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Pam Sly can handle pressure with hot favourite Eileendover

Pam Sly has no trouble setting aside the pressure as she prepares hot favourite Eileendover in the Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race at Aintree.

Eileendover is a shade of odds-on for Thursday’s Grade Two contest, after creating a big impression with eye-catching victories on all her three starts so far.

Sly resisted the temptation of going to Cheltenham with the Market Rasen Listed winner, and gave her a week off at the peak of the winter before building her back up for Aintree.

“I don’t take pressure any more – and I don’t get too excited either, which is good,” said the Cambridgeshire trainer.

“She’s well. I think I’m about there with her fitness-wise, after I gave her a month’s break.

“She didn’t fill out at all during the month, but it’s all time with her. She’s only just four.

“She just does what she has to do. She doesn’t do anything sparkling. Everything’s gone to plan, so I hope tomorrow goes to plan.

“If she can find a change of gear again it won’t be too bad.”

Even though the bookmakers have Eileendover as a short price, Sly has great respect for her rivals.

“You’ve got the (Dan) Skelton horse (Elle Est Belle) – that’s quite useful, and there are a few others too,” she went on.

“They could all be improvers from their last run.

“I’m not expecting to have a walkover. If she finishes in the first three I’ll be delighted.”

As well as Elle Est Belle, who was third in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, among the opposition are the Nicky Henderson pair of Mind Sunday and Tweed Skirt, Donald McCain’s unbeaten Milans Edge and Arthur Moore’s Irish raider Me Too Please.

Pam Sly sticking to Aintree plan with Eileendover

Pam Sly’s unbeaten filly Eileendover remains on course for Aintree’s Grade Two bumper, held in April as part of the Grand National meeting.

The four-year-old has triumphed in three bumpers so far, culminating in a six-and-a-half-length success in the Listed Alan Swinbank Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race at Market Rasen in January.

Willie Mullins’ Grangee finished third in the same contest, and then went on to boost the form when triumphing in a Grade Two mares’ bumper during the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

Although Sly has previously vetoed the idea of sending Eileendover to Cheltenham for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, the betting market still lists the daughter of Canford Cliffs as third-favourite behind Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard.

Aintree’s Champion Standard Open NH Flat Race remains the target, however, and Sly has no intention of rerouting.

“I didn’t make the entry for Cheltenham,” she said.

“I haven’t had a change of plan. I’ve been saying since Market Rasen that Aintree is the target – she won’t be going to Cheltenham.

“She’s fine, she’s very well – and on track for Aintree.”

Sly sets sights on Aintree aim for Eileendover

Pam Sly is to resist the temptation of Cheltenham for Eileendover and run her star filly at Aintree instead.

The Peterborough trainer feels the Weatherbys Champion Bumper will come too soon for her unbeaten charge and is to prepare her for the Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race on April 8.

Sly has just started to build Eileendover back up to full fitness after giving her a month’s break following her victory in a Listed bumper at Market Rasen.

“She’s had a month’s holiday. She’d been in since last February. It’s a long time,” said Sly.

“She’s on the walker this week. We can’t do much at the moment. It keeps snowing and we’ve had another frost this morning.

“I’m still aiming to go to Aintree. I know I should probably go for the Grade One at Cheltenham, but I just think it’s too early. I won’t have her fit enough for that.”

Sly was pleased to see the Market Rasen form franked on Sunday when the Willie Mullins-trained Grangee, who was beaten eight and a half lengths in third place, took the Grade Two mares’ bumper at Leopardstown.

“That was all right. She won 59 grand for that and ours was only 11. Their ground looked a bit better than ours,” she added.

“I always thought our filly wanted better ground and I still do.”

Sly set to skip Cheltenham with Eileendover

Pam Sly is likely to resist the Cheltenham Festival for the unbeaten Eileendover – with Aintree and then a Flat campaign instead at the forefront of her mind.

The granddaughter of Sly’s 1000 Guineas winner Speciosa stretched her winning run in bumpers to three in impressive fashion at Market Rasen on Saturday.

Not surprisingly quotes were flying around for the championship event in March in the aftermath, but Sly favours keeping the filly to her own sex at Aintree before aiming for some nice prizes on the level.

“She’s fine and out in the field, not a bother,” said the Cambridgeshire trainer.

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“I was surprised how well she won given the (heavy) ground, really. She’s not bad.

“I know she was getting the weight, but I don’t think it would have made a difference. She’s not even four until March.

“I was already thinking of the Flat for her before this – I only ran her in her first bumper because I ran out of time on the grass, but we didn’t know she was this good.

“That might sound ridiculous, but I don’t gallop mine a lot at home – she just worked with the other jumpers, and I thought she’d be OK to have a run round.

“I think the Aintree mares’ bumper is the ideal race for her – I’m not over-keen on the Cheltenham one, especially with a four-year-old filly. I think that race can knock them off their perch, and they have a job to come back from it.

“With Aintree, I can let her off for a whole month now and bring her back in the middle of February.

“After that, I don’t know whether I’d go for a handicap or even a Listed or a Group Three. I might be flying my kite a bit high, but you just don’t know until she is beaten.”

Unsurprisingly Sly, along with her son Michael, has had to resist some fairly big-money offers since Eileendover burst on the scene – but she reiterated the filly is not for sale.

She added: “Paul O’Brien came to ride her out last week and felt she’d grown. I suppose because I see her every day, you don’t notice, but she’s filling out and getting stronger.

“We’ve had lots of messages, and I did have one man ring, but she’s not for sale. My son doesn’t want to sell – we want the fun ourselves, (and) also we breed as well. We’ve a few of her relatives to come.”

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.

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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!

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.

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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.”

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.

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“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.”

Cheltenham outing on Pam Sly’s radar for Eileendover

Pam Sly’s dual winner Eileendover could take on the boys in a Listed bumper at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

The Canford Cliffs filly is a granddaughter of the trainer’s Classic heroine Speciosa, who claimed the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2006.

Eileendover carried the same colours of Sly and her son Michael to a 29-length victory on her racecourse debut at Huntingdon last month – and proved there was no fluke about that surprise success when following up with a 16-length demolition job at Wetherby on Saturday.

Sly said: “She’s quite nice. I’m going to try to find some black type for her, and I suppose the first race that comes up is the four-year-old bumper at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

“That gives me nearly four weeks, which is just about ideal really. She’ll be taking on the geldings, but she’ll get an allowance.

“I’m not going to run her over hurdles – I’ll probably run her on the Flat next year. If she’s capable of winning bumpers like she is doing, you’d like to think she could win on the Flat.”

Eileendover is out of Specialty, who was Speciosa’s first filly foal and won a couple of minor Flat handicaps for Sly in 2014.

“We said we’d keep Speciosa to breed from after she was retired from racing, but while her fillies have all been OK, the boys have not been so good,” the trainer added.

“We’ve had a lot of people wanting to buy this filly since Wetherby, but she belongs to my son and myself and he says she’s not for sale.

Speciosa (right) on her way to winning the 1000 Guineas
Speciosa (right) on her way to winning the 1000 Guineas (Chris Radburn/PA)

“It’s taken us 14 years to get this far and horses like this don’t come along too often.”

Of Speciosa, Sly said: “She’s fine and had a filly by Cracksman this last time. She takes after her mother a bit – she’s a bit feisty!

“We actually decided against putting her in foal this year. She is 17 now and I don’t know if we’ll cover her again or not.”