Haydock beckons for Ribble Valley

Nicky Richards hopes Ribble Valley can take advantage of a drop in class by returning to winning ways in the Unibet Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.

The lightly-raced eight-year-old was last seen finishing third behind Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante in the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November.

Having had a short break, Ribble Valley – previously triumphant on his return to action at Carlisle – will be prepared by the Greystoke handler for the two-mile Grade Two prize on January 23.

Richards said: “The plan at the moment is to run Ribble Valley in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.

“He is working away well and he seems fine, so hopefully we get a good run with the weather.

“He just needs to be a bit more streetwise, because when he has won he has gone round on the bridle.

“He didn’t disgrace himself at Newcastle, and hopefully there is a graded race over hurdles in him over the next couple of months.”

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Although Ribble Valley failed to make his debut at the highest level a winning one, Richards believes the ground might have had a bearing on the result.

He said: “I think the ground was a little bit faster than we expected at Newcastle.

“He is a great big horse, and that ground probably didn’t suit him 100 per cent, especially down the straight.

“Epatante is the best jumps filly in the country, and on the day he wasn’t good enough. That said it was only his fifth run over hurdles, so he was in at the deep end.”

With a switch to chasing on the agenda for Ribble Valley next season, Richards is confident he will be seen to even greater effect when jumping a fence.

He added: “You were half-thinking he could be an Arkle horse this season, but he had only had four runs under his belt and he needs to be a bit more streetwise, so that is why we stuck over hurdles.

“I hope running him against good horses over hurdles this season will stand him in good stead over fences next season.

“I’m hoping he will take real high rank among the top boys when he goes novice chasing.”

Richards plans to continue taking small steps with Castle Rushen, who backed up his debut win over hurdles at Ayr in October with another emphatic success at the Scottish track the following month.

He said: “Castle Rushen is a grand horse. I’m not sure where he will run next, but it will probably be in February.

“We will have to put him in the top end at some stage to see where we are with him, but we will just go steady for now.”

With Castle Rushen appearing to appreciate the step up to an extended two miles and three furlongs last time out, Richards expects the Trevor Hemmings-owned gelding to be campaigned over similar trips in the future.

He said: “As you go up in class, you need more things in your favour – and while he would win over two again, I would imagine two and half would be his trip.

“He is a good traveller, and I know it wasn’t much of a race he won last time, but he has come out of it very well.”

Trevor Hemmings, owner of Castle Rushen (David Davies/PA Images)
Trevor Hemmings, owner of Castle Rushen (David Davies/PA Images)

An outing at the Randox Health Grand National Festival could be a long-term target this season for Castle Rushen.

“You know what colours he is in, and there is no doubt it would be lovely to be there for Trevor, and I’m sure he would be fine on a bit nicer ground,” added Richards.

“We’ve got a couple of runs to have before we firm up those plans, but it is nice to be thinking of a meeting like that.”

Ribble Valley lives up to expectations at Carlisle

Ribble Valley booked his ticket for the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle with a smooth success on his comeback at Carlisle.

Nicky Richards has never disguised his admiration for the seven-year-old and reappearing having had a wind operation since meeting with his sole defeat over hurdles, he oozed class.

While only four went to post in the Watch Irish Racing On Intermediate Hurdle, the seven-year-old was giving 6lb to Olly Murphy’s highly-regarded Nickolson but he had no answer as champion jockey Brian Hughes breezed by on the 8-15 favourite.

On jumping the last Hughes just asked Ribble Valley to lengthen and he won by five and a half lengths, setting up a trip to Newcastle on November 28.

“That was lovely, he’ll come on a lot for that and Brian said it couldn’t have been nicer,” said Richards.

“He’s been very heavy and took a bit of getting fit, so Brian just asked him to lengthen after the last, he thought he’d give him a blow, there was no point sitting up on him.

“That was only his fourth run over hurdles so he’s very inexperienced. At the start of the season we thought, bearing in mind the level we hope he’s going to get to, he didn’t have enough experience to go chasing.

“So we were thinking of today and if it went well, which it has, he’ll probably go for the Fighting Fifth to get some more experience. Then we’ll take it from there, see how that goes and take it race by race.

“Brian said it was chopped up on the inside today so he kept him wide. Brian thinks some real good to soft ground and a proper gallop would be ideal.

“I just hope it’s not heavy ground come Newcastle as that might spoil the party.”

Earlier Dan Skelton’s Protektorat (5-4 favourite) put up a smart round of jumping to win the Introducing Racing TV Beginners’ Chase.

Hopes high as Ribble Valley returns to action at Carlisle

Nicky Richards has never hidden the regard in which he holds the promising Ribble Valley, who reappears at Carlisle on Thursday.

Winner of four of his six races under rules, he met with defeat when last seen at Ascot behind Master Debonair on heavy ground.

He had a wind operation following that run in December, before his season was cut short by the pandemic.

“Hopefully we don’t get too much rain and it will be just good to soft ground. It was nice ground there the other day,” said Richards.

“He had a little wind op when things at Ascot didn’t work out quite right, but we were toying with that idea before.

“We had that done with the view we were probably going to go to Aintree or Ayr for the Scottish Champion, and then we know what happened.

“He’s in grand fettle, ready to run and get his season started and take it from there.

“He’ll jump fences fine when the time comes, we’ll see how he gets on his next run or two before we decide when that’s going to be.”

His main rival in the in the Watch Irish Racing On Intermediate Hurdle appears to be Olly Murphy’s Nickolson, winner of two of his three races to date.

“If Nicky Richards’ horse is as good as they say he is then we might struggle to beat him,” said Murphy.

“My lad has been in good form at home, he’s training well and whatever he does he will improve upon.

“I know we are getting a little bit of weight, but if Nicky’s is as good as they say then it looks like we might be facing a tall order.

“He’s a nice horse for the future in any case.”

Murphy sends Notre Pari north for the Introducing Racing TV Beginners’ Chase, which also looks competitive.

“This looks a good starting point for him, coming back down in trip to two miles on a stiff track on some nice ground,” said Murphy.

“He was a decent novice hurdler, but I’m keen to see how he’ll get on over fences.

“He’s ready to go but will improve on whatever he does.”

Peter Niven’s Malystic, Sandy Thomson’s Elf De Re and the Dan Skelton-trained Protektorat will ensure there is plenty of strength in depth.