My Drogo stars in Mersey Novices’ Hurdle

My Drogo took his winning run to four with a most convincing performance in the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

Connections of the Dan Skelton-trained six-year-old decided to miss Cheltenham and it proved a wise move, with My Drogo powering home under Harry Skelton.

Pulling away in the closing stages, the 5-4 favourite crossed the line nine and a half lengths clear of Minella Drama, ridden by Skelton’s title rival Brian Hughes. Guard Your Dreams was half a length away in third. The first three were well ahead of Ballyadam in fourth.

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My Drogo was held up towards the rear in the early stages as Llandinabo Lad made the running from Striking A Pose.

There was drama at the fourth-last flight, just as the race was warming up, with Lucky One and Striking A Pose both coming down.

Skelton managed to miss all that as he started to ask My Drogo for an effort – and it was plain sailing from there as the son of Milan opened his Grade One account in some style.

Both Harry Cobden and Jonjo O’Neill junior were thankfully on their feet after the spill, but Cobden was subsequently stood down for the day, meaning he missed the ride on Give Me A Copper in the Grand National.

Of the exciting winner, Dan Skelton said: “It’s a little bit of a relief. I felt coming here it was nearly his race to lose given the prep he’d had, missing Cheltenham – it’s such an advantage here.

Harry Skelton celebrates with My Drogo
Harry Skelton celebrates with My Drogo (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“We’d always planned to come straight here. To give away a penalty at Kelso, and that form has stood up, gave an indication of what was possible.

“It’s very exciting to be involved with a horse like him, he’s got it all. The plan was always to go chasing next year, despite the lure of better hurdles. Given his breeding, size and the way he jumps it’s now or never if we want to make him a top-class chaser.

“For a moment today I was worried we’d run him in the wrong race given how well he was going, but I always felt he’d get two and a half miles.

“We want to make him a staying chaser – next year he’ll start over shorter, but ultimately he’ll be a staying chaser.”

He added: “He’s going 100 per cent over fences. We’ll start him off over two miles in the autumn somewhere and build up in trip.

“I don’t think we’ll go further than two and a half miles next year. Then ultimately plot a career this time next year for him because his novice chase year is important. We’ve got to get through that prosperously and then look at the future.

“He’s a very exciting horse.”

My Drogo stars in Premier prize at Kelso

My Drogo heads a high-class field for the bet365 Premier Novices’ Hurdle at Kelso.

The £40,000 contest forms part of a quality card in the Borders, with the huge prize-money on offer in the three feature events in particular tempting the likes of Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls to send runners on the long journey north.

My Drogo must concede weight to each of his six rivals, having already won at Grade Two level on his latest outing in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial at Ascot in December.

Nevertheless, Skelton is anticipating a big run in Saturday’s two-and-a-quarter-mile contest.

He said: “We’ve had this race in mind for some time for My Drogo. Obviously he carries the penalty, but I think the trip will be perfect for him and there are no real excuses.

“I’m very happy with him. We decided it was the best thing for him to miss Cheltenham this year and he might go here and then Aintree, but we’re taking it one race at a time.”

Irish point-to-point recruit Bareback Jack is stepped up in grade by Donald McCain in the same race, following a hat-trick of novice wins at a lower level.

“It’s a good race. Credit to Kelso – they’ve put the money on and they’ve got the horses,” said the Bankhouse handler.

Donald McCain has high hopes for Bareback Jack
Donald McCain has high hopes for Bareback Jack (Nick Potts/PA)
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“Bareback Jack is a smart horse, we think a lot of him.

“Obviously it’s a step up, so we’ll see where we are.”

The Nicholls-trained Lucky One and Any News from Neil Mulholland’s yard also feature.

Nicholls told Betfair: “He has kept improving as he learns to settle better in his races, which is key to his performance and the form of his latest win at Wincanton is red hot, with the horse he beat 20 lengths hacking up earlier this week.

“He is very much going the right way and deserves to take his chance in this better race.”

The Shunter (right) runs in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso
The Shunter (right) runs in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

With a total prize fund of £75,000 up for grabs, the most valuable race on the card is the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle.

The likely favourite is Emmet Mullins’ Irish raider The Shunter – winner of the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, before reverting to fences to finish third in a handicap chase at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival.

The home team includes Skelton’s Faivoir, who switches back to handicap company following a Grade Two novice win at Haydock.

Skelton said: “He won the graded race for us last time and is quite a progressive horse.

“I think a fast-run race will suit him and this is the next step up the ladder.

“He’s running off 143, which is a high mark for a novice, but I’m very happy with him and we’ll see how we get on.”

McCain is hopeful the application of blinkers can help Blakeney Point bounce back from a slightly underwhelming effort at Musselburgh, saying: “It just didn’t quite work out for him the last day – he got a little bit lost early on.

“We’re putting a pair of blinkers on to sharpen him up and he’s got a good weight, so hopefully he’s got a squeak of sorts.”

Ann Hamilton’s Tommy’s Oscar and the Nicholls-trained pair of Christopher Wood and Solo are others to consider in a fiercely-competitive affair.

Nicholls said: “Christopher Wood is up 7lb to a mark of 150 after his latest success at Musselburgh, so Angus Cheleda’s 7lb claim is obviously a big help.

Solo has plenty to prove
Solo has plenty to prove (Julian Herbert/PA)

“The first two were a long way clear of the rest that day and I’m hopeful that Christopher Wood can again be bang there at the finish in a strong field of runners.

“Solo made a big impression on his debut in this country a year ago in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton, but the horses he beat that day have hardly advertised the form.

“Solo has not found life easy racing off a stiff handicap mark this season, but it has dropped to a more realistic level now and he has started to come together in his work over the past couple of weeks and is showing us the right signs.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see him run well at a nice price.”

My Drogo continues progression with Ascot victory

My Drogo halved in price for the Cheltenham Festival as he ultimately ran out an impressive winner of the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot.

A winner at Newbury last time out, that performance was littered with jumping errors but the Dan Skelton-trained winner was much slicker on this occasion.

But he was made to fight for the victory, as the Tom Symonds-trained Llandinabo Lad tried to see them all off from the front under a 5lb penalty – and it was not until after the last that My Drogo (9-1) pulled two and three-quarter lengths clear.

“I was really impressed, the second is really good in this ground – I know he was giving away a penalty, but I was really impressed with our horse and how much he’d improved jumping-wise,” Skelton told ITV Racing.

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“We’d done plenty of practice at home, but before Newbury we couldn’t get him to make a mistake so were surprised how he jumped that day because he was moderate.

“He has bundles of class, he spent all last year with Polly Gundry and never got to run in a point because of Covid, but the extra year has given him such a chance because he’s much more mature.

“I’ll talk to the owners and work out the best route, but Cheltenham has never been the be-all and end-all this year for him because he’s every inch a chaser.”

Whenever the mud is flying horses trained by Venetia Williams can be counted on to be in the mix, and the Herefordshire trainer was on the mark with Enzo D’Airy in the Sky Bet Extra Places Every Day Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.

Winning rider Charlie Deutsch said: “I was thinking I might struggle to catch the one in front, but I was confident my lad would keep going and he’d have to be a good horse to get home having travelled like that on this ground.

“It turned out he folded in front and my lad picked up the pieces. He showed nothing over hurdles, but he jumped brilliantly today.

“You’re never afraid of the rain when you are riding for Venetia. I love riding these chasers in proper winter ground.”

Richard Johnson continued in good form with victory aboard Everglow (5-6 favourite) for his boss Philip Hobbs in the Sky Bet Money Back As Cash Maiden Hurdle.

“He jumped and travelled nicely through the race. I ended up making the running on him the last day, but he was green on his own so I wanted to get a lead,” said Johnson.

“We went very slow so I ended up in front, but he had his ears pricked and was looking at everything.

“It’s nice to get his head in front as he’s bumped into some good horses along the way.”

My Drogo delivers for Dan Skelton in Newbury opener

My Drogo appears to have a bright future after securing a surprise success in the Watch Racing Free Online At Ladbrokes “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle at Newbury.

All eyes were on Flinteur Sacre, a brother of multiple Grade One winner Sprinter Sacre, but it was the Dan Skelton-trained My Drogo who opened his account over hurdles at the first time of asking.

Despite being novicey at a number of his hurdles, the 100-30 shot found plenty up the run in after forging clear late on to defeat Saggazza by a length and a quarter, with Flinteur Sacre finishing a disappointing fourth.

Skelton said: “I was expecting plenty, especially after his good run at Cheltenham (second last month). I know he went off 50-1 in a bumper there, but that didn’t reflect what we thought. At home he has always been very precious.

“He had been so good jumping at home, I was a bit surprised he went out there and was very novicey at the second and splattered the fourth. The third last was brilliant and the last wasn’t great either. I think it showed what a big engine he has to overcome all that.”

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The Alcester handler will continue to take small steps with My Drogo, who was introduced at 33-1 for the Supreme and 25-1 for the Ballymore by Ladbrokes, before taking aim at bigger targets.

He added: “We will perhaps go one more low key before going fancy – I just don’t think he is ready for those types of day yet. As we get through the season into the spring, I think he will be a two-and-a-half-mile horse.”

Elusive Belle appeared to appreciate a return to better ground when scoring over fences at the second time of asking in the Ladbrokes Daily Odds Boosts Chase.

Having found testing conditions against her in a Listed contest on her chasing debut at Bangor, the Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old looked much happier on a sounder surface, running out a four-length winner.

Henderson said of the 13-2 winner: “It was bottomless, heavy ground at Bangor that was almost unraceable. She got quite tired in that ground and I think anybody would have. She was much happier on that ground. Sam (Waley-Cohen) gave her a really good ride.

“Two miles is her trip and they went a right good gallop as she can go some. She won’t be one for the mares’ chase at Cheltenham as she won’t get the trip, she could be one for a Grand Annual later on.”

Paul Nicholls will step Bravemansgame up to Grade One company on his next start following his facile success in the Play Ladbrokes 5-A-Side On Football Novices’ Hurdle.

The five-year-old barely had to get out of second gear to add to his recent Exeter success, with the 8-11 favourite gradually winding up the pace entering the home straight before cruising home seven and a half lengths clear of Es Perfecto.

Nicholls said: “He did that well and we thought we would do that en route to coming back for the Challow here.

“After his last run, we were thinking about going straight to the Challow, but I just felt he came out of his last race so well that we would give him another run for experience before going for a Grade One.”

Bravemansgame was introduced at 16-1 for the Ballymore by Ladbrokes, while Paddy Power offer 25-1 for the same contest.