Navajo Pass tests credentials again in Kingwell

Donald McCain is keen to discover whether Navajo Pass can back up his surprise Haydock victory in Wincanton’s Betway Kingwell Hurdle.

Sean Quinlan steered Navajo Pass to an all-the-way success as the outsider of three in Grade Two company last time out, winning by four and a quarter lengths from dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air.

Saturday’s Wincanton feature is another Grade Two event, and McCain believes a good run will solidify the five-year-old’s form from Merseyside.

Navajo Pass, ridden by Sean Quinlan, on his way to winning The New One Unibet Hurdle
Navajo Pass, ridden by Sean Quinlan, on his way to winning The New One Unibet Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

“He’s in good nick – we’re going to go for it,” said the Cheshire trainer.

“We were delighted with Haydock, and it’s the obvious next race for him – there are no other races for him, to be honest.

“We’ll go and take a punt and we’ll see.”

McCain is mindful that Buveur D’Air’s run in The New One Hurdle was his first after a 420-day break – and he will hold off on making spring Festival plans until after this weekend.

“You could question the form at Haydock, so we’ll see if that stacks up before we worry about anything else,” he said.

“We’re always looking to go somewhere in the spring, but he is still a young horse.”

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Song For Someone, last year’s Kingwell winner, also lines up in Somerset.

Tom Symond's Song For Someone
Tom Symond’s Song For Someone (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The Tom Symonds-trained six-year-old was a half-length winner of the 2020 renewal, which was relocated to Kempton after Storm Dennis left Wincanton unable to host the meeting.

That victory was the first of a current three-race unbeaten spell for the chestnut, who this season has won the Coral Hurdle at Ascot and the International Hurdle at Cheltenham – both of which are Grade Twos.

Symonds expects this weekend’s rivals to pose an even greater challenge, but hopes his stable star can continue his ascent and smooth a path to one of the big spring hurdle prizes.

“Fingers crossed, he’s in good form,” he said.

“We’re really pleased with how he’s been since the International, but he’s got to step up again and give his penalties away.

“He’s really well, but it’s going to be hard work for all of them in the ground. It will be interesting to see how he goes against Navajo Pass – and with Goshen running again, we’re looking forward to it.

“Provided the script is read right then we’ll look at either Cheltenham or Aintree in the spring, but we’ll see what happens here first really. That’s how we’ll go forward with him.”

Song For Someone (left) and Goshen (right) during the Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham
Song For Someone (left) and Goshen (right) during the Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Gary Moore’s Goshen will also take his chance as a tilt at Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle hangs in the balance.

The five-year-old looked a runaway winner of the Triumph Hurdle last season when unseating Jamie Moore at the last flight, but has struggled to rediscover his best form in three subsequent runs – the first two of which were on the Flat.

As Song For Someone triumphed in the International Hurdle in December, Goshen made his hurdling return but appeared out of sorts when finishing a near 30-length last of 10.

In the aftermath he was reported to be suffering from a fibrillating heart, but Moore has now clarified that was not the case.

“He never did have a fibrillating heart,” he said.

“That was a misunderstanding, so we can forget that. It was a mix-up in conversation.”

Cheltenham still remains the target – but a below-par Kingwell run could see that plan altered.

“We hope he’ll go very well – he’s very well at home,” said Moore.

“Saturday will tell us everything, unless there’s plenty of excuses.

“The next step will hopefully be the Champion Hurdle, but if he doesn’t give a good account of himself at the weekend, then we’ll have to think of something else.”

Completing the field are Paul Nicholls’ Friend Or Foe, William de Best-Turner’s outsider Calgary Tiger and Evan Williams’ Esprit Du Large – who reverts to hurdles after experiencing mixed fortunes during a spell over fences.

McCain looking forward to bright future with Navajo Pass

Donald McCain is already looking forward to next season with Navajo Pass following his victory at Haydock on Saturday.

The five-year-old upset dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air in The New One Unibet Hurdle, thanks to a bold front-running performance in the hands of Sean Quinlan.

The Cheshire trainer might consider the Grade One Aintree Hurdle, over two and a half miles, as a spring target, but he believes Navajo Pass is a horse for the future.

“Obviously, as everyone has been saying, the favourite probably needed the run, but he (Navajo Pass) went about his job in a good manner and did it really well. He came back well, so happy days,” said McCain.

“We’ve that one under our belt so there’s no panic. You never say never, but I can’t quite envisage we’re going to be going to Cheltenham because handicaps are going to be out of the question now.

“If we get one more run into him, maybe go to Aintree, that is probably the scenario, and then he’s next year’s horse really.

“He’s won a couple of races now this season. He’ll improve again for another summer and we’ll keep going forward. He’s changing all the time.

“It’s a pretty steep learning curve out of juveniles, but he seems to be finding his feet now and improving all the time.”

Navajo Pass upsets Buveur D’Air at Haydock

Navajo Pass inflicted a surprise defeat on the returning Buveur D’Air in Haydock’s The New One Unibet Hurdle.

Donald McCain’s winner was sent off the 4-1 outsider of three to beat dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air and Ballyandy – who took this Grade Two 12 months ago.

But forceful tactics paid off as Navajo Pass led from the outset and kept enough in reserve to see off Buveur D’Air, who challenged after the last hurdle but could not reel in his rival and had to settle for a four-and-a-quarter length second.

Sent off the 8-11 favourite, Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air was having his first run in 14 months, since suffering an injury that required surgery when also beaten at short odds in the 2019 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

A thrilled McCain said of his Sean Quinlan-ridden winner: “He’s going to be a very smart horse.

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“This is a season where you usually get lost a bit because it’s his first season out of juvenile hurdles. We’ve been running in handicaps with huge weights and today he was taking on two horses that were twice his age!

“It’s hard, but we knew he was fit, we knew he could jump and we knew he was in good nick after winning up at Musselburgh.

“We could have floated round for third, but I spoke to Tim (Leslie, owner) before and we said we’d take a punt and make it a test and see what happens.

“We were obviously counting on Buveur D’Air needing the run in bad old Haydock ground. To get the old horse back from the injury he had is a big effort from Nicky and his team.

Navajo Pass on his way to victory
Navajo Pass on his way to victory (David Davies/PA)

“We just came here thinking there was nowhere else to go before the spring festivals and it’s worked out.”

Navajo Pass is not entered in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Asked whether supplementing was a possibility, McCain added: “We’ll speak to Tim. I don’t think he’s a Champion Hurdle horse – I don’t think he’s got the natural speed for a Champion Hurdle, but I might be wrong.

“My first thoughts were he’s going to be more suited to Aintree, if anywhere. I know Tim likes Aintree and we love Aintree, obviously.

“We’ll just enjoy today for now. I can’t emphasise enough that he’s next year’s horse.”

Bookmaker reaction to the comeback defeat of Buveur D’Air saw his ante-post price for this year’s Champion Hurdle double from 10-1 to 20-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power.

Henderson said: “Of course we’re disappointed, but the winner set a really good gallop and I think they were going as fast as they could behind him, to be honest.

“It looked as though he (Buveur D’Air) was going to get there comfortably, but when he got to the last he just had a big blow.

“That ground is not for him, but he’s done well and his jumping was as good as ever – he jumped every hurdle like he used to.

“I’d expect him to come on hugely. He’ll definitely still go for the Champion Hurdle and he won’t run beforehand.”

McCain makes flying start to new year with Musselburgh treble

Triumph Hurdle fourth Navajo Pass highlighted a New Year’s Day treble at Musselburgh for trainer Donald McCain.

Arguably the classiest horse on the card, he was carrying top weight in the Betway Handicap Hurdle, but was assisted by the very handy 7lb claim of conditional jockey Theo Gillard.

He showed his class as a juvenile last season, when he won a Grade Two at Doncaster before running a very fine race at the Cheltenham Festival.

While his first two starts this season did not offer too much encouragement, back down in grade and with Gillard’s claim, the 7-1 chance pulled almost 10 lengths clear of Newtown Boy.

McCain said: “All the good juveniles from last year have struggled and the only one to have won over hurdles is Henry de Bromhead’s (Aspire Tower).

“There’s a real lack of options for them. He had top weight in his last run against seasoned handicappers and when I was carrying the saddle over to him, I could barely lift it and I just thought it wasn’t fair on him.

“That’s why I’ve waited for better ground and it’s why we put Theo on today, to take seven off and he’s one of the best conditionals in the country for me.

“He was bought to last and he’s been trained to last. It’s nice to get his season back on track.

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“I’ve always thought he was a staying hurdler rather than a prospective chaser. I know he’s only won a handicap at Musselburgh so I can’t get carried away, but long term I think he’s a Stayers’ Hurdle type.”

Earlier McCain teamed up with champion jockey Brian Hughes to win the Betway First Foot Juvenile Hurdle with Fiveandtwenty.

Sent off as the prohibitive 1-4 favourite on the back of a seamless hurdling debut over the same course and distance, she was not as impressive on this occasion.

The former Mark Johnston inmate had won by 26 lengths on her first run over obstacles and while she never looked like losing on this time, Hughes had to get fairly serious to beat Herbiers by two lengths.

“I think she found the ground testing enough, she’s only a light-framed filly and it was quite holding. Spring ground will suit her better,” said McCain.

“There are a couple of obvious races. There’s one at Musselburgh on their Trials Day, while there’s also a Listed fillies’ juvenile at Doncaster and black type would be important for her.

“We’ll be governed by ground, but you are only a juvenile once.”

Hughes was also on former smart Flat performer Blakeney Point in the Betway Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle.

Blakeney Point remains unexposed over hurdles
Blakeney Point remains unexposed over hurdles (David Davies/PA)

A Listed winner for Roger Charlton, Hughes appeared to have delivered his mount perfectly after the last, but the 22-1 chance still had to fend off the late lunge of Voix Du Reve, a Grade One winner over fences in his days with Willie Mullins.

“It’s not usually my way to go straight from a novice into a big handicap, but it wasn’t a massive field, I knew he’d like the ground and it’s worked out,” said McCain.

“He does have loads of experience in big handicaps from the Flat which helps, but it was really satisfying to win a decent race with him.

“I don’t think he wants much further than two miles, surprisingly given he was a stayer on the Flat, and truthfully I don’t think he does a whole lot in front. He’s still unexposed over hurdles.”

Hughes then grabbed a treble for himself on Nick Alexander’s Eagle Ridge (9-4 favourite) in the Betway Casino Handicap Chase.

Carrying a penalty for a recent win at the track, he just held off the slightly unlucky Oscar Ceremony by a nose.

The long journey north proved worthwhile for Harry Skelton, who made most of the running on Romain De Senam (13-2) in the Betway ‘Auld Reekie’ Handicap Chase to continue the excellent form of his brother, Dan’s, yard.