Bowen in seventh heaven with Plate hero Francky Du Berlais

Francky Du Berlais provided trainer Peter Bowen with his seventh victory in the Betway Summer Plate after a taking success at Market Rasen.

Sent off at 11-1, the eight-year-old has won twice already during his summer campaign and relished the bustle of a busy handicap to secure a seven-and-a-half-length triumph from Exelerator Express under James Bowen.

The Bowen family have a stellar record in the valuable Grade Three handicap, with Peter having won the race seven times in its 26-year history and elder son Sean successful himself when steering More Buck’s to victory for his father in 2018.

“That’s what Peter does, he tries to find something to go for this race that will be suitable,” said Karen Bowen, wife to Peter and mother of Sean and James.

“We always seem to do well at Market Rasen, it’s a lucky track for us, though it took us seven and a half hours to get up here yesterday in the horse box.

“He’s a nice horse, he obviously won a nice race at Uttoxeter but he’s one of these you’ve got to keep a lid on a bit, I’m not sure Cartmel suited him because there’s a fairground.

“(It’s) a big handicap, fast run, he handled it well and you need a horse that will handle those types of race, not every horse can cope with the hustle and bustle – his jumping was super.”

Francky Du Berlais was the intended ride of Sean, but James was unable to make the weight for the Bowen’s other runner, Lord Bryan, so the brothers swapped rides with the lighter of the two legged up on the latter horse.

Francky Du Berlais enjoys a deserved drink
Francky Du Berlais enjoys a deserved drink (Molly Hunter/PA)

“James was very excited and to be fair to the boys, they’re as excited as one another,” Karen said.

“Sean has won on the horse before at Uttoxeter but James wasn’t able to do the weight on the other one, but Sean will be as happy for James as he would have been if he’d won it himself.”

The winning rider said: “That was a really good run, I couldn’t be happier.

“He finished so well and had the perfect run round, he would get further but a strong gallop over two and a half (miles) is perfect for him.

“I’m really excited, Sean’s delighted as well.

“I couldn’t do the weight on the other so Sean’s ridden him and given me a chance.”

Delighted winning owner Roddy Owen said: “He’s like the owner, you’ve got to keep the lid on him.

“That’s the third time we’ve won here, it’s usually my birthday, it was on the 16th.

“He’ll go again in a fortnight or a month’s time, he’s been marvellous and they’ve been marvellous trainers for me – I’ve been very lucky.”

Summer Hurdle prize goes to Stonific

Stonific made light of a lengthy break from hurdling to take the £35,000 Betway Summer Handicap Hurdle at Market Rasen.

Trained by David O’Meara and campaigned on the Flat since February 2020, the eight-year-old had been successful three times on the level during his jumping sabbatical and showed no signs of rustiness under the National Hunt code.

Starting at 40-1 under Tom Scudamore, the bay battled past his rivals in a tight run in to the line to prevail by a head from Emma Lavelle’s Hang In There.

“I just wish David had a few more jumpers after that, he’s got enough Flat horses,” smiled Scudamore said after the performance.

“It’s been too long (in front of a crowd) for obvious reasons, but it’s lovely to see everybody and for a syndicate like this, there’s plenty of stories and it doesn’t take much to get involved.”

“He was very tough there and it’s nice to get a winner for David and the owners.”

Steve Jessop, representing winning part-owners Hurn Racing Club, added: “We’re all from Beverley and there’s 14 in the group, while the other half (Rasio Cymru) had a winner last night, so we’re having a good do!

“We’re just working class people and we’ve had the syndicate for 25 years so it’s just unbelievable to win this.”

Take The Fear enjoys a deserved drink
Take The Fear enjoys a deserved drink (Molly Hunter/PA)

Taste The Fear continued his fine run of summer form when taking the Heed Your Hunch At Betway Handicap Hurdle for Sam Twiston-Davies and Dr Richard Newland.

The six-year-old has won twice since March and has been placed in virtually all of his runs this year, finishing second on his handicap debut at Uttoxeter last time out after a spring campaign in novice company.

Starting at 100-30 for the six-runner contest, the gelding travelled strongly throughout and eventually took up the lead with two flights remaining, crossing the line two and three-quarters of a length ahead of Ask Henry.

“It was nice little race for him and he’s such a genuine horse,” Newland said.

“We had injury problems with him last year and we couldn’t get him on the track after his bumper win, but since we’ve got going he hasn’t looked back.

“If he hasn’t won he’s been placed on nearly every run, he’s been super.

“He’ll have a break, he will handle softer ground so in my eyes that might help him, I’m going to give him a six-week break and then you’ll probably see him back in October or November.”

Dal Horrisgle followed up an easy win at Uttoxeter with another at Market Rasen, this time taking the Betway Novices’ Hurdle by eight lengths under Tom Cannon.

The 1-5 favourite of a field of three, Alan King’s charge continued his fruitful summer campaign when making all the running and coming home comfortably ahead of both of his rivals.

“It’s a hot day and he had a bit of weight so we didn’t have to go hard,” Cannon said.

“We just got racing two (hurdles) out and he won really nicely.”

Sir Hoodie was victorious for his new stable when taking the Betway Handicap Hurdle for Harry Bannister and Alex Hales.

The seven-year-old joined Hales’ yard following the retirement of Charlie Mann, finishing fifth on his debut for his new handler and progressing to seal a five-and-a-half-length victory in Lincolnshire.

“When Charlie retired he very kindly asked the owners to send some horses our way and this is one of them,” Hales said.

“She came to us and was a bit disappointing, but she’s had a wind op and the owner adores her, she’s won plenty of races and she’s a lovely mare to have around.

“I’m thankful because Charlie put a lot of faith in me with these horses, so it’s great to win with one.”

Sunset Showdown prevailed at 3-1 for Aidan Coleman and Rebecca Curtis in the Betway Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase, after which the concluding race of the day, the Heed Your Hunch At Betway Handicap Chase, was claimed by Rooster Cogburn (85-40 favourite) for Sean and Peter Bowen.

Darling Maltaix primed for Summer Plate

Paul Nicholls already has his eyes on a major prize with Darling Maltaix in Market Rasen’s Betway Summer Plate, as preparations for the new National Hunt season begin to step up a gear.

The eight-year-old, owned by the Old Gold Racing syndicate, won comfortably at Newton Abbot last month on his return from a lengthy break, having also had another wind operation.

Nicholls hopes that should have put him spot-on for Saturday’s assignment, but he is aware the competition will be much tougher.

“It’s a race everyone targets in the summer,” said the multiple champion trainer.

“We schooled Darling Maltaix this morning (Thursday). He’s been trained for this race, and I’m very happy with his prep – his run and win at Newton Abbot last month has really tightened him up.

“Saturday’s one of the toughest races he’s ever run in, and it promises to be a competitive contest, but Darling’s ready for it.

“He looks brilliant in his skin, he’s fit, he’s relaxed and he’s working well – there’s lots of little crumbs to make a cake!”

This weekend’s big handicap has long been on the agenda for Darling Maltaix.
“The Summer Plate has always been his aim, but we did want to get one run in before it, so it worked out really nicely,” added Nicholls.

“He only went up 3lb, so you couldn’t complain about that too much.

“He has won on the soft – it was soft the other day. But good ground does suit him well – the faster the better really.”

Nicholls, not really known for his summer jumpers, reports most of his big guns for the winter have now returned to his Ditcheat yard after their breaks.

“We’ve got 120 in now and we’ll just go quietly, quietly until Chepstow in October,” he said.

“Chepstow is still a long way off, and that is where we always aim. We’ve got a lot of nice horses in.”

The likely favourite for the Summer Plate is Dr Richard Newland’s novice Captain Tom Cat, who has won his last three starts by 12, 11 and 29 lengths respectively.

Peter Bowen has already won the race on six occasions and saddles both Francky Du Berlais and course-and-distance winner Lord Bryan in his bid for further success.

Bowen said: “We do target the race every year, because lots of our horses run very well at this time of year. It is also a good race for novices coming through.

“We sent (Francky Du Berlais) up to Cartmel the other day, but that track didn’t suit him at all. He was always on the back burner and he couldn’t really get into the race, but he stayed on really well and he was only beaten by about five lengths – I’m quite hopeful with him.

“Lord Bryan goes well fresh. He did a nice piece of work on Tuesday and he is a strong traveller, which is what you want around there.”

Solomon Grey and Danse Idol give Dan Skelton a strong hand, while Laura Morgan steps Fire Away up in class following his victories over fences at Cartmel and hurdles at Worcester.

Amy Murphy, who landed last year’s Summer Plate with Really Super, is this year represented by stable stalwart Mercian Prince.

“He’s been with us from day one, and we are really fortunate to have him,” she said.

“He’s just been unbelievable, and to have him going into another Grade Three is very exciting. We’ve been trying to protect his mark over fences, hence why he hasn’t been seen over them of late.

“He is such a yard favourite – if he did win I don’t think there would be a dry eye in the house.”

Skeltons strike Market Rasen gold with Fair Mountain

Champion jockey Harry Skelton enjoyed a victory aboard Fair Mountain as spectators returned to Market Rasen for the first time in 14 months.

Contesting the feature race on the card, the Tickets Available For Boxing Day Handicap Hurdle, the gelding capitalised on his lowest ever rating to strike by two and half lengths at odds of 7-1 for trainer Dan Skelton.

The nine-year-old was dismounted on track following the performance, with his jockey reporting him to have felt slightly sore when pulling up.

“Just when I pulled up, I felt he wasn’t quite 100 per cent,” he said.

“Hopefully it’s not too serious, he’s just a little bit sore probably.

“He’s such a game horse and he travelled with such enthusiasm.

“He’s like that at home, he just really loves the game and it’s nice to get his head in front.”

Micky Hammond’s High Noon was a 12-1 winner of the Dam Buster Handicap Chase under Conor O’Farrell, passing 18-1 chance and eventual runner up Dallas Cowboy before the penultimate flight to prevail by two and a quarter lengths.

The Welcome Back To Market Rasen Racecourse Novices’ Hurdle was claimed by Fergal O’Brien’s Timberman, who duly justified his status as 5-4 favourite when rallying over the last obstacle to prevail by three-quarters of a length from Dan Skelton’s Ambassador.

“It was tactical, it was a sprint from the second-last,” jockey Paddy Brennan said.

“I knew if they went slow, the first one to play his cards would be the one with the advantage, and that was me.

“It’s so much better with the people here, it’s great to see fans back today and that’s what it’s all about.”

Bowser was an 8-1 winner of the Market Rasen Annual Badge Holders Handicap Hurdle under Sean Quinlan, crossing the line a comfortable six and half lengths ahead of 5-2 favourite Serjeant Painter.

The six-year-old joined the yard of Jennie Candlish in January from Michael Winters and was stepping down to two miles after three beaten attempts on English soil.

“He’s come from Ireland and it just took us a few runs to get to know him,” said Quinlan.

“We’ve run him on the wrong ground and the wrong trip, good ground and two miles seems to have done the job.”

Design Icon triumphed in the Book Betway Summer Plate Ladies Day Maiden Hurdle after a photo finish was required to separate the gelding and runner-up Who’s The Guv’Nor.

Trained by Kim Bailey and piloted by Ciaran Gethings, the 13-2 shot tracked the leader before striking late to hit the front on the line.

“He just needs experience,” Gethings said.

“He never even ran in a bumper, he just went straight over hurdles.

“He’s done his job now, he’s won, and the improvement today will be massive.”

The five-year-old has a chasing pedigree and Gethings would not discount a switch to fences in the future.

“He hasn’t got the the most scope in the world, but he’s well able to jump a hurdle,” he said.

“He’s very barrel-like and that’s (chasing) what he’s bred to do.”

Well Smitten was victorious for Sam England in the C31 Limited Handicap Chase after a busy four-way finish.

The nine-year-old approached the final fence in third place, but was able to gradually pick off his rivals to cross the line a length ahead of 11-4 favourite Minella Voucher.

“He’s a lovely old horse, he’s an extremely good jumper – a schoolmaster really,” said jockey Jonathan England of the 13-2 chance.

“He’s been knocking on the door for a while and it was nice to get his head in front, he’s pretty much anyone’s ride.”

The final contest of the day, the Next Race Meeting Friday 4th June Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race, went the way of Grozni (5-1) for Brian Hughes and Denis Hogan.

Market Rasen strike completes Ajero hat-trick

Ajero sealed a hat-trick of victories when taking the MansionBet’s Faller Insurance Handicap Hurdle at Market Rasen.

The Kim Bailey-trained gelding began his winning streak at Ludlow in October, following up with a success at Kempton in November before collecting the third leg of his treble as 7-2 co-favourite under David Bass.

The gelding took up the lead with three flights left to negotiate and held on to record a two-length success, despite hanging slightly right as the line approached.

“He really picked up well down to the second last, it’s tiring old ground and he’s done really well to keep going,” said Bass.

“He did just lean to the right, to the rail, when he came under pressure, so I think for the time being we’ll just stick to these right-handed tracks.

“He’s a pleasure to ride and he’s got loads of gears, I’m really pleased with him.”

Ajero is half-brother to high-class chaser Charbel, with Bass reporting that the six-year-old is even faster than his older sibling.

“He’s smaller than him, but he’s actually quicker than Charbel was and Charbel was a quick horse,” he said.

“At home he has to do everything on his own as he’s just too quick for anything else.”

Oliver Greenall’s Homme Public went one better than his recent second at Catterick to claim the MansionBet At Market Rasen Juvenile Maiden Hurdle by a comfortable six and a half lengths under Henry Brooke.

The four-year-old joined Greenall’s stable after beginning his career under the care of French trainer Francois Nicolle, taking the runner-up spot on his British debut when contesting a similar juvenile hurdle event.

This time the gelding was not for beating, taking up the lead with two flights left to jump and readily pulling clear of second placed Gilbertina to triumph as 11-8 favourite.

“On that ground I think he needed the run slightly, inexperience probably got him beat at Catterick,” Greenall said.

“He’s more experienced today and he settled. He’s one of those horses that only ever does enough, he’s a very laid back sort of horse.”

The French-bred holds an entry for Cheltenham’s Triumph Hurdle, but Greenall feels he may still be too inexperienced to take his chance in that Grade One event.

“He’s done it nicely enough today, but what he’s beaten is hard to say,” he said.

“It’s a possibility, Cheltenham could actually suit him, but I think he needs to travel a bit better.

“I don’t know if he’s hardened enough for Cheltenham, we’ll see, we’ve got the option there.”

Martello Sky remains unbeaten over hurdles after taking the MansionBet’s Best Odds Guaranteed EBF Mares’ “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle for Lucy Wadham and Aidan Coleman.

The grey filly won on her debut over obstacles when taking a mares’ maiden contest at Fakenham in December, having previously won two bumpers at the same track, and backed up that performance with a one-and-a-quarter-length victory over Marada when starting as 6-4 favourite.

“She’s always been on our radar as a nice, above average filly,” Coleman said of the five-year-old.

“Size and scope-wise you wouldn’t think Fakenham would suit her, but you run where suits and the prize money at Fakenham is good, it’s close to Lucy, so why not run there?

“She’d go anywhere though, you could run her anywhere – up, down, left or right, it doesn’t really matter.

“She’s won well, it takes a bit of doing, but she’s a nice filly.”

Blarney Bateleur took full advantage of her generous handicap mark to take the MansionBet’s Watch And Bet Mares’ Handicap Hurdle at 28-1 for trainer Andy Irvine and jockey Niall Houlihan.

The eight-year-old was rated 93 after three performances under rules, leaving her bottom of the handicap.

“I thought today the grade might be a little too high, but I thought off 10st 1lb, mares only and with the ground up here suiting her, it’d be worth giving it a go,” said Irvine.

The performance marked Blarney Bateleur’s first run under Irvine’s name, with the mare previously trained by his late wife Zoe Davison, who died after a lengthy battle with cancer in January.

“Each day is difficult, I wake up and my wife’s not there,” Irvine said.

“We’re keeping the show on the road, as we keep saying.

“We left at quarter to six this morning, it took us four, nearly five, hours to get here and just for that it’s been worth it.

“We’d do it every day of the week for this.”

No Drama for Minella in Sidney Banks success

Minella Drama got back on the winning trail with an authoritative display in the Ballymore Sidney Banks Novices’ Hurdle at Market Rasen.

Transferred from its traditional home of Huntingdon following the abandonment of the track’s fixture earlier in the month, the Listed contest has an illustrious roll of honour, with last year’s winner Shishkin going on to win the Supreme at Cheltenham on his next start.

The Donald McCain-trained Minella Drama was the 13-8 favourite in a five-runner field under champion jockey Brian Hughes, having come up narrowly short in his bid for a third straight victory in the Grade Two Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock four weeks ago.

Fitted with a hood for the first time, the six-year-old travelled strongly on the heels of the pacesetting Optimise Prime for much of the two-and-a-half-mile contest, before taking over between the final two flights.

An untidy leap at the last obstacle gave the closing Stoner’s Choice a sniff of success, but Minella Drama had plenty up his sleeve as he passed the post three lengths to the good.

Hughes said: “He’s always been a nice horse, his form’s been solid, you’d have to say. Every run he’s had has stacked up well. The horses he’s beat or that have beaten him have all come out and won and have got good ratings now.

“He’s a nice horse, he’s obviously progressing with every run. He’ll make a nice chaser in time.

“It was only suiting us to run him over two miles because the right races were there. As you can see, he does stay this trip and I dare say he might get three miles in time. We’ll take one step at a time, it’s a nice stepping stone.

“The horse that beat him the first day (Llandinabo Lad) won a Listed race and then the horse that was 12 lengths behind him at Bangor (Ballybegg) has won two since, and we were giving him 7lb. His form is solid.”

Minella Drama is not entered at Cheltenham and when Hughes was asked about the possibility of running at Aintree, he replied: “You’ll have to speak to Mr McCain and the owner about that.

“I just ride them, I don’t place them.”

Monday Musings: It’s Jumping, but largely Flat…

Eight weeks tomorrow and the Cheltenham Festival 2021 will start as late as it can be, and almost a week later than last year. So it will be more than a year since I last went racing and, by the look of things, a good while longer than that yet, writes Tony Stafford.

My guess is that, once the vaccines start working and the latest stay-home admonitions get through people’s mindsets, the numbers affected – and more pointedly dying – will begin to come down.

A few of my friends have already had the call and I shouldn’t be far off, but the risk is that you get a rogue message from one of the ever-mushrooming scammers to invite you to an appointment. The clue is that they add: “but could you please send us your details”.

A few of those who have already been seen will have known scallywags and con-artists from London’s West End in the 1960’s and 70’s but they will tell you that the old-style villains never targeted the sort of people that seem to be most in today’s roll-call of victims. As this year-long agony continues I’m becoming totally sickened by the nastiness of modern-day life and how much the internet has helped it along.

Even a year ago, there was nothing like the feeling of today. But then we were actively trying to anticipate what might happen at the Festival. Now the trials come along and there’s no atmosphere. Nick Luck or Luke Harvey might be on track to say what they think and the odd trainer or jockey offers an opinion, but it’s all getting so homogeneous – so drab.

It was sad that David Thompson died recently, leaving his widow Patricia to try to enjoy the successes of the Cheveley Park Stud jumps horses in Ireland. Envoi Allen of course is the biggest star, and yesterday at Punchestown he maintained his 100% career record with another bloodless win in a beginners’ chase where Asterion Forlonge was supposed to pose a question.

One of the major Willie Mullins hopes for the future, this fourth to Shishkin (and in the same ownership as that one) in the Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham last March had fallen on his second chase start when odds-on at Limerick on St Stephen’s Day and repeated the error as early as yesterday’s opening fence.

That left Gordon Elliott’s seven-year-old to jog round at his leisure and complete an unblemished ten-race record under Rules to go with another in a point-to-point after which winning debut the Thompsons paid an eye-watering £400,000 for him.

If you needed to know just how unrealistic prices for the most promising jumping-bred horses can be, Envoi Allen’s ten wins still leave him just about £60k short of the owners getting their purchase money back, never mind training fees. That figure includes his two Cheltenham Festival successes, the first in the 2019 Champion Bumper, where he beat Blue Sari, Thyme Hill, Abacadabras and The Glancing Queen, smart horses all with the last trio having won nice races this season.

I was about to say “already”, but even after an unusually slow start at the beginning of July owing to Covid we’re nearly two-thirds of the way through the campaign.

Saturday’s racing was entertaining enough – especially if you like horses stopping dead in the mud – but one horse that certainly did not was the Pam Sly-owned, trained- and bred-filly Eileendover who ran away with the Alan Swinbank Mares’ Open Listed Bumper at Market Rasen.

It was a day for the senior and distinguished ladies of the Turf. Pam, a sprightly 77, has run a mixed yard near Peterborough for many years and will always be known as the owner, trainer and breeder of Speciosa, winner of the 2006 1,000 Guineas.

She told Nick Luck after Saturday’s win she was never tempted to sell Speciosa despite the riches that would have bought, and Eileendover is a grand-daughter of the giant killer of her time. While it’s a long chalk from a Listed mares’ bumper to a Group 1 Flat race, her three wins have been way out of the ordinary.

I don’t know whether she shocked her trainer first time out – if she didn’t, I trust they had a nice touch! - but after making the short trip to Huntingdon for her debut she was allowed to start at 28/1 in a junior bumper over the “short” mile and three-quarters. She actually outran those odds, not just in terms of winning, but in numbers too, scoring by 29 lengths, almost unheard of in a 14-runner race.

That said, seven years earlier, an unraced three-year-old came down for the same race for his debut, bred by Ray Tooth but running in trainer Mark Brisbourne’s colours as the true owner didn’t want to be embarrassed. He won by 12 lengths and at 25/1. I seem to remember nobody had a killing that day either – I might have had a tenner on it and drinks with the directors were nice!

Next stop for Eileendover was Wetherby where, down by another furlong for a second junior bumper, she now had only 16 lengths to spare but at least the punters were more clued up as she started at 1-3!

On Saturday, as the only four-year-old in the field, she might have confounded a few punters as the much-publicised first UK runner for Willie Mullins since Brexit was signed and sealed; his mare, Grangee, was preferred to the Sly filly in the morning market before strong support for the domestic runner ensured Eileendover went off clear favourite by race time.

So it proved as Paul O’Brien allowed her to track Grangee while outsiders cut out the pace, and when the main rival moved, O’Brien went with her, but very wide trying to avoid any interruption to the run. Momentarily, he had to switch a shade inside but then the daughter of Canford Cliffs gathered momentum and Grangee was soon in trouble.

At the finish it wasn’t the Irish raider but the Jedd O’Keeffe-trained Newcastle and Wetherby unbeaten mare Miss Lamb, a 22-1 shot, who followed her home most closely, still more than six lengths behind the winner but eight in front of Grangee.

Another interesting element is that Miss Lamb is also a home-bred and, indeed, by one of the doyens of the Northern turf. Miss Sally (born Sarah Elizabeth) Hall, niece of the legendary Sam Hall and a distinguished trainer in her own right at Middleham, celebrated her 82nd birthday yesterday. She first took out a licence in 1969 and held it until 2016 with her last winners the previous summer. Just the 47 years!

Miss Lamb is under the care of Jedd O’Keeffe, a former assistant to Micky Hammond before starting out on his own in 2000. Hammond incidentally runs his star hurdler Cornerstone Lad over fences at Ayr today after his second at Haydock on debut last month.  He has one horse to beat this afternoon!

Eileendover is primarily Flat-bred and it will probably be most unlikely that she ever runs over jumps, but the series of junior bumpers gives an ideal opportunity for later-developing horses with stamina to run at a realistic level rather than try to get their three runs for handicapping with all the pitfalls that can entail.

Smaller trainers can fall foul of the “schooling in public” regulation, an inexact science which rarely seems to be much of a concern to the major yards. At least this way round they can get valuable experience into their charges and Alan Swinbank was one of the most successful in that respect.

Basically a businessman, he turned to training in North Yorkshire when he had the benefit of learning from former trainer Bill Haigh, his long-time assistant. Swinbank’s greatest triumph came with the purchase for 3,000gns of the Dr Devious gelding Collier Hill, bred by George Strawbridge but unraced with John Gosden in his days of training for the Sangster interests at Manton.

He won first time in his only bumper then, after qualifying for handicaps and starting off with a mark of 58, Collier Hill won 15 of 45 career starts (including one from four over jumps in a single spell). He earned a total of £2.3 million, largely through his wins overseas which culminated with Group 1’s in Canada and Sha Tin, his last two career starts late in 2006. He also won the Irish St Leger as a seven-year-old the previous year.

Two of the better UK-trained bumper performers of the past couple of years have been Roger Teal’s Ocean Wind and Hughie Morrison’s mare, Urban Artist. Ocean Wind, a Godolphin chuck-out, also won that same Huntingdon race 12 months before Eileendover but by only a narrow margin and the third horse that day, Audacity, turned the form around with him when they met again at the Cheltenham December meeting. [The second horse, Makthecat, is now in the ownership of a geegeez syndicate – Ed.]

But Ocean Wind then won a hot Newbury Listed bumper and although only sixth in the Festival bumper, has won three of his four “proper” Flat races and has quickly moved to a mark of 104. Valuable long-distance handicaps on the Flat rather than jumping beckon for this likeable money-spinner.

There are parallels, too, with Morrison’s mare Urban Artist, whose path to the Flat from bumpers was scouted a decade earlier by her dam, Cill Rialaig. She had won her bumper first time at Exeter, a race the trainer tries to target every year with his home-breds, before graduating to a Royal Ascot handicap win as a six-year-old.

That is Urban Artist’s age now and with three Flat wins from five on her record, she is likely to be in direct competition with her contemporary Ocean Wind in 2021. Expect to see them both in the Ebor next August at York.

Another that may join them once her initially unsuccessful switch to jumping – Urban Artist had one indifferent try, too – is the geegeez syndicate-owned mare Coquelicot, at present recovering from a minor wind-op. Matt Bisogno always believed that this five-year-old half-sister to Ebor winner and Melbourne Cup runner-up Heartbreak City was more a potential staying Flat-racer than a jumper for the future and her first three tries at the winter game seem to suggest that will prove to be the case.

On the level, though, she deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the last pair and Eileendover as she also won three in a row to end her 2019-20 season, culminating in an easy victory in a competitive Listed race at Kempton. With the jumpers’ bumpers liable to be around for a while in the present dreadful weather, hopefully she will soon be ready to pick one off and I’m sure the owners and clued-up trainer Anthony Honeyball will be on high alert!

Edwardstone tees up Betfair Hurdle bid

Alan King has his sights set on Newbury with Edwardstone following his winning return to hurdling action at Market Rasen.

The seven-year-old was fifth in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November before switching to fences, where he unseated his rider in a novice event at Doncaster in December.

Back to the smaller obstacles at the Lincolnshire track, Gavin Sheehan’s mount ran out a comfortable five-length winner of the MansionBet Handicap Hurdle.

King was at Warwick, where he outlined plans for his even-money winner.

He said: “He will go to the Betfair (Hurdle) and he was always going to go there. He gets a penalty for that, but I needed to get a run into him as he has had no match practice this season.

“We were going to go chasing with him, but he only got to the fourth fence at Doncaster and I just felt I’d rather have a full season with him over fences so went back to training him for Newbury.

“I wanted to get a run into him and this race fitted in well before the Betfair. I do think he will be a very good chaser, but you would have ended up getting one run into him then going to Cheltenham and you can’t do that.

“I might run him over a fence in May when the freshness is out of him. He has always been potentially very good and he is settling better now.”

On The Blind Side has been a model of consistency
On The Blind Side has been a model of consistency (Tim Goode/PA)

On The Blind Side’s fine season continued when he justified his position as short-priced favourite with a game victory in the MansionBet’s Bet 10 Get 10 Hurdle.

The Nicky Henderson-trained gelding was last seen finishing second to the highly-regarded McFabulous in the Grade Two Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton, his third run of a campaign that has seen him finish in the first two every time.

Jumping fluently throughout and travelling in the slipstream of the ever-popular Lil Rockerfeller, the nine-year-old was engaged in a shoulder-to-shoulder battle with the chestnut and eventually shook him off after the last to prevail by a neck under Nico de Boinville.

“He dug deep there, he was brilliant,” De Boinville said of the evens scorer.

“Fair play to the owners and the guv’nor for spinning him round so fast after last time.

“It’s great to see him showing a bit of consistency this season, well, a lot of consistency. The ground didn’t bother him at all.”

The race sadly saw the loss of 2018 County Hurdle winner Mohaayed, who had unseated Bridget Andrews at the fifth flight.

Harrison Beswick riding Eclair Mag
Harrison Beswick riding Eclair Mag (Tim Goode/PA)

Eclair Mag struck gold on his first start for trainer Richard Bandey when claiming the MansionBet’s Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap Chase at the massive starting price of 80-1.

The French import had one hurdles win and one chase win to his name for Vaumas-based Emmanuel Clayeux before joining the yard of Bandey earlier this month.

Taking up the lead over the penultimate fence having been towards the rear for much of the race, the seven-year-old was spring-heeled at the final fence to pull away from 5-2 favourite Mac Tottie and prevail by four and three-quarter lengths under 5lb claimer Harrison Beswick.

“Harrison said we should have him, he was at Emmanuel Clayeux’s, who Harrison was working for last summer,” Bandey said.

“We had no expectations coming over, we thought it might be too heavy, but he’s travelled well and he’s jumped like a stag. I can’t believe he’s done it that well, to be honest.

“We have thought we might look at the cross-country race at Cheltenham, but he might be too far up the handicap for that, we’ll see. For now we’ll just enjoy today.”

Connor Brace and Art Approval on their way to victory
Connor Brace and Art Approval on their way to victory (Tim Goode/PA)

Art Approval made light work of the MansionBet Watch and Bet Novices’ Hurdle for Fergal O’Brien and Connor Brace, looking worthy of his 4-11 favourite status when triumphing by seven lengths.

The victory was a first for the five-year-old, who joined O’Brien in July last year and has since been runner-up in two hurdle contests before finishing seventh at Cheltenham in November after making a late mistake.

“He’s done it very well,” Brace said of the performance.

“Once he hit the front he had a bit of a look as he’s never been in front before, but he had a nice trip and he jumped well, too.

“He’s a horse that seems to always run a little behind the bridle and because of the heavy ground he hit a flat spot there, but that aside he went very well.”

Fawsley Spirit (9-4 favourite) shed his 13-race maiden tag when grinding out a hard-fought triumph in the MansionBet Faller Insurance Handicap Hurdle for trainer Ben Pauling and jockey Luca Morgan.

The eight-year-old ran prominently throughout, seeing off a late challenge from Akarita Lights over the penultimate flight to pull away approaching the last and cross the line three and a quarter lengths ahead of his nearest rival.

Eileendover dazzles in Market Rasen feature

Eileendover took her unbeaten record to three with a hugely impressive victory in the Listed bumper at Market Rasen.

The granddaughter of trainer Pam Sly’s 2006 1000 Guineas heroine Speciosa brushed her rivals aside with contemptuous ease, as she turned the Alan Swinbank Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race into a procession.

Fashion Nova and Dragon Bones made the running, but there was little between the seven-strong field as they headed out of the back straight.

Paul O’Brien brought Eileendover on the wide outside to make his challenge, with the 11-8 favourite travelling ominously well.

She cruised into the lead early in the straight and drew six and a half lengths clear of Miss Lamb. Main market rival Grangee, trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins, was third.

Sly said: “That was good, wasn’t it? Very good. I thought ‘Oh my god, she’s never going to get there’, but she just found another gear didn’t she? She just took off and flew.

“I’ve had a lot of offers for her but she’s not for sale, she’s not going anywhere! She’s a proper, proper mare.”

O’Brien said: “She just motors through the ground, she just travels so easily. She’d handle a bit of nicer ground, I think. We were all a bit worried about the ground because we were going up three furlongs as well, but she handles that ground and she’d handle better ground, too.

“It was pretty easy, I pulled her out just to get a bit of fresher ground and keep it simple for her. I actually don’t know how far she won by, but she bolted up.

“She can step up again. She can take on the geldings in a good race too, I’m certain of that.”

Eileendover was slashed to 10-1 from 20-1 for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham with Paddy Power and Betfair.

However, Sly’s charge is not certain to head to the Cotswolds in March.

She said: “I have got a lot of time to think about it ,but I don’t think it will be Cheltenham. I’m just not a Cheltenham fan, I know it’s a prestige thing and a big festival but we don’t have to go there.

“It’s more likely to be the Listed mares’ bumper at Aintree or if she takes to the stalls I might find something for her on the Flat, but I don’t know what yet.

“She won’t run anywhere before the spring anyway, she’ll definitely have a break now.”

Market Rasen goes ahead following precautionary inspection

Racing will go ahead as planned at Market Rasen this afternoon after officials gave the all-clear following a precautionary inspection.

Although raceable on Friday, a forecast of potential wintry showers had put the Lincolnshire venue on alert ahead of one of its biggest days of the calendar.

The feature Alan Swinbank Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race sees the Willie Mullins-trained Grangee clash with Pam Sly’s also-unbeaten Eileendover.

There are no reported problems for the Classic Chase card at Warwick, while jumps action also takes place in Ireland at Fairyhouse, where impressive Cheltenham winner Chatham Street Lad headlines the Dan Moore Handicap Chase.

The going at Market Rasen is heavy, with Warwick soft, heavy in places on the chase track and heavy, soft in places on the hurdles course. It remains heavy at Fairyhouse.

Eileendover out to do Pam Sly proud again

Pam Sly has high hopes that Eileendover can maintain her unbeaten record in the Alan Swinbank Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race at Market Rasen.

Impressive on her debut at Huntingdon when winning by 29 lengths, the granddaughter of Sly’s 1000 Guineas winner Speciosa then also bolted up under a penalty at Wetherby.

She faces a different calibre of opposition on Saturday – including Willie Mullins’ Grangee – but does get a handy weight allowance as a four-year-old.

“It’s a bit competitive with Mr Mullins coming, but we do get some weight,” said Sly.

“I watched Grangee’s win the other day, and she seemed to come away from the others well enough.

“My filly is in good order. She did pull a shoe off on Thursday, when I was showering her legs, but the farrier came the same day to put another on. These things happen – it’s just not great timing.

“I can’t believe how good she has looked. I never gallop mine at home – they always work together, so it was a bit of a nice surprise on her debut.

“At Wetherby I said to Gina (Andrews) to just get to the two-furlong marker and pick her up, but Gina said she just got to the front and changed gear.

“We’ve been offered plenty of money for her, but my son doesn’t want to sell her – you couldn’t buy one like her.”

Among the opposition, Merry Mistress was impressive on her only run to date – and that form has taken a welcome boost, so trainer Tom Symonds is happy to let her take her chance.

“The ground at Hereford was pretty hard work, but she made light of it,” he said.

“She only ever just does what she has to at home and she goes there with a good chance.

Merry Mistress was an easy winner at Hereford and the form has been franked
Merry Mistress was an easy winner at Hereford, and the form has been franked (Tim Goode/PA)

“Obviously she’s giving weight to the younger filly, but she’s definitely worth her chance in a race like this. There’s also Willie Mullins to beat, of course.

“We’ve been very pleased with her since Hereford, and she’s going there in good from.”

Earlier on the card, Nicky Henderson’s On The Blind Side is out again quickly in the MansionBet’s Bet 10 Get 20 Hurdle – having finished second to McFabulous last week.

Dan Skelton runs his Cheltenham Festival winner Mohaayed, who has proven his stamina for this trip of late.

Skelton said: “This is quite a deep race but at the same time a nice race to have on, and congratulations to the track for putting on such an innovative race.

“I’d like to think Mohaayed has a chance. He stays three miles well, and he has won at the track before. There are a couple in there that are higher rated, but our lad is in good form and has been running well all season.”

Neil King’s Lil Rockerfeller will be ridden by Bryony Frost, having just been reeled in at Newbury last time out.

Frost said: “He ran a great race to finish second at Newbury last time off top-weight. He has a huge level of stamina, and always puts up a good battle.

“He has become a strong favourite at Neil King’s yard by running big races year in, year out.

Lil Rockerfeller has been a great servant for Neil King
Lil Rockerfeller has been a great servant for Neil King (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He is great to hurdle with – he knows exactly how much air to give them.

“The ground will be heavy, which is a concern, but he is in mega form at the yard.”

Colin Tizzard’s Vision Des Flos is another classy sort in the race, and assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “This is the ideal race for Vision Des Flos. He has not been the most consistent throughout his career – but when he shows his best form he is good, like when winning the National Spirit and running a blinding race at Punchestown.

“He didn’t take to fences but he seems good at the moment, and this is a race I spotted a while back that I thought would suit him. He is not quite a Stayers’ Hurdle horse, so wherever he goes it will be tough, but this gives a chance to horses like him.”

Mullins eyeing more Market Rasen glory with Grangee

Grangee could bid to provide Willie Mullins with back-to-back victories in this weekend’s Listed mares’ bumper at Market Rasen.

The Closutton trainer saddled his first ever runner at the Lincolnshire venue when sending Panic Attack across the Irish Sea to win this race 12 months ago.

The daughter of Canford Cliffs was impressive under Paul Townend before subsequently being sold to join David Pipe, for whom she ran in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and has since won two hurdle races.

Grangee made a successful start to her career at Galway in October – and like Panic Attack, could be bound for Cheltenham if she can come through Saturday’s assignment in the Alan Swinbank Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “Grangee is very petite – and we were worried about the soft ground at Galway, which is a tough track, but she handled it very well.

“She surprised us with how impressive she was in a very strongly-run race, so Willie nominated her for the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival afterwards.

“We thought this race at Market Rasen would be a nice stepping-stone on the way. Market Rasen is very different to Galway, but we have no reason to think that it won’t suit her.

“Panic Attack was very good in the race last year, and these Listed Mares’ bumpers are very valuable for owners and breeders looking to get some black type, so we’re always on the lookout for those races in England.

“Everyone who was at Market Rasen last year was very complimentary about how it all went.”

Perfect could bypass Classic Chase date

Nearly Perfect appears far from certain to take up his engagement in the Mccoy Contractors Civil Engineering Classic Chase at Warwick.

Neil King’s seven-year-old is as short as 7-1 in the betting for Saturday’s Grade Three feature following impressive wins at Wetherby and Wincanton last month.

However, the Wiltshire-based trainer has warned his charge could yet sidestep the three-mile-five-furlong contest in favour of a less taxing option the following week.

King said: “I’m not sure about Nearly Perfect. He probably won’t run (at Warwick). Don’t hold me to that, but my feeling at the moment is probably slightly against (running).

“He’s only a young horse and could go to Wincanton the following week.

“I’m just wondering whether we really want to go for a marathon just yet – he’s only just turned seven and I don’t want to over-face him.”

King also has stable stalwart Lil Rockerfeller entered in the Classic Chase, but he is set to stick to the smaller obstacles after running a fine race to finish second on his return from 12 months off the track at Newbury.

“Lil Rockerfeller is going to go to Market Rasen on Saturday,” the trainer confirmed.

“He is in good order. I’d have loved to have gone to the Classic Chase, but it looks a nice opportunity at Market Rasen, so it makes sense to go there.

“It would do him the power of good to get his head in front.”