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Napper Tandy strikes Newcastle gold

Andrew Balding enjoyed a big-race double at Lingfield on Good Friday and was also on the mark at Newcastle with the promising Napper Tandy.

While Bangkok winning the Easter Classic and Ranch Hand being crowned the leading all-weather stayer will have been more beneficial financially for the Kingsclere handler, as a lightly-raced three-year-old Napper Tandy represents the future.

A winner over a mile at Kempton in November having gone down by just a short-head on his debut, he was a beaten even-money favourite last time out when stepped up to a mile and a half.

The slow pace did not suit that day though, and while David Probert initially looked worried at the top of the straight this time, he came back on the bridle in the Ladbrokes-sponsored handicap.

Hot favourite Defined never looked likely to win having raced keenly and the 5-1 chance was ridden out to score by a length and three-quarters, looking as his stamina is his forte.

Speaking from Lingfield, Balding said: “He was quite impressive today and possibly he could be a Queen’s Vase horse for Royal Ascot.”

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Probert said: “He actually won over a mile at Kempton in a race that worked out well when I was given an easy time in front, but possibly last time at Wolverhampton he found the track too sharp.

“It suited him well today. I was a little bit worried on the turn about getting him crowded, but as soon as I had him out and in his top gear, he really hit the line quite nicely.”

Kevin Ryan registered what is likely to be the first of many juvenile winners of the season when Anadora came from last to first to win the Ladbrokes Home Of The Odds Boost Fillies’ Conditions Stakes.

Kevin Stott returns on Anadora
Kevin Stott returns on Anadora (Nick Robson)

Slowly away, the daughter of Havana Gold was sent off a 13-2 chance as the market spoke in favour of George Boughey’s Cashew, but he was beaten by halfway.

Having missed the break, Kevin Stott guided his mount to the rail and she finished with a real rattle to catch Alaskan Jewel and win by a head.

“She missed the break, but other than that did everything right. She was a bit green early doors, but I got a nice, clean run and I had the rail to help me,” said Stott.

“I couldn’t fault her and this is a nice place for them to start off.”

Ryan was also on the mark with Treble Treble (7-1) in the Betway Handicap, ridden by Tom Eaves.

Jonny Peate has ridden three winners from just nine rides
Jonny Peate has ridden three winners from just nine rides (Nick Robson)

Charlie Johnston was full of praise for apprentice jockey Jonny Peate, who got his fractions spot on aboard Gobi Sunset (4-1) in the Bombardier Handicap.

Caught on the line at Wolverhampton last time out, this time Peate kicked his mount into a huge advantage at halfway and was still four and a half lengths in front at the post.

“It was basically all over at halfway, the favourite (Broctune Red) gave us a 15-length head start,” said Johnston, assistant trainer to his father, Mark.

“I know it can be a difficult place to make all, but not when they’ve got that much of a lead.

“That’s Jonny’s third winner from just nine rides. He came to us briefly last summer, went to do his course at the British Racing School and has been back about eight months. He’s got a fantastic attitude to work and life – as all of our apprentices do, two more (Andrew Breslin and Oli Stammers) were in that race!”

The day will be forever remembered by fellow apprentice Aidan Redpath, who rode his first winner on Michael Dods’ Havagomecca (14-1) in the five-furlong novice.

Megallan on top in Burradon Stakes

John and Thady Gosden’s impressive start to their new arrangement was given another boost by the victory of Megallan in the Listed Burradon Stakes at Newcastle.

Highly tried after winning on his debut last season, Megallan ended his campaign in the Futurity Trophy at Doncaster.

He got bogged down in the heavy ground on that occasion, but was better judged on his fourth to One Ruler in the Autumn Stakes – and the Gosdens are clearly keen to crack on with him this year.

Out early for the Spring Cup over an inadequate seven furlongs at Lingfield where he was a fast-finishing second, he was back over a straight mile on the Tapeta this time.

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His presence scared plenty of the potential opposition away – with only three taking him on, but they included Roger Varian’s lightly-raced Legion Of Honour.

The pair had it between themselves for the last two furlongs – and while Andrea Atzeni briefly looked to be going better on Legion Of Honour, Megallan’s depth of experience told close home.

Robert Havlin always looked as if he held the upper hand, and in the final 100 yards Megallan (4-6 favourite) began to pull away to win by half-a-length.

Havlin said: “He ran over seven (furlongs) at Lingfield – which we knew was going to be a bit sharp for him, but it sharpened him up mentally.

“That showed today, and I think you have to give him a lot of credit.

“Last year he was a bit too keen in heavy ground at Doncaster in the Futurity Trophy, but I think he’s grown up a lot. I ride him a bit myself at home, and he’s come on a lot.

“I think he’s better than this (class). It was a good old ding-dong battle with the second, but he was going away at the line.

“I wouldn’t rule him out going over a mile-and-a-quarter later in the season, because his mind is much better now – he used to be really racy.

“He might end up in something like the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket over a mile-and-one (furlong) – that could be an option.”

Paddy Power cut the winner to 20-1 from 33-1 for the 2000 Guineas, while the runner-up is now 25-1 from 50-1.

Voyage steps up to Listed level for Burradon test

James Tate’s Final Voyage will bid to extend his unbeaten run in the Listed Burradon Stakes at Newcastle on Friday.

The three-year-old was victorious on his last four starts on the all-weather, a winning streak that began in October last year and culminated in a half-length success at Wolverhampton in late February.

Friday’s contest represents a step-up in calibre for the son of Camacho, but Tate is hopeful that the colt can rise to the challenge and retain his form.

“He’s been a great horse for us over the winter,” he said.

“He’s won his last four and he’s five from six on the all-weather. Obviously it’s a step up in grade, but he’s been in very good form and he deserves to take his chance.”

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Final Voyage will face only three rivals in the one-mile contest, but he has more runs under his belt than any other entrant having competed in eight races.

“He’s a very experienced horse, he knows exactly what to do,” his trainer said.

“I’d say he’d be tactically able to do whatever he needs to to give him the race, it’s just a question of whether he can step his form up again.

“He hasn’t disappointed us for the last four runs and I think he is unlucky not to be unbeaten on the all-weather, so we are very much looking forward to the race and as I say, he deserves to take his chance, so let’s see what happens.”

Final Voyage has run only twice on turf and was beaten on both occasions, leaving his Newmarket-based trainer pondering a future trip overseas.

“He has very few options because he appears to not go on the grass at all, so there are about two races on the all-weather in May and that’s about it,” he said.

“There really aren’t many options, we could even give him a break and wait for the autumn races, unless we think about racing him on dirt in a different country.

“We’ve been getting him ready for this race for a while, we’ve had it in mind and obviously he’s got to step up and he’s a bit of an outsider, but we’re certainly looking forward to the race.”

John and Thady Gosden’s Megallan will be Final Voyage’s main rival, with the Kingman colt beaten just a short head in the Listed Spring Cup at Lingfield on his last outing.

Roger Varian runs Legion Of Honour, who was a winner when last seen triumphing by a two and a quarter lengths over seven furlongs at Newcastle in November.

Making up the field of four is Mark Johnston’s Ghost Rider, who also returns to the scene of his latest victory having won at the track in a seven-furlong novice contest in February.

Crosspark still at height of powers for Eider defence

Caroline Bailey is confident Crosspark is as good as ever as he prepares to defend his Eider Chase crown off top weight at Newcastle.

The 11-year-old won the last running of the Vertem-sponsored handicap by just a neck in 2019, defeating Michael Scudamore’s Mysteree, and is vying for favouritism in this year’s renewal.

Crosspark has not tasted victory since, with a repeat performance in 2020 ruled out when the fixture was abandoned, but he was second in the 2019 Scottish Grand National and has also finished runner-up in all of four outings this season – no more than a length behind the winner on each occasion.

“He’s been in as good a form as ever,” said his trainer.

“You can’t knock the horse at all – he tries his little heart out.

“I’m very happy with him. He had a little break after Sandown (runner-up in the veterans’ final early last month), and we freshened him up.”

Tristan Davidson’s The Dutchman also lines up this weekend, having last been seen taking a late when leading into the straight in the Grade Three Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day.

Davidson reports the 11-year-old, winner of the 2018 Peter Marsh Chase when with Colin Tizzard, to be in good form at home.

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Davidson is hopeful rather than certain he will handle this extended trip, however.

The Cumbria trainer said: “He’s well – Sean Quinlan came and schooled him the other day, and he schooled well.

“We’re hoping for a big race. He was unlucky at Wetherby, but that’s racing – he was going well that day.

“The ground won’t bother him at all. I just hope he stays four miles one (furlong), that’s my only doubt.”

Tom George is represented by Springfield Fox, who will run in cheekpieces after being pulled up in both the Welsh Grand National and on his subsequent appearance in the Dick Hunt Chase at Wincanton.

George said: “It’s been a bit frustrating for him this season – because he had a good run over hurdles, and then in the Welsh National he was always going one stride quicker than he wanted to.

Springfield Fox ridden by Jonathan Burke jumps the last to score at Chepstow Racecourse
Springfield Fox and Jonathan Burke jump the last to score at Chepstow (Simon Cooper/PA)

“We needed to run him again, and the same thing happened at Wincanton.

“I’d like to think a pair of cheekpieces will sharpen him up, and he shouldn’t be out of his comfort zone over four and a quarter miles.”

Lucinda Russell’s Big River also takes his chance, having finished eighth in the Welsh National in January.

Russell considers the 11-year-old to be in better shape than he was before that run, and expects him to be suited by the marathon trip.

“He ran a good race in the Welsh National, and I think he’s better now than he was before then,” she said.

“They’re probably his sort of conditions. Four miles is his sort of trip – and if the ground is soft enough he could run a big race.”

Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell has two chances in the Eider Chase
Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell has two chances in the Eider Chase (Ian Rutherford/PA)

Russell has also entered outsider Haul Us In, absent since finishing sixth at Bangor in November and who runs from 4lb out of the handicap but has Blair Campbell’s claim offsetting 3lb of that off bottom weight.

Russell said: “She’s been unfortunate – she’s missed a few races because of the weather.

“Ideally she’d have run at least another once, if not twice, before coming into this race.

“We decided this was going to be our aim for her for this season.

“We’ve been brave and put the entry in and tried to get her as right as we can at home. She’s probably got a chance at a big price.”

Brian Ellison’s Sam’s Adventure heads the market, with David Bridgwater’s Salty Boy and Matt Sheppard’s Cyclop also at the top end of the betting.

Paul Henderson runs Crossley Tender, with David Pipe’s Little Red Lion, Ian Duncan’s Strong Economy and Martin Smith’s Friends Don’t Ask completing the field of 12.

Crosspark’s Eider bid hinges on drying ground

Caroline Bailey is hoping the ground dries out so Crosspark can try to win the Vertem Eider Handicap Chase for a second time at Newcastle.

The 11-year-old, who took this marathon contest in 2019, heads the weights for Saturday’s marathon after 16 horses stood their ground at the confirmation stage.

The plan is head to the north east as long as conditions are not too testing. The ground on Monday was described as soft, heavy in places, but the forecast is for dry weather from the middle of the week.

Bailey does not want Crosspark to carry 11st 12lb on unsuitable ground.

“He’s fit and ready to go if the ground is not too heavy,” said the Northampton trainer.

“With top weight, it would be too much.

“The forecast after tomorrow looks better, so we’ve got to be hopeful.

“He’s not a very big horse and he wouldn’t want to carry that weight in heavy ground – but if it dries out to soft, good to soft then we’ll certainly consider it.

“It was good to soft when he won it two years ago, but he was carrying a lot less and rated 15lb lower than he is now.”

Among the potential opposition is the Brian Ellison-trained Sam’s Adventure, winner of the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock.

Lucinda Russell may be two-handed with Big River and Haul Us In, while Tom George has both Springfield Fox and Boyhood in the reckoning.

Others in the mix include The Dutchman, Cyclop, Classic Ben and David Pipe’s Little Red Lion, winner of three of his last four starts.

Hopes fading for big weekend card at Newbury

Newbury’s Betfair Super Saturday fixture is already in serious doubt after officials announced a course inspection for Friday morning.

The Berkshire circuit is due to stage a mouthwatering card, featuring the £125,000 Betfair Hurdle, as well as recognised trials for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Queen Mother Champion Chase in the shape of the Denman Chase and the Game Spirit Chase respectively.

Dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux, last season’s RSA Chase winner Champ and superstar chaser Altior are just some of the big names who are set to be on show.

However, with the track already frozen in places under the frost covers and sub-zero temperatures forecast for the rest of the week, clerk of the course Keith Ottesen is not optimistic ahead of a Friday inspection at 8.30am.

He said: “It was only minus 2C overnight, but it didn’t get above zero on Tuesday, so it’s not just the night-time temperatures that are a problem.

“It’s a cumulative effect of the temperature zero or below for a number of days. You’ve got to cover up to give it every chance, but with the forecast the way it is, the fleece covers that we use don’t offer enough protection for such a prolonged period of cumulative frost.

“We haven’t got the best forecast going forward. It’s going to be very cold tonight and into Thursday morning, the same thing Friday night into Saturday and not much better Thursday into Friday.

“At this stage it’s far too early to do anything but to call an inspection for Friday, but really we need a change in the forecast to come.

“Unless there is a complete change, it will be a struggle.”

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Nicky Henderson (left) and Paul Nicholls will be hoping races can be restaged
Nicky Henderson (left) and Paul Nicholls will be hoping races can be restaged (David Davies/PA)

High-profile trainers Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson are among those calling for the major races to be rescheduled – and Ottesen revealed discussions are already under way about the possibility of the entire card being moved to a later date.

He added: “We’re definitely talking about it at the moment. We need a number of things to align.

“From a Newbury point of view, we’d like to run the whole day, rather than just move races here and there. We’re just working on whether we can reschedule the day in the next week when conditions allow.

“I can’t really say more than that at the moment. Obviously there’s TV, sponsors, the Levy Board and the BHA (involved). We’ve been talking about it all week to try to find a solution, obviously with the support of Betfair (sponsors).”

Wednesday’s all-weather fixture at Newcastle was called off due to snow.

The venue was due to stage a seven-race card, but overnight snow forced clerk of the course James Armstrong to take an initial look at 8am, before checking conditions again at 10am.

That second inspection showed the track was not fit for action and Armstrong abandoned the fixture, with an inspection called for 10am on Thursday ahead of the planned evening card that day.

Armstrong said: “We’ve had something like three inches of snow, but it’s powdery, dry stuff. It’s cold, the temperatures aren’t going to start rising until later this morning and there’s the possibility of more snow.

“We’ve worked the track, but it’s got into the surface profile and it’s starting to ball up a bit, so it’s a fairly easy decision to make really.

“We’ll inspect at 10am for tomorrow’s meeting. We’ll use the windows of sunshine today to work the track and try to help it thaw out.”

Wolverhampton’s evening card was also subject to a 10am check, but the fixture got the go-ahead.

Racing has been called off at Ffos Las
Racing has been called off at Ffos Las (David Davies/PA)

There will be no jumps action in Britain on Thursday though, as Ffos Las’ meeting has been called off due to a frozen track.

Officials had hoped to escape the worst of the overnight freeze and called a precautionary inspection for 8.30am on Wednesday.

However, that check showed the track to be unraceable with little prospect of sufficient improvement.

The course tweeted: “Despite the huge efforts of our ground staff team to cover the course, tomorrow’s race meeting has been abandoned – parts of the track are frozen and temperatures are not forecast to rise sufficiently for it to thaw.”

Thursday’s Thurles card is also under threat, with a precautionary check planned for 7.30am on race day.

An Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board statement said: “Due to a Status Yellow weather warning in place for snow and ice, there will be a 7.30am precautionary inspection at Thurles tomorrow (Thursday) ahead of the fixture scheduled to take place.

“The track is currently fit for racing and the going is soft (chase) and soft to heavy (hurdle/bumper).”

Newcastle card becomes latest casualty of cold snap

Wednesday’s all-weather fixture at Newcastle has been called off due to snow.

The venue was due to stage a seven-race card, but overnight snow forced clerk of the course James Armstrong to take an initial look at 8am, before checking conditions again at 10am.

That second inspection showed the track was not fit for action and Armstrong abandoned the fixture, with an inspection called for 10am on Thursday ahead of the planned evening card.

Armstrong said: “We’ve had something like three inches of snow, but it’s powdery, dry stuff. It’s cold, the temperatures aren’t going to start rising until later this morning and there’s the possibility of more snow.

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“We’ve worked the track, but it’s got into the surface profile and it’s starting to ball up a bit, so it’s a fairly easy decision to make really.

“We’ll inspect at 10am for tomorrow’s meeting. We’ll use the windows of sunshine today to work the track and try to help it thaw out.”

Wolverhampton’s evening card was also subject to a 10am check, but the fixture got the go-ahead.

Racing has been called off at Ffos Las
Racing has been called off at Ffos Las (David Davies/PA)

There will be no jumps action in Britain on Thursday though, as Ffos Las’ meeting has been called off due to a frozen track.

Officials had hoped to escape the worst of the overnight freeze and called a precautionary inspection for 8.30am on Wednesday.

However, that check showed the track to be unraceable with little prospect of sufficient improvement.

The course tweeted: “Despite the huge efforts of our ground staff team to cover the course, tomorrow’s race meeting has been abandoned – parts of the track are frozen and temperatures are not forecast to rise sufficiently for it to thaw.”

Thursday’s Thurles card is also under threat, with a precautionary check planned for 7.30am on race day.

An Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board statement said: “Due to a Status Yellow weather warning in place for snow and ice, there will be a 7.30am precautionary inspection at Thurles tomorrow (Thursday) ahead of the fixture scheduled to take place.

“The track is currently fit for racing and the going is soft (chase) and soft to heavy (hurdle/bumper).”

Frost claims Ffos Las card

Thursday’s meeting at Ffos Las has been called off due to a frozen track.

Officials had hoped to escape the worst of the overnight freeze and called a precautionary inspection for 8.30am on Wednesday.

However, that check showed the track to be unraceable with little prospect of sufficient improvement.

The course tweeted: “Despite the huge efforts of our ground staff team to cover the course, tomorrow’s race meeting has been abandoned – parts of the track are frozen and temperatures are not forecast to rise sufficiently for it to thaw.”

Newcastle and Wolverhampton will both have to pass 10am inspections if today’s meetings are to go ahead.

Newcastle is due to stage a seven-race card kicking off at 1.30pm, but overnight snow combined with temperatures of -5C overnight forced clerk of the course James Armstrong to take an initial look at 8am.

With further snow flurries a possibility, Armstrong then opted to check again at 10am.

He tweeted: “Temps currently -1.5c. Light snow flurries on & off. Course worked from early hrs at least three times. Need temps to rise to assist in melting snow mixed within the Tapeta profile. Will work again soon as temps lift further.”

Wolverhampton’s eight-race fixture starts at 4.45pm and it too is subject to a 10am inspection.

The track had a light covering of snow overnight, but officials remain optimistic of the card going ahead as planned.

Thursday’s Thurles card is also under threat, with a precautionary check planned for 7.30am on race day.

An Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board statement said: “Due to a Status Yellow weather warning in place for snow and ice, there will be a 7.30am precautionary inspection at Thurles tomorrow (Thursday) ahead of the fixture scheduled to take place.

“The track is currently fit for racing and the going is soft (chase) and soft to heavy (hurdle/bumper).”

The Steward powers to all-the-way Newcastle success

A remarkable front-running victory for The Steward completed a big-priced double for trainer Jimmy Moffatt and conditional jockey Charlotte Jones at Newcastle on Tuesday.

Although without a win since the summer of 2019, The Steward did already have three all-weather wins on his CV – and ran well in defeat when beaten less than two lengths into fourth place at Gosforth Park a fortnight ago.

A 9-1 shot for his latest ‘jumpers bumper’ assignment, the 10-year-old was sent straight to the lead by Jones and quickly opened up a big advantage over the rest of the field.

Half a furlong clear of his rivals at the halfway stage, the chasing pack undoubtedly gave The Steward too much rope, but it was still a smart performance to win by 13 lengths.

“The Steward was a 96-rated Flat horse – and yes, I did fancy him,” said Moffatt.

“I didn’t quite think he would do it the way he did, (but) if you give a proper two-mile stayer on the Flat that much rope, you pay the consequences – and that’s what happened.

“He was getting tired at the finish, but he’s probably entitled to be. Enable would have got as tired doing that!

“He may well come back here on Monday.”

The victory saw his rider’s claim reduced from 7lb to 5lb.

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Of Jones, Moffatt added: “She’s a good jockey. She’s been with us for five years, right from the start.

“I think that’s her 20th winner now for us, so her claim goes down to 5lb.

“It’s a big day for her, and she’s done really well.”

Moffatt and Jones had earlier successfully combined with shock 50-1 Dagian, but the trainer was less surprised than most.

He said: “He ran 13 days ago and blew up. He was still there a furlong and a half out, and I thought he’d come on quite a lot because we’d been held up with the ground.

“He wasn’t a bad Flat horse. Obviously, his form has been terrible over jumps. (But) genuinely, we were hopeful of a nice run.

“I was thinking he’d probably get in the frame – and the owners backed him to do that.”

Moffatt sent a total of seven runners from his Cartmel base on the treacherous journey through the snow to Newcastle – and having saddled three thirds to go with his two winners, he was delighted it was worth the effort.

He added: “The worst snow was the first five miles, coming out of Cartmel and over Shap.

Proschema was a winner for Dan and Harry Skelton
Proschema was a winner for Dan and Harry Skelton (Nigel French/PA)

“It was a difficult journey. But what drives you on as a trainer is you’re thinking of the ones that can’t get there (to race against you).”

There were also doubles on the day for jockey Ben Robinson and brothers Dan and Harry Skelton.

Robinson struck gold aboard Brian Ellison’s newcomer Punxsutawney Phil (9-2) – an appropriate winner on February 2 being named after a central character in Pennsylvania’s Groundhog Day celebrations – and David Loughnane’s 5-6 favourite Manjaam.

Ellison said: “His name relates to Groundhog Day, which is actually today, funnily enough.

“It wasn’t a big plan or anything to run him on Groundhog Day. They just put this meeting on and it happened to happen.”

The trainer nevertheless has high hopes for Punxsutawney Phil, adding: “We like him a lot and fancied him today.

“I’m not sure if we’ll go for a grass bumper or just wait for the Flat, but he will definitely go on the Flat at some stage.

“All the family went on the Flat and he is a nice horse.”

The Skeltons, meanwhile, teamed up to score with Not That Fuisse (13-8 favourite) and Proschema (11-4).

Errant deer nearly causes drama at Newcastle

Alert runners and riders managed to avoid a potentially nasty incident at Newcastle on Saturday evening, as a deer shot across the track.

The opening Betway Casino Handicap was progressing without drama, as Jason Hart and the Stuart Coltherd-trained Jack Yeats led the eight-strong field on their way.

But Hart and Jack Yeats were suddenly forced into a swift manoeuvre six furlongs out due to the appearance of the errant deer.

While it all happened very quickly, the runners were able to carry on their way virtually untroubled, with the race eventually going to the Jack Mitchell-ridden Madeeh, trained by Phil Kirby.

A report from the stewards read: “The stewards noted the presence of three deer in the back straight approximately six furlongs out which caused the leader Jack Yeats to shy.

“The clerk of the course stated that although they have personnel at various points on the track to prevent deer from causing any danger, it was unusual for the deer to be on that part of the track.

“He further added that the remainder of races at this meeting were on the straight course, but he would ensure for future meetings that there was someone in that position to prevent deer coming onto the track.

“His explanation was noted and no further action taken.”

Adam Nicol secures maiden training success

Adam Nicol was thrilled to open his account as a trainer with just his third runner as Wise Eagle claimed a narrow victory at Newcastle.

The 31-year-old called time on his riding career last spring after suffering a string of serious injuries, including a broken hand and a badly broken leg, before fracturing vertebrae in his back in a heavy fall at Sedgefield on Boxing Day of 2019.

Despite the setbacks, Nicol enjoyed several big-race triumphs aboard Phil Kirby’s star mare Lady Buttons, steering her to 12 of 15 victories overall.

Reflecting on decision to quit the saddle, Nicol said: “I decided to call it a day during the first lockdown last year.

“I just felt that having had so many injuries during the previous couple of years, enough was enough.

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“In this game, as a jockey, the longer you’re out, the sooner you’re forgotten.

“I rode at Market Rasen not long before the lockdown and I just felt it would be good to leave on my terms.

“I managed to come back from every injury and I was delighted with how my riding career went. A career after being a jockey is a lot longer than being a jockey, so when the opportunity to came up to start training, I took it.”

Nicol had previously sent out just two runners, with Velkera pulling up at Hexham last month before Wise Eagle outran odds of 66-1 to finish second on his hurdling debut at Catterick less than a week later.

Switching back to the level on a ‘jumpers bumpers’ card at Gosforth Park, Wise Eagle was a 7-1 shot in the hands of Craig Nichol, and displayed a willing attitude to see off the strong-travelling Dear Sire by a short head.

Nicol added: “I’m delighted – I couldn’t have asked for a better start. We’ve got three horses in training – my mum owns the yard in Seahouses in Northumberland. I’ve had four stables and the plan is to have another four, but we’re just going to stay small.

“This horse ran a blinder at Catterick. I’m not sure what happened, but he came back with a big hematoma on his leg, so I thought he ran very well considering. We’ve had him in the sea since then, which has helped with the hematoma.

“The owners were asking what to expect today. You can get some strange results in these jumpers bumpers, but I just said to them that he’d won at Lingfield, so at least we knew he handled a synthetic surface and he was fit enough.

“We’ll see how he is, but we might go back over hurdles at Catterick on February 5 or Musselburgh on February 7. There’s no mad panic.”

Despite coming up narrowly short aboard Dear Sire, champion jockey Brian Hughes still enjoyed a treble on the card.

Hughes first struck gold aboard the Gillian Boanas-trained Susie Mac (3-1), who was making it third time lucky off the back of a 576-day absence, having finished second twice in 2019 when trained by Kevin Ryan.

He doubled up half an hour later on Donald McCain’s 4-1 chance Presentandcounting, before completing his hat-trick aboard the Cholmondeley-based trainer’s Armattiekan (6-1) in the final race.

Aye Right stars on bumper card at Newcastle

Harriet Graham’s Ladbrokes Trophy runner-up Aye Right is the headline act at Newcastle on Wednesday.

The Gosforth Park venue was scheduled to stage a National Hunt card, but the meeting was called off in the middle of last week as the track was unraceable with little prospect of improvement.

That fixture has been replaced with a ‘jumpers’ bumpers’ card and for a horse like Aye Right, who is trained in the Scottish Borders, it has come at just the right time.

He lines up in the QuinnBet Casino “Jumpers’ Bumper” National Hunt Flat Race over an extended two miles.

“We’ve obviously been stopped a bit by the weather over the last three or four weeks and we thought it would be a good, strong bit of work for him,” said Graham.

“Obviously it is probably a mile too short for him and there are no jumps which will be a disadvantage, but we’ve had horses there recently as our grass gallops are either saturated or frozen at the minute.

“We just think it’s a good opportunity to take him and it’s a big thanks to the British Horseracing Authority as originally his race wasn’t there and he didn’t qualify for any of the others.

“It will be a strange race, there’s all sorts of different types – Jimmy’s (Moffatt) horse (Golden Town) even ran in Kingman’s Greenham back in the day.

“We’re aiming him at the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster, but the way the forecast is and because we won’t be running him on heavy ground, we’ve just got to take the opportunities when they are there.”

Venturous and Bless Him book Finals Day tickets

Venturous and Bless Him secured their places for All-Weather Championships Finals Day with victories in the Fast-Track Qualifiers at Newcastle on Tuesday,

The David Barron-trained Venturous booked his ticket for the All-Weather Sprint Championship at Lingfield Park on Good Friday as he justified 9-4 favouritism in the Betway Conditions Stakes.

Partnered by Tom Marquand, the eight-year-old reeled in front runner Ornate to triumph by a length and a half.

Marquand said: “Venturous has done it extremely well.

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“Ornate is not a bad old horse himself and he takes a bit of getting back once he has worked up that lead, but this lad never really gave me a moment’s doubt. I found myself going down to the furlong pole thinking that I don’t want to take him off the bridle too soon.

“Whatever has clicked in him I am not sure, but David has obviously done a great job bringing him to fore at this age. He is improving and given he is now in for Good Friday, hopefully he can continue in this vein of form.

“To be honest, six furlongs at Lingfield could almost be comparable to five furlongs up here, being that this is a stiff straight track and you don’t get the chance for a breather whereas at Lingfield he will do.

“I guess on Good Friday you hope they go a good gallop as there is usually plenty of speed horses in there. He would need things to fall his way but if he continues on the trend that he is following at the moment, he should be on for a big run.”

Jamie Spencer executed a perfect waiting ride on Bless Him (10-1) in the Bombardier Conditions Stakes and David Simcock’s charge is now assured a place in the All-Weather Mile Championship on Finals Day.

Spencer only needed hands and heels to steer Bless Him to a half-length win over Count Of Amazonia, with favourite Ummalnar disappointing in fifth.

The rider said: “Bless Him did it well. I nursed him into the race and he had just enough in reserve to run them down late on.

“I thought he would need the run, especially as the track is riding quite deep which makes it quite demanding.

“He is moving really well at the moment – he is a horse that David has to be careful with. He only runs a handful times a year and it is good to get him to win on his first start because he generally improves a good bit for a run.

“He should have a good season even though he is a seven-year-old now. There is still plenty of life in him.”

Venturous seeking another victory in Newcastle conditions heat

Venturous bids to secure a fourth victory from his last five starts in the Betway Conditions Stakes at Newcastle on Tuesday.

After impressing on heavy ground at Doncaster in late October, David Barron’s charge followed up over this course and distance a few weeks later, before coming up short when bidding for a hat-trick at Wolverhampton.

However, he bounced back to winning ways at Dunstall Park last month and will be well fancied to add to his tally in this All-Weather Championships Fast-Track Qualifier.

Barron said: “The horse is in good fettle. We’re limited as to where we can go with him now and this was the obvious race to go for, so we’ll hope for the best.

“At this stage there isn’t a plan. He’s done very well. This is obviously a qualifier for the sprint at Lingfield on Good Friday, which is over six furlongs, and he’s arguably better at five.

“That being said, we are in a position with him now where, at his age (eight), and he looks to be in the form of his life, that if he’s fit and well at the time we’d probably run him (at Lingfield).”

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Venturous is the highest-rated of seven declared runners. His rivals include the Stuart Williams-trained pair of Tawny Port and Royal Birth, David Griffiths’ veteran Ornate and Exalted Angel from Karl Burke’s yard, who has finished behind Venturous on his last two outings.

“Exalted Angel is in great order and I am looking forward to seeing him run,” said Burke.

“He has been a bit tardy out of the stalls on his last couple of starts, which has left him with ground to make up. I think he would have definitely beaten Venturous at Newcastle had he jumped on terms.

“If he jumps reasonably well on Tuesday and is able to track the leaders, he will run a big race. He is a nice horse on the upgrade.”

A place on All-Weather Championships Finals Day at Lingfield on Good Friday is also up for grabs in the Bombardier Conditions Stakes, in which Burke is represented by Born To Be Alive.

Twice a runner-up at Listed level, the seven-year-old returned from a 896-day absence to finish second at Wolverhampton on Boxing Day.

“Born To Be Alive is obviously coming back after an injury. He ran well at Wolverhampton, albeit in a messy race after Mick Appleby’s horse (Big Country) came down,” Burke added.

“He came to win his race and just blew up really, so he will definitely come on fitness-wise, and we have always felt that he is better over a mile rather than a bit further.

“It looks a tough race, but he deserves a crack at it.”

Ummalnar is a major contender for William Haggas and Tom Marquand following a six-length romp in a Listed event at Dundalk in November.

Haggas said: “Ummalnar has been fine since her win in Ireland. This race fits in well in preparation for Dubai at the end of the month – she is heading out there for the Cape Verdi on January 28.

“Beyond that, I would say it is very possible that she will come back here to run on the all-weather.”

Group Two winner Vintager represents Simon and Ed Crisford, after making a winning debut for his new connections at Chantilly last month.

Count Of Amazonia (Marco Botti) and Bless Him (David Simcock) are the other hopefuls.

Newcastle and Lingfield to stage all-weather bumper cards

The British Horseracing Authority has announced ‘jumpers bumpers’ cards will be held at Lingfield and Newcastle on Friday.

The move has been made following the abandonment of the jumps cards which were originally scheduled at both venues on the same day.

The afternoon all-weather fixtures will be seven-race cards, with the option of dividing up to eight races if required. Entries will close on Wednesday, with declarations at the 24-hour stage on Thursday.

An inspection at Lingfield on Tuesday led to the decision to call off the National Hunt fixture, with standing water on heavy ground, and it was similar story at Newcastle too.

Clerk of the course James Armstrong tweeted: “Sadly the NH turf fixture due to be run on Fri 8th Jan @NewcastleRaces has been abandoned due to waterlogging & false ground with no significant improvement likely given forecast of further rain & prolonged frost forecast.”