Tag Archive for: Lingfield

No rush to make plans for Bristol De Mai after gallant Lingfield effort

Connections of Bristol De Mai are to let the dust settle before they make plans for the popular grey following his fine run in defeat at Lingfield on Sunday.

The 11-year-old, owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, was only beaten three-quarters of a length in third place behind Two For Gold and Dashel Drasher in a thrilling race for the Fleur De Lys Chase over a distance short of Bristol De Mai’s best.

The Cheltenham Festival looks highly unlikely after Bristol De Mai was not entered for the Gold Cup in which he was third in 2019.

“He’s fine. He ran really well. It was just the trip was a bit too short for him. It was very good,” said trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.

“I don’t know where he’ll go next, it’s too early. We’ll talk to the owners and see what happens.

“It’s doubtful he’ll go to Cheltenham for the Festival. We’ll see what the owners want to do.”

Monday Musings: A Rare Weekend Indeed

Rather more than fifty years ago, when I was serving my mercurial time at the Press Association in Fleet Street, if you had suggested staging a big-money jumps card at Lingfield in late January, they would have been sending the idea’s originators to the nearest psychiatric ward, writes Tony Stafford.

In those days the PA was the principal provider of all the information on racecourse going reports, jockey and trainers’ plans and the technological developments we all take for granted were still decades away. So we dozen or so on the in-house team, bolstered by at least as many outside reporters, would get all the information first.

It was quite handy in the days of Jockey Pools when some of the more unscrupulous members would withhold jockey changes to the newspapers, their principal clients, on a Friday night until James Lambie could get the teams’  last-minute coupons down to Euston station in time for the final permitted mail delivery for Liverpool.

We used to collect almost every week and sometimes for a nice few bob. In those days the office was split between journalists (so-called) and clerical staff, but it was we journos who master-minded the selections while generally the much bigger clerical team would simply spy and feast on them.

After seven or eight winning weeks in a row, one Sunday morning, one of their contingent came over to our desk and said: “How did we miss Edward Hide?” Cheeky bugger!

I just recalled that portion of those days when the biggest joke was about Lingfield. In the era either side of World War 2, and presumably before that, the minimum requirement for a clerk of the course was an army commission and Major was the most common.

Peter Beckwith-Smith at Lingfield had carried that rank during the war years and, as was also the tradition, into his civvy street activities for ever afterwards. He was one of the more optimistic of clerks.

The joke was that when going out on a boat to assess the prospects of racing a couple of days ahead of a Lingfield fixture, he took out his stick, leant precariously over the edge and searched for the bottom. Later in his bulletin to our office he pronounced without a hint of irony: “Underneath the water the going is good to soft”!

That’s just a flavour of how absurd it would have been in those days to schedule any meaningful meeting in January. They sometimes used to get away with the late December meeting which included one of the first informative juvenile tests of the year, but January was usually a write-off or, rather, a wash-out.

Drainage improvements have meant the abandonments are much fewer, but to say the course has been fortunate to go unscathed through their inaugural three-day (one all-weather) Winter Million bonanza is an understatement.

After about ten dry days the ground was still heavy with soft patches. Just one or two wet days would have been enough to scupper their ambitious, perhaps foolhardy, plan. I wouldn’t mind betting they might not be so lucky if they persevere with the deal next January. I hasten to add their bravery deserves to have paid off and friends who have been there all weekend have enjoyed the innovation.

It helped that ITV 4 were there as they were at Ascot on Saturday, otherwise I would have missed the best of the two tracks but most importantly the fantastic preliminary skirmish between the two Queen Mother Champion Chase contenders, Shishkin and Energumene, in Saturday’s Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

That Willie Mullins is a clever chap, sending over Energumene and asking Paul Townend to send him on from the start. That tactic surprised a few, expecting the only other serious opponent First Flow to set the pace. Rather shrewdly Luke Harvey suggested First Flow would not be quick enough and was entirely correct. But last year’s winner did figure for much of the middle part of the two miles when all three horses were in close formation.

Turning for home, though, it became a match and, with Energumene making no semblance of an error, racing close to the rails and not losing a millimetre, he was almost metronomic from start to finish.

It would clearly require a champion to beat him and with Shishkin not as fluent as his Irish rival and the occasional jump to the left losing a little ground, surely he had met his Waterloo (or at least Clapham Junction, as the final destination will not occur for another seven weeks). But Nico De Boinville still had time coming to the last to change his whip, settle the horse momentarily and then drive him to pick up and pass his rival with the characteristic flying finish he always contrives.

Meanwhile, the doughty First Flow was picking up the far from negligible third prize of sixteen grand which would have satisfied Kim Bailey even if 18 lengths adrift of the second and 19 from the winner. Amoola Gold, never mentioned before here or in the race either except as an onlooker from the rear as an 80-1 shot for the Skeltons, plotted his way home safely.

It made for a remunerative schooling round and his owners, the Pinks, had the excitement of sharing the paddock with, as Kim said beforehand, “Two of the racing Gods” and hopefully took advantage of the wonderful lunch available in the Ascot Owners’ Suite. After their race it would have been the ideal time for afternoon tea before going home.

I would not be shocked if that old shrewdie Dan hasn’t already sorted out a Festival target for Amoola Gold and his respectful distance adrift the top two and equally First Flow should not lead to a significant alteration to his tasty 151 rating. He’s the first contender on my list for one of the valuable handicaps.

The Clarence House, as befits a Grade 1, was worth £85,000 to the brilliant winner. Nicky Henderson is entitled to believe he has the boxes ticked for the big day but equally Willie Mullins will know more about how possibly to attack Shishkin. If Shishkin’s less secure or, rather, less accurate jumping is ironed out, there is probably no way back for the Irish but maybe a few more jumps upside him might make him uneasy. They need to try something, but whatever they come up with, the re-match promises to be the race of the week.

Yesterday’s Fleur De Lys Chase over two and three-quarter miles and worth £78,000 to the winner despite being ungraded, was another thriller, if one laced with regret as Master Tommytucker, having been smuggled into the race from a long way back by Harry Cobden, suffered a fatal injury when falling heavily at the third-last fence.

At this point Dashel Drasher, having been hounded for the lead by Lieutenant Rocco, now had to contend with Kim Bailey’s Two For Gold and old-timer Bristol De Mai, away from his Haydock comfort zone.

In a finish of swaying fortunes, the last thrust came from Two For Gold and David Bass just edging out the gallant but unfortunate Dashel Drasher and Rex Dingle, with Bristol De Mai just behind. A thriller indeed.

My favourite moment of the weekend was the opening bumper win yesterday of Hughie Morrison’s Our Jester, now a six-year-old, who followed his impressive Ascot bumper win last October with a spectacular eased-down success on the all-weather.

Hughie confessed beforehand that the owners have been keeping this excessive prize as far as bumpers are concerned in mind to brighten their January and he obliged in style under Tom O’Brien. They got £2,700 or so for Ascot but eight times as much – £21k yesterday!

Although a half-brother to the smart bumper but then Flat-race winner Urban Artist and out of bumper winning but then Royal Ascot heroine Cill Rialaig, there is one unique element to his career to date and one that strikes pertinently at my heart.

I was a great proponent of Our Jester’s sire, Garswood, in his early years at stud. Unfortunately, the former high-class sprinter-miler for Richard Fahey has long been disregarded by the never-forgiving breeding industry, consigning him to exile from Cheveley Park to a little-known nursery in France.

Trainers loved his first crop, almost to a man (or woman) big and strong, but they did not carry their physique meaningfully into battle. I mentioned a rarity with Our Jester and indeed it is. He is the only winning bumper horse (of six to try) by Garswood. I suggested to Hughie recently that maybe everyone got it wrong and despite his own speed, he should have been treated as a jumps stallion.

Knowing what his relatives have done, it could easily be that Our Jester might ply his trade later as a flat-racer; his two bumper wins will count as jumps successes but none of the other 15 Garswoods to go jumping, including those five bumper non-winners, have yet to pick up a single National Hunt race. Brave Hughie, as I’ve said before, is some trainer! He trains what he sees, not what people tell him to expect.

 - TS

The Galloping Bear is National hero for Ben Clarke

The Galloping Bear produced a game staying performance to defy top-weight in the racehorselotto.com Surrey National Handicap Chase at Lingfield.

The nine-year-old, trained by Ben Clarke, kept on gamely on the run to the line at the end of the three-mile-five-furlong trip to lift the spoils on his second start following a wind operation.

His comeback run, after a 258-day absence, resulted in a fall at the third-last flight in a novice hurdle at Chepstow last month – but the successful hunter chaser and point-to-pointer showed he had regained his form.

Ridden by Ben Jones, The Galloping Bear (12-1) was always in the front rank and found extra after the last to see off the late challenges of Defuture Is Bright (20-1) and Echo Watt (33-1), by two and a half lengths and two and three-quarters. Both placed horses were receiving lumps of weight from the winner.

Clarke, who was assistant to Anthony Honeyball before starting out on his own with a string of 15 horses, said: “On pedigree and everything he had shown us at home and in point-to-points – the first time he could be well above average was when he won an intermediate point at Buckfastleigh and went through the line quicker than anything through the day and I thought, ‘Crikey! We might have something all right’.

“I’m thrilled to bits. His pedigree suggests he’d stay and he certainly has.

“His last run at Chepstow was supposed to be his last little prep for a Welsh National and we ended upside down. That was not ideal. We still would have run him but he scoped dirty two or three days before. He is the best horse we have and we certainly wouldn’t risk a horse like that on a marginal scope.

“We had him in the Peter Marsh, but with Royale Pagaille running, he would have been running out of the handicap.

“Maybe the Grand National Trial at Haydock next month is where we go next. He will probably go up a few pounds and will probably be rated around 140. The key to him is soft ground – he has to have that. The area Nationals are what he is all about.”

Two For Gold denies Dashel Drasher in Fleur De Lys Chase

Two For Gold rallied in admirable fashion to deny Dashel Drasher in the Fleur De Lys Chase at Lingfield.

Kim Bailey’s nine-year-old pipped Jeremy Scott’s stable star to take the £78,045 first prize at odds of 10-1 in the hands of David Bass.

After jumping the last with a narrow lead, Two For Gold was headed in the final 100 yards by Dashel Drasher but fought back bravely as the winning post approached and got back up to get the nod by a short head.

Dashel Drasher had cut out most of the running after taking over Lieutenant Rocco and Bristol De Mai, who were the first to go on.

Lieutenant Rocco harassed Dashel Drasher for much of the journey, but he was the first beaten. Master Tommytucker was creeping into the race when he took a bad fall at the third-last fence and it was subsequently confirmed he had tragically suffered a fatal injury.

With Itchy Feet never able to get in a blow, it was left to Two For Gold, Dashel Drasher and Bristol De Mai to fight it out. The latter had to settle for third place, three-quarters of a length behind the first two, who served up a thrilling finish.

To rub salt into the wounds, Dashel Drasher’s jockey Rex Dingle was handed a four-day ban (February 6-9 inclusive) for careless riding.

“I said to my assistant this morning that we need a horse to rescue us this season and what is the chance of this happening today,” said Bailey.

He is funny old horse. He is a quirky individual and he has given the owners a huge amount of fun.

“When they announced this race, we said straight away that this was the race we wanted to go for. He loves soft ground and this meeting has been abandoned enough times to work out it was going to be heavy ground, which would suit him.

“He has done his job for the season if that’s the case. We’ll find something else for him, but he is a tremendous horse.”

Paying an emotional tribute to Master Tommytucker, Harry Derham, assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls, wrote on Twitter: “I adore this sport but sometimes it can be gut wrenchingly cruel. So sad for Tony Fear & Louise Cabble who bought Tommy into the world & have loved him since.

“Brave & bold he’d have run into a brick wall for you. I’ll always remember you at your terrifying best. Sleep well Tommy.”

Brewin’upastorm rallies to pick up Lingfield prize

Brewin’upastorm pounced late to claim the Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide Hurdle for Aidan Coleman and Olly Murphy in a thrilling three-runner affair at Lingfield.

The nine-year-old fell when going with every chance in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day – but put that misfortune behind him to land a valuable prize at the inaugural Winter Million meeting.

Starting as the 13-8 joint-favourite alongside Gavin Cromwell’s Darver Star, Coleman’s mount was at the rear of the field for much of the contest as Gary Moore’s Goshen led, with Darver Star appearing the one going best as things started to hot up.

But approaching the penultimate flight Brewin’upastorm was galvanised into contention by Coleman, avoiding Goshen’s errant jumping and pulling clear after a good jump at the last to beat Darver Star by a length and a quarter. Goshen was a nose back in third.

Murphy said: “We left Cheltenham gutted and you can see from the way he finished there, we had good reason to think he would have won.

“I didn’t enjoy watching that at all today. Darver Star had the run of the race and Goshen was going right. You always have to ride Brewin’upastorm with a little bit of room and Goshen was going everywhere we wanted to go and was a right inconvenience, but that’s horse racing.

“He’s a good horse and has done me proud and it’s nice he’s turned up on the big day. Yes, there’s only three runners but that’s not our fault and well done to Lingfield for putting on fantastic prize-money. I’m over the moon.”

He added: “It is more likely that we will bypass Fontwell and the National Spirit and I’d imagine we’ll probably freshen him up and go straight to Aintree for the Aintree Hurdle.”

Coleman said: “He was probably very unlucky in the Relkeel and he has made amends today.

“He handled the ground well enough and you have to be delighted with that.”

War Lord wins the battle for Lingfield honours

War Lord gained handsome compensation for his fine run in a Grade One on his previous start with a hard-fought victory in the Cazoo Novices’ Chase at Lingfield.

The Colin Tizzard-trained seven-year-old had finished a long way second behind Edwardstone in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown – but showed he is pretty smart in his own right as he made it three wins from four races over fences.

Il Ridoto made the running in the four-horse affair with War Lord always on his heels in second place under Brendan Powell.

Taking closer order in the straight with three fences to jump, War Lord (11-10 favourite) had to work hard to overtake the long-time leader before landing the spoils by three and a quarter lengths. Faivoir edged Il Ridoto out of second place by a length.

War Lord was cut to 33-1 from 50-1 with Coral for the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.

Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father, said: “He deserved it. He has done nothing wrong all season. He is quite a progressive young horse. We have Doncaster next week in mind – we were always going to enter and just see where. I wouldn’t say this race has cut up, but the front three were all, on ratings, much of a muchness. I think he has done it quite nicely and I think he is getting better.

“He earned his right to run in a Grade One and he lost nothing in defeat. We were chuffed to bits he finished second that day and we dropped back down to a Grade Two. He is a two-and-a-half-mile hurdler so we can step up in trip when we need to, but just on this ground, we don’t need to yet.

“He has got two options at Cheltenham – the Arkle and the two-and-a-half-miler. As the ground dries out, we won’t be afraid to step him up, but at the moment, he jumps so well and he’s slick and he travels, so we don’t need to.

“The boys are keen to have a go (at Cheltenham), I’m keen to have a go and he’s earned the right to be there as well. He is three out of four and second in a Grade One, so he deserves to be there. We will wait and see. The guys are enjoying planning all the races, as much as I am.

“I might enter him for next Saturday (Lightning Novices’ Chase), as he has not had a hard race. I might enter him up at Doncaster just in case that cut up to two or three – I won’t tell them that yet. I will just press the button and tell them at 12 o’clock!

“He jumps and travels and done it well. He’s a good chap.”

The Tizzard stable and Powell completed a double when Triple Trade (7-2) outfought Shearer by two lengths in the Winter Million Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

Our Jester ran out a convincing winner of the Winter Million Open National Hunt Flat Race.

Hughie Morrison’s six-year-old pulled clear of his rivals early in the straight to quickly put the two-mile race beyond doubt in the hands of Tom O’Brien.

Our Jester (5-2) got off the mark in a bumper at Ascot in November on his third start and took a big step forward in a competitive heat.

Always prominent the Garswood gelding set sail for home on the final bend and went on to score by three and a quarter lengths from the Nicky Henderson-trained Swapped. German challenger Estacas, the 15-8 favourite, was a neck away in third.

O’Brien said: “He is huge and that was my worry. It is tight around here, so I wanted to get out handy and luckily we have done that.

“It looked as if there would be a lack of pace, with a lot of speed horses in there, and my lad is a jumper of the future, so I wanted to be up there and luckily it was the right place today.

“Hughie was confident. He got beat twice last year and he obviously took time to strengthen up and he has done, he has done very well. It is a great race to win and great from Lingfield to put it on.”

There was a sting in the tail for O’Brien as he was banned for five days for careless riding. He will be out from February 6 to 10 inclusive.

Ballygrifincottage (7-4) wore down High Stakes in the closing stages to win a thrilling race for the Winter Million Novices’ Hurdle.

The seven-year-old, trained by Dan Skelton, made his stamina count as he knuckled down for Harry Skelton to see off his gritty opponent by a length and a half.

The pair pulled clear eight lengths clear of the third-placed horse, the 11-8 favourite Fameaftertheglory.

Harry Skelton and Ballygrifincottage (right) on their way to winning the Winter Million Novices’ Hurdle
Harry Skelton and Ballygrifincottage (right) on their way to winning the Winter Million Novices’ Hurdle (Steven Paston/PA)

It was only Ballygrifincottage’s second start under rules following his third place in the Grade Two Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on his debut for the Skelton stable last month after being sold out of the point-to-point sphere.

His rider said: “They went so quick, I couldn’t go with them. I was off the bridle going to the first, to the second, but three miles on that ground, I just let him warm up, let him warm into it and he came onto the bridle then with a circuit to go.

“Whatever we do over hurdles will be a bonus. He has quite a lot of experience. He is an older horse, he is a six-year-old. We would never normally start our novices off over the trip we have with him, but he has got that experience and he can cope with it. There is a lot to look forward to.”

Lower Street powers home to land Winter Oaks at Lingfield

Lower Street came from last to first to land the £100,000 Coral Winter Oaks Fillies’ Handicap, the feature event on day two the Winter Million at Lingfield.

The 10-furlong contest had attracted a healthy line-up of 14 runners, and Martin Dwyer was sitting right at the back of the pack aboard David Simcock’s charge as the field turned for home.

Arenas Del Tiempo lead the way into the final couple of furlongs but they were lining up to challenge in behind, with Precisely the first to go for home before Pretty Sweet and then Umm Hurai.

However, Lower Street (10-1) was flying down the outside and hit the front inside the distance, holding another fast-finisher in Enfranchise by a length at the line, with Pretty Sweet back in third.

Simcock said: “As soon as we saw this race, that is why we went to Southwell to get up in the weights to make sure she definitely got in.

“They have gone hard there – really hard – and that is the first time she has had that in a race. She was almost outpaced early doors and the Johnston horse who finished second was next to her, so they have probably gone too quick in front.

“Since the autumn, Lower Street has really progressed. She was far worse off at the weights with some of those horses from the trial at Southwell two starts back and this shows how much she has come forward.

“The plan before today was to have a break and then come back for fast ground in the summer. Whether that changes I don’t know, but the likelihood is that she will have a break.”

He added: “This is a great prize and the whole thing (Winter Million) is a really good concept. I wasn’t here yesterday but the crowd today is good with a real friendly atmosphere.”

Celtic Art came home in front under Hollie Doyle
Celtic Art came home in front under Hollie Doyle (Steven Paston/PA)

Celtic Art (100-30 favourite) continued his fine start for new connections when lifting the Betway Handicap.

Previously trained by Paul and Oliver Cole, the five-year-old was bought for £39,000 at the December sales and after finishing second on his first outing for Jeremy Scott on New Year’s Eve, he went one better in landing this £50,000 prize.

Hollie Doyle sent him for home over a furlong out and he was always just doing enough to repel the challenge of the admirably consistent Protected Guest by half a length.

“After he was second here first time out for us, I thought this race would be a nice target. It is so rare that a plan comes together but thankfully it has,” said Scott.

“I asked Hollie what she would do next. She said he is clearly enjoying the game, so we will have a look at the programme book and see if there is anything suitable in the near future.”

Dingle was part of a double for Richard Hannon and Sean Levey
Dingle was part of a double for Richard Hannon and Sean Levey (Steven Paston/PA)

Richard Hannon and Sean Levey teamed up for a double with Dingle and Kodias Sangarius.

Dingle (100-30) got the best an exciting three-way finish in the Read Katie Walsh On Betway Insider Handicap, beating Marion’s Boy and Totally Charming a head and a neck in a photo.

Kodias Sangarius’ victory in the Play Coral Racing-Super-Series For Free Handicap was a similarly tight affair, with the 12-1 shot just shading Little Prayer by a nose with Lucky Man a further neck back in third.

The MansionBet Proud Partners Of The AWC Handicap was another to produce a well-contested finish, with Shoot To Kill (14-1) seeing off 2-1 favourite Diderot by a neck for trainer Robyn Brisland and jockey Darragh Keenan.

War In Heaven (9-4) obliged favourite-backers in the Betway Novice Stakes, with Jim Crowley and Laura Mongan taking the closing MansionBet Beaten By A Head Handicap with Mount Mogan (20-1).

Murphy anticipating bold Lingfield show from Brewin’upastorm

Olly Murphy expects Brewin’upastorm to make his presence felt in the Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide Hurdle at Lingfield on Sunday.

The nine-year-old made an excellent start to his season when securing his seventh career victory in a conditions event at Aintree in October.

He was well fancied to follow up in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day – and still held every chance when challenging eventual winner Stormy Ireland and crashing out at the final flight.

Murphy reports Brewin’upastorm to be none the worse for that spill and views this £100,000 contest as too good an opportunity to miss with his two-and-a-half-mile specialist.

He said: “He’s in good nick and if he reproduces his Aintree or his Cheltenham run, he’s going to be bang there.

“It’s a £100,000 race and he’s come out of Cheltenham very well. Laura Collett has done a lot of schooling with him and we’re looking forward to having a go.

“There’s only two other races for him this season and they’re the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell and the Aintree Hurdle and there’s a big gap between Lingfield and Fontwell.”

With Miranda and Lucky Max both declared non runners, Brewin’upastorm will face just two rivals, headed by Gavin Cromwell’s Irish raider Darver Star.

The 10-year-old was placed in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2020 and enjoyed a confidence-boosting victory at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve.

Darver Star after winning at Punchestown
Darver Star after winning at Punchestown (Alan Magee/PA)

“I was delighted with him the last day – it was a massive improvement. As the race developed he warmed up into it and it was great to get his head in front again,” said Cromwell.

“There’s some good prize money up for grabs at Lingfield and we’re looking forward to running him.”

Testing conditions will hold no fears for Gary Moore’s Goshen, but he needs to bounce back from an underwhelming effort at Ascot.

Moore said: “He’s in good order and the trip should be all right for him.

“The only problem he’s got is going left-handed, but hopefully he can sort it out round there on a bit of softer ground.”

Estacas brings a little international flavour to proceedings in the opening Winter Million Open National Hunt Flat Race.

Andreas Wohler’s German raider bids to double his tally on British soil after making a winning debut at Ascot in October and the form has worked out, with the runner-up and fourth winning since.

Wohler – who has again booked Jamie Moore for the ride – is hoping his charge can earn himself a shot at the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham with another victory.

He said: “I’m very happy with him. He has improved since his last race at Ascot – he was a bit babyish there. I think he has to improve to be competitive.

“It’s good to see there is good prize money on offer. It looks a nice weekend at Lingfield.

“If everything goes well we would like to go to Cheltenham, but we’ll take it one race at a time.”

Twiston-Davies backing Bristol to bounce back at Lingfield

Nigel Twiston-Davies believes Bristol De Mai still retains all his old ability ahead of the inaugural running of the Fleur De Lys Chase at Lingfield on Sunday.

The popular grey, a multiple winner of the Betfair Chase, has recently turned 11 and has been pulled up on his last two outings.

But as they were in the Grand National with top-weight and in this season’s Betfair Chase on unsuitably quick ground, Twiston-Davies feels he has a valid excuse for both.

“It is a big weekend. We’re all happy with Bristol De Mai. We just don’t know what the ground will be like. They have had the sheets on for ages, so it could be gluey,” he said.

“There is nothing wrong with him. I don’t think anyone is going to understand quite what the ground is going to be at Lingfield. It was heavy ground when they put the covers on. Will the covers make it absolutely tacky? It will be interesting to see what happens.

“Two-mile-six around Lingfield is a stiff old track. It would be the same stamina as three miles round Haydock. All I can tell is that he is cheerful, and really well and fit.

“He certainly has the zest and appetite and goes up the gallop every day as though it is his first time.”

Anthony Bromley is racing manager for Bristol De Mai’s owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede and hopes there is at least one more big performance in him.

He said: “He has a 6lb penalty to carry for last season’s Betfair Chase win, but I think he goes there with a great chance. Sparky (Richard Bevis, head lad), who rides him at home, says he is full of zest and in as good a form as he has been for ages.

“Bristol is an awesome sight on a going day in the right conditions. He just grinds his rivals into submission and let’s hope he can wind the clock back and do it again.”

Jeremy Scott’s stable star Dashel Drasher won over hurdles last time out and his trainer had been tempted to remain over the small obstacles, but the huge prize money on offer swayed him.

“We wanted to get a run into him at Newbury as we could see the ground wasn’t going to be great through January, so we went there to get a race into him,” he said.

“He looked relatively well treated over hurdles and thankfully it came off.

Dashel Drasher on his way to his latest victory
Dashel Drasher on his way to his latest victory (David Davies/PA)

“He’s won over two-six before but not on that sort of ground, I’m not sure he’s even run on it. Lingfield is quite a unique test when it’s like this, so it will stretch our stamina.

“A lot of the opposition are nearer three-milers than two-milers, so we have to conserve energy but use our pace at certain times. We’ll have a good look tactically about how to ride him.

“Bristol De Mai appears to have had this as his Gold Cup for the year, he’s a dour stayer who will love the ground.

“The target has always been to win the race at Ascot he won last year, but quite frankly this race matches it for prize money, if not kudos yet. We then have the option of the Ascot race or one of the festivals in the spring. If it comes off it will be very exciting.”

Itchy Feet in action at Sandown
Itchy Feet in action at Sandown (Steven Paston/PA)

Itchy Feet has filled the runner-up spot in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree and behind Bravemansgame at Haydock so far this season and trainer Olly Murphy is anticipating another bold showing.

He said: “Gavin Sheehan schooled him on Thursday and he was happy. I’m looking forward to running him.

“Looking at his Aintree run and his Haydock run, I don’t see any reason why he can’t run very well.

“It’s unbelievable prize-money and if he turns up on his A-game he’d have an each-way chance.”

Master Tommytucker (Paul Nicholls), Fanion D’Estruval (Venetia Williams), Lieutenant Rocco (Harriet Brown) and Two For Gold (Kim Bailey) complete the field.

Metier secures Sovereign honours for Harry Fry

Metier made all the running to land the inaugural Sovereign Handicap Hurdle, the feature £100,000 race on the first day of the Winter Million at Lingfield.

Sean Bowen rarely had a moment’s concern aboard the Harry Fry-trained six-year-old, who relished the heavy conditions, galloping his 11 rivals into the ground.

Metier (11-4 favourite) had won the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle as a novice and has always been held in high regard by his trainer, but he had flopped on his seasonal return at Sandown.

Though fourth in the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot last month, he still had a few questions to answer, but left no doubt this time, getting into a good rhythm and fending off all-comers.

In the end he had a comfortable length and a quarter to spare over Gowel Road (17-2), with Carrarea (3-1) briefly flattering between the last two flights before dropping a further five and a half lengths back in third.

Fry said: “That was the real Metier. He just loves this ground and we knew the conditions would suit him. This was the plan.

“He ran a good race at Ascot on good to soft ground.

“Sean was great there. He went his own tempo and he just loves that ground. We decided to ride him a little differently this season.

“He went a good, even gallop and kept going. I’m delighted to see him back in the winner’s enclosure. Sean said he wasn’t doing masses after the last.”

Metier had been dropped 3lb by the handicapper after his previous outing, a fact not lost on Fry.

He added: “To be fair, the handicapper gave us a serious chance and we’ll be looking for soft to heavy ground next time and might go up in trip on better ground.”

The prize money had attracted a competitive field and with two winners on the card, Fry was naturally a happy handler.

“The Winter Million is a new initiative with great prize-money. We’ve had two winners and won three times the amount we won for winning a Grade One Tolworth last season. It’s a great initiative and if it’s an annual event, you can count on him being here,” added Fry.

“He is in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, but we will have to look at the ground, as he loves it like this.”

Top Ville Ben claims all-the-way Lingfield success

Top Ville Ben returned to winning ways when making every yard of the running to win the Cazoo Hurdle at Lingfield.

A classy chaser at his best, he won the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby back in 2019 but having run in the Cotswold Chase after that, he was then off the track for 18 months with an injury.

He made his comeback in a Grade Two in France but the style of racing and fences did not suit him at Auteuil and he was pulled up.

Since then he has finished down the field when outclassed in the Charlie Hall Chase, but he was still travelling well when falling on the second circuit in the Becher Chase.

A fine third in the Rowland Meyrick under a big weight on Boxing Day, he was having his first run over British hurdles since April 2018 but appeared to love the experience.

Allowed to set steady fractions, Alain Cawley, riding for Phil Kirby, lobbed around on the first circuit before quickening the tempo going down the back straight.

That was where the favourite On The Blind Side began to struggle, but both the outsider Dan McGrue and Emitom were still in touching distance.

Once Cawley asked his mount for more, though, Top Ville Ben (6-1) pricked his ears and went clear to win by two and three-quarter lengths.

Neil Hassall, co-owner, said: “It is his ground, isn’t it? He has shown it in the past but getting the ground like it is today isn’t always easy.

“It was a great decision and a brave decision by Phil to go back hurdling. He is a funny horse – he can trip over two barrels on the wrong day as he has shown. I don’t think it was as silly an idea as it looked. They put on great prize money, so why not?

“Truthfully, we would like to go to the Grand National with him. We thought, in the Becher, when he fell, he was loving it. He forgets to think where he is going. He has done it over hurdles at Haydock. He fell at Cheltenham in the RSA, he fell over in the Becher. He will fall over two barrels on the wrong day and jump over a 10-foot fence on a good day. That’s him.

“Whether we get the ground in the National, who knows. He will probably have one more run between now and then, but that’s Phil’s call.

“He might run at Doncaster in the Grimthorpe at the end of February.”

Coral gave the winner a 50-1 quote for the Grand National.

Love Envoi sails through Lingfield ground to maintain unbeaten record

Love Envoi maintained her unbeaten record with victory in the Winter Million Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Lingfield.

Winner of an Irish bumper for Sean Doyle, the six-year-old was bought by recently-retired jockey Jerry McGrath for £38,000 in March and joined the Noel Fehily Racing Club, to be trained by Harry Fry.

Following straightforward wins at Warwick and Leicester, this represented a step up in class with several nice prospects lining up.

One of those, Rainyday Woman, was pulled up at halfway, but Nurse Susan and Mayhem Mya, a winner at Chepstow earlier this week, tracked her into the straight.

Jonathan Burke had given his mare a canny ride, though, and saved plenty, with Love Envoi (11-2) relishing the testing ground and keeping on for a two-and-a-half-length win, leaving Fry eyeing a trip to Sandown next month.

He said: “She made an error early on, but she was superb over the last two and that won the day in the end.

“She loved this (heavy) ground and it is a big asset. She just goes through it with ease. She came back in trip today and it wasn’t a concern, although she had not tried it before, but the ground brought her stamina into play.

“She liked it, whereas others would not necessarily. She is a fair size and she would probably always want a bit of easy ground.

“She will now go to Sandown for the Grade Two Jane Seymour Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle over two miles and three furlongs on February 17.”

Fontaine Collonges jumps the last in fine style
Fontaine Collonges jumps the last in fine style (Simon Marper/PA)

Venetia Williams continued her excellent recent run when Fontaine Collonges made a mockery of a handicap mark of 122 in the Winter Million EBF Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Never far from the pace under Charlie Deutsch, she found herself in front early in the straight and the 5-2 favourite came home 10 lengths clear of Wouldubewell.

Williams said: “I am very pleased with the way she ran to the line and pleased also with her jumping, as she was being a little bit careful and you’d sooner that then careless.

“She was a little bit careful in her earlier races, but better that way and gradually pick up pace over obstacles. We schooled her the middle of last week and the first time she was really on it, she was quick and forward, and I thought, ‘yes, that’ll do. No more now’.”

Frero Banbou provided Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch with a quick double
Frero Banbou provided Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch with a quick double (Simon Marper/PA)

Williams and Deutsch quickly doubled up when Frero Banbou (9-4 favourite) reeled in long-time leader Eclair D’Ainay in the racehorselotto.com Handicap Chase.

Williams said: “I’m really pleased with that. It was Charlie’s idea after last time to take his time a bit more. We talked about trying to change things slightly in order to get his head in front.

“One of the options was to step him up in trip but we felt that a lack of pace wasn’t a problem, so it was his idea to ride him a little differently.”

Fantastikas emerged victorious for the Twiston-Davis team
Fantastikas emerged victorious for the Twiston-Davis team (Simon Marper/PA)

Nigel Twiston-Davies looks set to target the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival with Fantastikas, who landed the weatherbys nhstallions.co.uk Novices’ Chase after a nail-biting finish.

The 5-2 chance looked to have the near three-mile event in the bag when jumping clear at the last, only for Queenohearts to get within a short-head of the Sam Twiston-Davies ridden winner.

“I thought we were beaten,” said the winning trainer. “He is a good boy. That was very good. He is in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and in the three-mile novice chase, but he looks like he is a right stayer, so the National Hunt will probably be the one for him. It’s very exciting.

“We have made a thing of milking the money and he has won a lot of money by not winning. He won five grand here, was second at Doncaster and won nine grand, he was third at Cheltenham and won seven grand, so he has done all right. If horses pay their way, that’s all that matters.”

Lingfield fit for racing after passing precautionary inspection

Lingfield’s opening day of its Winter Million fixture has survived a precautionary inspection and racing will go ahead as planned.

Temperatures did drop to almost minus 4C at around 7am, but just 90 minutes later the mercury had started to rise and it was already up to minus 2C

The forecast is for it to reach a high of up to 5C throughout the day, and clerk of the course George Hill had no qualms about giving the meeting the go ahead before the scheduled 9am check.

“We’re fine to race and we’re getting the information out as quick as we can,” said Hill.

On Saturday action is on the all-weather track, but it returns to the jumps course on Sunday where the feature is the £150,000 Fleur De Lys Chase.

Hill added: “We’re going to cover up again after racing tonight. We’ve been covered since last Sunday and it worked.

“Whether we need to inspect ahead of Sunday we don’t know yet.”

Moore has high hopes for Hudson on day one of Winter Million

Hudson De Grugy has the benefit of a course and distance victory to his name as he bids to scoop the first prize in the Sovereign Handicap Hurdle on day one of the Winter Million meeting at Lingfield on Friday.

The five-year-old put up a game performance when beating Calico by two and a quarter lengths on heavy ground last month, and with similar conditions guaranteed at the Surrey venue, trainer Gary Moore goes there with an air of quiet confidence.

Hudson De Grugy has been raised 3lb for that success, but Moore is optimistic the horse is up to it, in an event that carries a prize fund of £100,000.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing him run. Hopefully he’s got a reasonable chance,” said the West Sussex handler.

“He’s gone up in the weights a bit, but hopefully he’s improving enough to counteract that. He won over the course last time and conditions shouldn’t be a problem.”

Lucky Max bids to take his unbeaten run this season to four. The six-year-old, trained by Sean Doyle, is one of three Irish contenders in the £100,000 event and heads to Surrey in great form after two victories at Cork and one at Clonmel.

Doyle is hopeful his upward trajectory can continue, with his mark having risen from 96 in Ireland to 136 in England so far this term.

“He’s just improved and improved, we don’t know how much improvement is left in him but he’s definitely up to that mark now,” said the County Wexford handler.

“It’s the next step for him now, we want to step him up and see if he’s good enough to compete at that level.

“We’re going to find out more about how good he is on Friday.”

Emmet Mullins is the other Irish trainer tempted by the prize money on offer at Lingfield and he has a pair of entrants in the same race.

Carrarea – to be ridden by Paul Townend and vying for favouritism with Metier – has gone close twice in hurdle events this season and was beaten just a head at Fairyhouse in November on his handicap debut.

“It was a good run by Carrarea last time. It was his first run in a handicap, so hopefully the experience should help him,” Mullins told Sky Sports Racing.

“Paul is over there for Ascot on Saturday so it was good to take advantage of that.”

Sevenna Star is the other Mullins challenger, a horse previously campaigned on the Flat by John Gosden and John Ryan and one who is yet to lose his maiden status over obstacles.

“He was a good younger horse in his day on the Flat, but he’s had his issues and problems,” he said.

Irish trainer Emmet Mullins is two-handed in the Sovereign Handicap Hurdle with Carrarea and Sevenna Star
Irish trainer Emmet Mullins is two-handed in the Sovereign Handicap Hurdle with Carrarea and Sevenna Star (PA)

“Hopefully, we seem to be getting on top of them in the last month or so. Mike (O’Connor, jockey) is a good young rider and has had a bit of success for me in the past.

“Picking between the two is a tricky one. Sevenna Star has had his issues, Carrarea has more potential but with the ground, the weight and Mike’s claim, maybe Sevenna Star could run into a pace, hopefully.”

Of former crack novice Metier, trainer Harry Fry said: “It was nice to see him bounce back in the big handicap hurdle at Ascot before Christmas and this race has been very much on the radar since then.

“Everything about the race should suit him well and we are looking forward to seeing him back on his favoured heavy ground.”

Paul Nicholls runs the lightly-raced Hacker Des Places for the first time since his sixth-placed effort in a Kempton handicap hurdle on December 27, a run which followed a 365-day injury-enforced absence.

“He was far from disgraced on his return at Kempton over Christmas after a long time off with an injury,” Nicholls said on his Betfair blog.

“He tired late on that day as I expected when a lack of peak fitness told and it wouldn’t surprise me if he needs this run too and will improve for it.”

Nicholls also has a contender in the two-mile seven-furlong Cazoo Hurdle, with Calva d’Auge looking to bounce back from a beaten effort at Newbury in November and rediscover the form that saw him win three times last season.

Paul Nicholls' Calva D’Auge
Paul Nicholls’ Calva D’Auge (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He is a hardy character who has done very well for us, winning four of his last six starts, but there is a price to pay as he has edged up to a career high handicap mark of 146,” the trainer said.

“So he is not the easiest to place now but he is reliable, stays well, handles any ground and will run his usual honest race.”

Phil Kirby will saddle probable Grand National-entrant Top Ville Ben for the same race, a horse more readily associated with steeplechasing as he has not started over hurdles on British turf since 2018.

His last run resulted in a good third in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day and while a tilt at Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase was next on the agenda, the softer going at Lingfield appeals to the trainer.

“It’s a good opportunity and good prize money,” he said.

“He goes there in good form and his last run was a good run.

“I’m worried the ground is going to dry up in the Sky Bet Chase for him so this fills a bit of a hole.

Top Ville Ben
Top Ville Ben (Tim Goode/PA)

“He’ll like the ground and it’s a small field, he should have a good chance.”

Kirby also has a runner in the weatherbys nhstallions.co.uk Novices’ Chase, with Bushypark due to make his third start over fences in the two-mile-seven-furlong event.

The gelding was a five-times winner over hurdles and made a victorious start to his chasing career with a debut success at Kelso in early December, but a subsequent run at Haydock later in the same month resulted in a well-beaten third.

Kirby could find nothing amiss with the bay following that performance and has every hope he will return to form at Lingfield.

“We were a bit disappointed with him last time, I thought he went there in very good form and the form has worked out from Kelso as the second-placed horse has come out and finished second in a Grade Two (Doyen Breed),” he said.

“He seems in good order, there’s nothing come to light so hopefully he can bounce back and he goes there in good form.

“He’s a tough little horse and I don’t think the race coming up quite soon will be an issue.”

Nicholls’ Broken Halo is well-fancied for the same race after his taking 19-length success in a novice race at Exeter on New Year’s Day, a performance that was his second start over fences.

“He was always going to be a chaser and he won very nicely on his second start over fences at Exeter on New Year’s Day, despite the trip being shorter than ideal for him,” Nicholls said.

“While this race is a step up in class for Broken Halo, he handles deep ground, is a stout stayer, and could run tidily.”

Kerry Lee is hoping the testing conditions will benefit Financier when he takes his chance in the racehorselotto.com Handicap Chase.

The nine-year-old returns to a two-mile trip after finishing seventh at Ascot on his seasonal debut when stepped up to two miles and three furlongs in the Howden Handicap Chase.

“He seems to be at his best on very soft ground and over two miles,” Lee said.

“It will be very sticky by Friday if there’s no rain but if anyone is going to handle that, he will.

“He seems to be very well at home and we’re trying to play to his strengths.

“He’s an absolute gentle giant, he’s about 18 hands and he’s just the most gorgeous horse.”

Redknapp hoping to find back of the net with Shakem Up’Arry and Bowtogreatness

Harry Redknapp is preparing for a big weekend with Shakem Up’Arry and Bowtogreatness set to carry his colours at Haydock and Lingfield respectively.

After running out an impressive winner at Haydock last month, Shakem Up’Arry will return to Merseyside for the Grade Two Patrick Coyne Memorial Altcar Novices’ Chase on Saturday.

The eight-year-old carried high hopes as a novice hurdler, with his best performance coming when second in last year’s Tolworth, albeit beaten 12 lengths by Metier.

Harry Redknapp (left) at Newbury on Wednesday
Harry Redknapp (left) at Newbury on Wednesday (Simon Milham/PA)

The former Tottenham Hotspur manager said: “I’m looking forward to a big weekend! I have Shakem Up’Arry and Bowtogreatness, who both won last time out.

“Shakem Up’Arry is a nice horse. He came to Newbury a couple of years ago and we thought we would win, but we bashed into a horse called Shishkin! He jumped the last upsides, and then he changed gear and went away.

“He is a nice horse and he is going chasing now. He would have won first time up at Ffos Las – he was absolutely cantering when he fell. He came back a couple of weeks ago at Haydock and beat a horse who had won quite comfortably the last time (Casa Tall).

“So, I’m looking forward to it. I like him.”

Redknapp’s Ffos Las scorer Bowtogreatness will bid to double his tally in the £30,000 Winter Million Novices’ Hurdle on the third and final afternoon of the Winter Million festival at Lingfield on Sunday.

He added: “Bowtogreatness won at Ffos Las last time and he is a nice horse, too.”

Both horses are trained by Ben Pauling, who said: “Shakem Up’Arry had the option of going to Lingfield, but the race there looks just as hot and we decided we’d go to Haydock.

“All his best form has been over two miles, but every jockey that rides him thinks he’ll stay two and a half. He seems in very good order and I think this looks a good opportunity.

“Bowtogreatness is a nice horse. He came from Ireland with a big reputation and just didn’t really find his groove in bumpers last year.

“This year he’s a completely different horse and I hope he’s quite useful.”