run subsequently.

Monbeg Genius is currently rated a general 16-1 chance for the National on April 13 and could clash with last year’s Premier Chase winner and fellow Aintree entry Empire Steel at Kelso.

Sail Away, Highland Hunter and Kinondo Kwetu also hold engagements for both races, while popular veteran Aye Right also features among the Kelso contenders.

Formby Novices’ Hurdle winner and third, Jango Baie and Cannock Park, headline 23 entries for the Grade Two bet365 Premier Novices’ Hurdle.

Last year’s bet365 Morebattle Hurdle victor Benson is set to carry top weight in this season’s renewal, which still has 26 entries.

Nicky Henderson’s Under Control and the Kerry Lee-trained Black Hawk Eagle currently lead the market.



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Crawford mulling Morebattle option for Brucio

Stuart Crawford will be keeping a close eye on the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle, as connections plot their next move with Leopardstown scorer Brucio.

Owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, the six-year-old has begun to get her act together over obstacles and following a successful Catterick raid in January, secured Listed honours with an impressive display in the Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Brucio was subsequently handed an entry for the Ryanair Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but with Crawford unsure if she will make the trip to Prestbury Park, it is of note that she also holds a ticket for Kelso’s feature handicap on March 2.

“It was a nice surprise winning at Fairyhouse, we certainly weren’t going there bullish we had a good chance, but she was at the right end of the handicap and she was open to plenty of improvement,” said Crawford.

“Hopefully she will keep on progressing, but I don’t know if we will head to Cheltenham with her. I’ll have to sit down and have that discussion and the beauty is there are plenty of options for her and first things first, we would try to pick something where she has the chance to pick up some good prize-money or get her head in front again.”

Irish raiders have enjoyed success in the Morebattle since its reincarnation as a handicap in 2021, with The Shunter winning in the Borders before going on to strike at the Cheltenham Festival.

Crawford himself went close to landing a blow in the race the following year with Saint D’oroux and he admits it could be the ideal place to enhance Brucio’s CV while others have their sights on the Cotswolds.

“There will be plenty of focus obviously on Cheltenham (in the next few weeks), but I will have no problem at all collecting a bit of prize-money at Kelso, that would suit me all right,” he said.

“I think we will definitely be keeping an eye on Kelso and it will probably be a more valuable race than what she would be going in at Cheltenham.

“How well is she going to be treated by the handicapper? That is hard to say and she will take a hefty rise for what she did at Leopardstown. But hopefully she can still be competitive in a big handicap like that.”

He went on: “She made a very promising debut at Punchestown last spring in the mares’ bumper there and showed a bit of ability, but afterwards she probably underwhelmed a little bit and underperformed in her next two starts in bumpers.

“Ultimately she has just probably been more suited to going jumping and even though she has taken a run or two to find her feet, there is hopefully plenty of progress still to come with her.”



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