High-class mare Laurina has been retired after disappointing on her first start for Paul Nicholls at Ascot on Saturday.
The daughter of Spanish Moon went unbeaten in her first six outings for Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins – a run which include an 18-length demolition job in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.
Her winning streak came to an end when fourth in the following year’s Champion Hurdle and while she made a successful chasing bow at Gowran Park 12 months ago, she was pulled up on her next two starts, and could finish only third on her return to hurdles in February.
Laurina was the 11-8 favourite to bounce back on her debut for Nicholls in the Coral Hurdle, but finished last of the three runners, after which it emerged that, not for the first time, she had broken blood vessels.
The Ditcheat handler took to Twitter on Tuesday to confirm her racing days were over, posting: “After discussions over the weekend it has been decided that after she bled again on Saturday, to retire wonderful racemare Laurina.
“Her next appearance will be at the Tattersalls Ireland breeding sale on December 14.”
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Paul Nicholls believes Real Steel could be an “interesting” recruit for his yard as he prepares to make his debut for his new trainer in the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday.
Nicholls has won the last two renewals of the Grade Two, with Politologue in 2018 and Cyrname in a fascinating contest 12 months ago in which he inflicted a first defeat over obstacles on Altior.
While it might be fanciful to suggest this year’s four runners can match that race for drama, they are nevertheless classy operators in their own right.
Real Steel was the last horse off the bridle in the Gold Cup, Imperial Aura was a Festival winner, Itchy Feet won a Grade One as a novice last season while Black Corton reserves his best for Ascot.
“While I am still learning about Real Steal I do think he could be a really interesting recruit after joining us this season from Willie Mullins,” said Nicholls.
“I thought he ran a cracker in the Cheltenham Gold Cup as he was bang there at the last fence before weakening up the hill.
“Though I haven’t been hard on him he is fit and I’ve given him an entry in the King George.
“This trip should be ideal for Real Steel who is better going right-handed according to Ruby Walsh. I can’t wait to see how he gets on.”
Black Corton gives Nicholls a second string to his bow.
“He is a regular at Ascot and after a summer wind op he wasn’t as ready as most of ours when fourth in a handicap at this track under top weight three weeks ago,” he told Betfair.
“I thought he ran very well in the circumstances and will improve for it.
“This trip of two miles and five furlongs will be fine for Black Corton who is so genuine and doesn’t have to carry any penalties.
“Although he has a bit to find with a couple of these he is capable of running a big race. They will have to work very hard to get past him.”
Following his win in the Scilly Isles Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet was well fancied for the Arkle at the Festival but he was a relatively early casualty. He was third on his return in the Old Roan at Aintree.
“He’s in good form. We’re chucking him in at the deep end a little bit, but we’re happy with him and hopefully we’ll have a better idea of where we’re going after Saturday,” said Murphy.
Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura barely put a foot wrong on his return to action at Carlisle, but this represents a big step up in class.
Nicholls also holds a strong hand in the Coral Hurdle with another former Mullins inmate in the shape of Laurina.
However, while Real Steel moved stables on the back of arguably a career-best effort, Laurina now has plenty to prove having been beaten on her last three outings.
“She is a top-class mare who was sent to us this summer,” said Nicholls.
“Laurina had issues with breaking blood vessels last season and this looks a perfect starting point as she doesn’t have any penalties and with the mares allowance she gets weight from all her rivals.
“I’ve done a lot of hard, steady work with Laurina without galloping her too much and she looks amazing at the moment.
“While I wouldn’t be surprised to see her go very well I’m sure she will benefit from the run.”
Laurina faces just two rivals – Nicky Henderson’s Call Me Lord and the Tom Symonds-trained Song For Someone, last seen winning the Kingwell Hurdle in February.
“He improved from race-to-race last year, but he started rated 136 which unfortunately he’s not this year,” said Symonds.
“There’s a lot to look forward to with him, he’s in good form but it’s going to be tough. If the old Laurina turns up it’s going to be very tough.
“He’s there on merit and he’s run well over course and distance before and then went and won the Kingwell and in doing that he might have shown a dynamic I didn’t think he had, as I always viewed him as a two-and-a-half-miler.
“He’s still very young, we had the option of fences but he only turned five the day he won the Kingwell.
“Paul made it very clear when he got Laurina from Willie Mullins that it is going to be hard for her, she doesn’t owe anyone anything. Paul has already done well with the horses he’s got from Willie, but in the nicest possible sense I don’t think I’d like to get a horse from Willie Mullins – she’s been a fantastic horse.”
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Gary Moore will take stock over the next few days on a new target for Goshen after he was a surprise absentee from the declarations for the Coral Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.
So unfortunate in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, the four-year-old had been due to make his return over obstacles in the Grade Two contest after a couple of Flat outings.
Moore said: “His scope wasn’t perfect this morning and you can’t run a horse when their scope isn’t perfect.
“If we can get him clean in time we’ll look at the Fighting Fifth up at Newcastle (November 28), but that is less than two weeks away and he’s going to have to have a few easy days now.
“If he’s not ready for that, then it will have to be the International at Cheltenham (December 12).”
That leaves Laurina, who went off a 5-2 chance for the 2019 Champion Hurdle when trained by Willie Mullins, as the headline act in a three-runner affair.
She was among a group of horses owner Jared Sullivan moved from Ireland to Paul Nicholls’ yard over the summer, but she has questions to answer after a disappointing campaign last term, both over fences and hurdles.
Taking her on are Nicky Henderson’s Call Me Lord and the Tom Symmonds-trained Song For Someone.
Real Steel, Imperial Aura, Itchy Feet and Black Corton face off in a fascinating renewal of the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase.
Real Steel, another of the Sullivan horses to switch to Nicholls, was last seen finishing sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Imperial Aura has been on a steep upward curve for the in-form Kim Bailey, winning a handicap at the Festival and barely putting a foot wrong in the Colin Parker Memorial at Carlisle on his return to action.
Bailey shunned last week’s Paddy Power Gold Cup to step him up to Grade Two class instead.
Itchy Feet was a Grade One winner as a novice last season – a first for trainer Olly Murphy – but he was an early casualty in the Marsh Novices’ Chase in March.
He was a respectable third in the Old Roan at Aintree, giving weight to all but one of his rivals, on his reappearance.
The Nicholls-trained Black Corton is without a win since April 2019, but has run plenty of good races in defeat for regular rider Bryony Frost and goes well at Ascot.
Laurina remains on course to make her stable debut for Paul Nicholls in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot.
The former Cheltenham Festival winner, one of a number of horses switched by owner Jared Sullivan from Willie Mullins to Nicholls over the summer, features among six entries for Saturday’s Grade Two contest.
Laurina failed to sparkle last season, winning just one of her three starts over fences before being switched back to hurdles, but the 11-time champion trainer believes the extended two-mile-three-furlong test is an ideal starting point.
Nicholls said: “I’m looking forward to running Laurina. She has been a bit of a challenge, but she appears in good shape.
“We’ve got to start her off somewhere, and it’s a nice little starting point. She doesn’t get any penalties and gets a mares’ allowance. She could be quite interesting.”
The entries are completed by last year’s runner-up Call Me Lord (Nicky Henderson), Goshen (Gary Moore) , Tea Clipper (Tom Lacey), Song For Someone (Tom Symonds) and Indefatigable (Paul Webber).
Gold Cup sixth Real Steel, who like Laurina has joined Nicholls from Mullins, is one of two entries for the Ditcheat handler – along with Black Corton – in the Grade Two Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase.
He said: “I think a middle-distance trip will be the ideal place to start him. A right-handed track seems to suit him, looking at his form. He is in good shape, and we are looking forward to him running.”
Looking beyond this weekend, Nicholls has not ruled out giving Real Steel an outing in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, for which he is a general 16-1 shot.
Nicholls added: “He would be a King George possible. He ran well in the Gold Cup – going to the last he looked like he might win, but he didn’t quite get up the hill.
“You would say three miles around Kempton would suit him very well.”
Completing the quartert of entries are the Kim Bailey-trained Imperial Aura and Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet.
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