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Messire heading for Scilly Isles – with Cheltenham off agenda

Alan King’s exciting fencing recruit Messire Des Obeaux is on course for the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown early next month.

The Barbury Castle trainer reports the nine-year-old in top order following his impressive triumphs in successive visits to Wincanton this season.

Messire Des Obeaux returned from a 10-month absence to stylishly take out a Class 3 and a Class 1 at the Somerset track, but will not have Cheltenham on his horizon.

King is reluctant to risk aggravating an old injury by running his charge on an undulating terrain.

He said: “Messire is grand and will go for the Scilly Isles (on February 6), which has always been the plan since his last run.

“Touch wood he’s fine, but I won’t even enter him for Cheltenham. I would be concerned he might be vulnerable to a recurrence of his problem running on an undulating course.”

Midnight strikes in Sandown Veterans’ highlight

Sandy Thomson enhanced his reputation for restoring horses to their former glories as he sent out Seeyouatmidnight to land the Unibet Veterans’ Handicap Chase at Sandown.

Having revived the fortunes of Grade One scorer Yorkhill to win the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle last November, the Lambden handler saw his magic touch work wonders again as his stable stalwart rolled back the years in the three-mile prize.

Racing prominently throughout, the dual Grade Two scorer moved into a lead he would not surrender jumping the last out of the back straight, despite being faced with a host of challengers.

Meeting the final two fences on a good stride, the 10-1 chance answered jockey Ryan Mania’s every call to hold off the late thrust of Crosspark by a length, just a day after officially turning 13.

Thomson said: “We are here today because of him. If it wasn’t for him, where would our training career be? It is such a shame he hasn’t been a sounder horse throughout his career, but he has given us so many great days. You just have to enjoy the good ones.

“This will give me immense pleasure, as has any race he has won, because he has very seldom gone out in a little novice chase or hurdle – he has always had to go out with the big boys.

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“He has kicked most of the fences out the twice he has been to Haydock (where he was pulled up on his latest start), but he did a great bit of work with Yorkhill a fortnight ago and that is when I thought we were going to go (to Sandown).”

Seeyouatmidnight jumps the last at Sandown
Seeyouatmidnight jumps the last at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Seeyouatmidnight was initially owned by Thomson’s wife Quona, but was sold to David and Patricia Thompson before finishing 11th in the 2018 Grand National.

However, the Thompsons gifted the gelding back to Thomson after he was retired following that Aintree spin.

Thomson added: “The Thompsons very kindly said ‘we are not going to go on with him, you may have him back and do as you wish’.

“He was officially retired. He came down to Newmarket and the vets did all the tests – he had scans and things and they sent them to America. They came back and the verdict was the horse wouldn’t stand training. We just started riding him at home and he kept sound.

“There were a couple of nights I went into his box and thought it was over, but we have then given him an easy time and it has been a little flare-up or a knock, and here we are.”

Though Thomson has enjoyed many memorable days with Seeyouatmidnight, he believes he could have gone on to even greater glory had his career not been interrupted at various points by injury.

He said: “We bought him at Doncaster and it was almost seven years ago to the day that he won at Hexham.

“That was the beginning, then it was on to Musselburgh and the Rendlesham, then the novice hurdle at Aintree. Then it all sort of went wrong.

“He was bang there at the last in the (2015) World Hurdle, but it was his second run of the season and he wasn’t quite fit enough probably.

“He had a great novice chase career, winning the (2016) Dipper, then beating Bristol De Mai – then it really did go a bit wrong.

“We got him back, he had the National as his second race and it was a complete nightmare because we had to go to Newbury (before running at Aintree), as we couldn’t go for a racecourse gallop. He ran a hell of a race in the National, but he just got tired.”

Coronavirus may have scuppered Thomson’s plan to run Seeyouatmidnight in last year’s Scottish National, but the Grade Three prize at Ayr will once again be his target in April.

Thomson added: “Last season he went to Kelso, we were delighted he got round and were amazed he won at Carlisle 15 days later, as that was the race to get him fit for the Scottish National, but that didn’t happen.

“Anything could be a possibility. We would love to run him in the Scottish National. We are very fortunate we have got a lot of nice horses. As he is ours, we will take it day by day. We will get him home, he will get a good break and the Scottish National might be something.”

Jamie Moore posts personal landmark with Grugy success

Jamie Moore celebrated his 800th winner in Britain following the front-running success of Hudson De Grugy in the Unibet Extra Place Races Every Day Juvenile Hurdle at Sandown.

The 35-year-old has enjoyed many highlights during his distinguished riding career to date, most notably steering the popular Sire De Grugy to several big-race victories, including the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham and two Tingle Creeks at Sandown.

Hudson De Grugy, a relative of trainer Gary Moore’s former stable star, has some way to go to scale those heights, but nevertheless looks a fine prospect judged on his determined display in the Esher mud.

Sent straight to lead by Jamie Moore, the 4-7 favourite was strongly pressed by Hystery Bere between the final two flights, but pulled out plenty up to hill to prevail by two and three-quarter lengths.

The winning rider said: “I had my 799th winner when I last rode a winner, which was about two years ago!

“The horse was very genuine – he jumped good. Josh (jockey’s brother) has done all the work with him, but he has just had a little bit of trouble with a shoulder. It is really down to Josh and Dad, I’ve just had to do the steering.

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“He is related to Sire De Grugy and he has got that little bit of heart in him.”

On future plans, he added: “We will see what Dad thinks and see what mark he gets. Dad is good with juvenile hurdlers, so we will let him decide where he goes.”

Doitforthevillage rolled back the years
Doitforthevillage rolled back the years (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Paul Henderson praised stable stalwart Doitforthevillage, who gained his first win in more than two years at the age of 12 when swooping late to land the Read Nicky Henderson’s Unibet Blog Handicap Chase under Tom O’Brien.

Henderson said of the 14-1 shot: “He has been a super horse and a real stable star since we’ve had him.

“He only ran a few days ago, but the ground was too fast – it was almost good to soft, good ground.

“He likes soft ground as he has always been a relentless galloper.

“This is huge for us today as it keeps us in the limelight. He is such a good horse.”

The Venetia Williams-trained Ibleo enjoyed a deserved change of fortune in the Unibet 3 Uniboosts A Day Handicap Chase.

Runner-up on his two previous starts this season, the eight-year-old was the 13-8 favourite to go one better and charged home from an unpromising position to score by a length and a half under an excellent ride from Charlie Deutsch.

“I did rather laugh when the commentator said Ibleo is held up at the back, as Ibleo does his own holding up! The idea was to jump out smartly and be as handy as possible,” said Williams.

“He is a bit of a cold horse early on. I must admit, the strong pace was in our favour.”

Williams earmarked the Grand Annual at Cheltenham as a potential long-term target, adding: “Like everybody that has a horse at this sort of level, you are working back from the Festival in March.”

The father-and-son combination of Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies took out the concluding Unibet Casino Deposit 10 Get 40 Handicap Hurdle with 3-1 shot Guard Your Dreams.

Metier extends unbeaten run with impressive Tolworth triumph

Metier maintained his unbeaten record over obstacles with a facile victory in the Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

A useful performer on the Flat in Ireland for Andrew Slattery, the Mastercraftsman gelding subsequently changed hands for 150,000 guineas to pursue a jumping career with Harry Fry.

He made a fine start for his new connections when impressing on his hurdling bow at Newton Abbot in October – and having since doubled his tally with a dominant front-running display at Ascot, Metier was the 7-4 favourite to complete his hat-trick in this Grade One feature.

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Always travelling well in the hands of Sean Bowen, the five-year-old loomed up to challenge long-time leader Shakem Up’Arry early in the home straight.

The latter did his best to make a race of it, but Metier had far too many guns and powered clear in the testing conditions to score emphatically by 12 lengths.

Paddy Power reacted by cutting the winner to 10-1 from 25-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

Fry said: “He comes alive on the racecourse. It was ideal we didn’t have to make our own running today, as they went a good tempo. Sean said he just jumped for fun.

“Turning into the bottom, he had a double handful. Very rarely do races go quite so smoothly, and certainly not at this level, but I’m absolutely delighted for Gary Stevens. We bought him over a year ago now and he had to wait over 12 months to see him first run. I’m delighted that patience is being rewarded.

“He relishes those conditions. He is a very exciting hurdler. With the action on him, I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to run him on drying ground, but good horses have to run on all grounds.

“This is a lovely race to win and I’m absolutely delighted to get a first Grade One winner from the new yard, having only moved in back in June.

Metier clears the last at Sandown
Metier clears the last at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“A lot of people have helped us to get where we are. To get the new yard up and running, moved in and set up, is a lot of hard work from the team – not least for my wife Ciara, who not only is assistant trainer but is married to me, so it is a double-edged sword. It is great for all the team.

“I think you’ve got to consider that (Supreme). We will enjoy this moment then work out whether we go straight there (Cheltenham) or look at something in between.

“The Betfair (Hurdle) entries close this week, for which you have to have a third run by next weekend anyway, but he has probably gone about it the wrong way. He will certainly have an entry. It will be an interesting conversation with the handicapper.”

Chilli too hot for Sandown rivals

Whitehotchillifili took her career to new heights after opening her account for the season with a tenacious success in the Unibet “You’re On” Mares Hurdle at Sandown.

The Harry Fry-trained seven-year-old claimed a first Listed victory in the two-mile-four-furlong event after going one better than on her previous start over course and distance.

Having travelled powerfully into contention, it looked as though Whitehotchillifili had handed the initiative to long-time leader, Stormy Ireland, after making a bad mistake at the second last.

Gathered in by Sean Bowen, the 13-8 shot found an extra gear up the run-in to forge past Stormy Ireland before going on to score by three lengths.

Fry said: “On ratings she had a lot to find (with Stormy Ireland), but we knew our mare goes on the ground as she ran a cracker here under top weight a month ago.

“It was always the plan to go to that race then on to today. I was cursing at the second last as I thought the plan had come unstuck. She battled on really well and they went a good tempo, which really suited her.

“She is much more settled these days. Last year she didn’t stay, but certainly that intermediate trip suits her in these conditions.”

Fry has earmarked another Listed event at Warwick next month for Whitehotchillifili ahead of a potential outing in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, for which she was introduced at 33-1 by Paddy Power.

He added: “There is another mares’ Listed race at Warwick over two-five in February and, all being well, that is where she will go hopefully. Conditions won’t be too dissimilar to today.

“She ran a good race in the mares’ novice at Cheltenham finishing sixth. Ground conditions would need to be in her favour to go back to the Festival.”

Bold show anticipated as Metier takes Tolworth test

Harry Fry believes Metier has everything in his favour ahead of his bid for Grade One honours in the Unibet Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

A 150,000 guineas purchase last year after displaying smart form on the Flat in Ireland, the son of Mastercraftsman made an excellent start to his jumping career on his debut for new connections at Newton Abbot in October.

Metier doubled his tally with a dominant front-running victory at Ascot last month and is well fancied to complete his hat-trick in this weekend’s top-level feature.

“He’s in good form, he has form in the ground and a stiff two miles will suit him,” said Fry.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing if he can continue on an upward curve.”

The Michael Scudamore-trained Do Your Job won a couple of minor races at Ffos Las and Ayr in October, before filling the runner-up spot behind Llandinabo Lad in a Listed contest at Haydock.

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Do Your Job in action at Haydock
Do Your Job in action at Haydock (Mike Egerton/PA)

The winner has since finished second in a Grade Two at Ascot to give the form some substance.

Scudamore said of Do Your Job: “He goes there in great form and didn’t run a bad race at Haydock. In hindsight, things probably didn’t quite go to plan that day. I’m not saying we’d have won, but with different tactics, perhaps we might have finished closer to the winner.

“The form doesn’t look too bad now. We probably have to step up again on Saturday, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t handle the track and he’s handled that ground before.

“He deserves his place in the field.”

Ben Pauling’s Shakem Up’Arry, who is owned by football manager Harry Redknapp, brings plenty of jumping experience to the table as a second-season novice.

The Flemensfirth gelding chased home the brilliant Shishkin in a novice hurdle at Newbury last term, before finishing down the field in the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival, but he has subsequently turned in two sound efforts.

“I think he’ll run a massive race on Saturday. He’s a very nice horse who is 100 per cent a chaser for next season, but two miles on soft ground around Sandown is about as ideal as you could get for him really,” said Pauling.

“He’s in good form and had a solid run to finish fourth in a handicap at Haydock last time out. I hope he’ll run a nice race.”

Galice Macalo is a leading contender
Galice Macalo is a leading contender (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Jane Williams saddles Galice Macalo, who after winning at Warwick and Stratford in October, finished runner-up in a competitive Listed handicap hurdle over this course and distance four weeks ago.

The trainer’s son Chester Williams takes the ride, and said: “I can’t wait to ride her – she is a very exciting mare. She has done everything right this season and was probably unlucky to be beaten by a good horse last time.

“She is very progressive. We know that the track and trip suit her well and she loves deep ground.

“She has got to go there with every chance. It would be lovely to get a Grade One on the CV.”

Grandeur D’Ame (Oliver Sherwood), Smurphy Enki (Chris Gordon) and Tile Tapper (Chris Honour) complete the field.

Seven to take on Metier in Tolworth

Metier is set to face seven rivals when he puts his unbeaten record over obstacles on the line in Sandown’s Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle.

Formerly trained on the Flat in Ireland by Andrew Slattery, the Mastercraftsman gelding subsequently changed hands for 150,000 guineas to pursue a jumping career with Harry Fry.

He made an impressive start for his new connections at Newton Abbot in October – and having since followed up with a dominant front-running victory at Ascot, Metier is well fancied to complete his hat-trick in Saturday’s Grade One feature.

Metier’s rider Sean Bowen said: “He has done everything right in his two runs so far, in that he has jumped and travelled well.

“I think Sandown will suit him well. For a Flat horse he stays very well, and the softer the better it is for him. It looks like it will be fairly testing, so that will suit.

“He was a decent stayer on the Flat, but he is just a hardy, tough horse that enjoys his jumping.

“My only Grade One win is on If The Cap Fits, but hopefully he can give me another one on Saturday.”

The biggest threat, according to bookmakers, is the Jane Williams-trained filly Galice Macalo. After winning at Warwick and Stratford in October, she finished runner-up in a competitive Listed handicap hurdle over this course and distance four weeks ago.

Adrimel bids to make it three from three over hurdles for trainer Tom Lacey and four-time champion jockey Richard Johnson, following wins at this venue and Haydock this term.

Ben Pauling’s Shakem Up’Arry, who is owned by football manager Harry Redknapp, brings plenty of jumping experience to the table as a second-season novice.

Do Your Job (Michael Scudamore), Grandeur D’Ame (Oliver Sherwood), Smurphy Enki (Chris Gordon) and Tile Tapper (Chris Honour) are the other hopefuls.

Metier in mix among Tolworth dozen

Metier, impressive winner of his two starts over the smaller obstacles, is among 12 entries for the Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

Harry Fry’s unbeaten novice has shown himself to be a bright prospect with victories at Newton Abbot and Ascot.

Connections must rate the Mastercraftsman gelding highly to put him in a Grade One at this early stage of his career.

Dan Skelton is three-handed at this stage in Saturday’s Grade One with Faivoir, Third Time Lucki and Wilde About Oscar – another who has won both hurdles starts.

Tom Lacey has put in Adrimel, also unbeaten in his two runs over hurdles – at Sandown and Haydock.

Completing the dozen are Do Your Job, Fifty Ball, Galice Macalo, Grandeur D’Ame, Shakem Up’arry, Smurphy Enki and Tile Tapper.

Goshen given Contenders Hurdle target at Sandown

Gary Moore has his sights on Sandown in February for Goshen after withdrawing the four-year-old from the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at the final declaration stage.

The West Sussex handler felt the Kempton Grade One would come too soon for Goshen, who was found to have a fibrillating heart when disappointing in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The four-year-old was the hot favourite on his first appearance over obstacles since his final-flight mishap in the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, but trailed home last of the 10 runners, after which the heart issue was discovered.

Moore is now looking at the Contenders Hurdle at the Esher track on February 6.

“He’s fine, but he’s not ready to run at Kempton,” he said.

“Sandown in February is where he’s going next.”

Monday Musings: Trying Times

Suddenly it’s all back – for some of us anyway, writes Tony Stafford. Ice rinks – yes, I have to be aware of those! – football stadia and racecourses can now have participants and visitors, within strict limits of course. My mate Scott was able – after some manoeuvring – to take up his annual quest to Sandown Park for the Tingle Creek meeting.

He chose to get from deepest Essex (well Shenfield) to Esher by public transport and the hourly service from Waterloo was a bind as inevitably train times were synchronised not to gel with races. It was a proper full day’s excursion and not without its difficulties as well as cost.

It was £30 for his grandstand ticket and as someone who with his pals, especially at Cheltenham, his version of some people’s pilgrimage to Mecca or Lourdes, will normally sprinkle his race viewing with imbibing. The rules for alcohol consumption on racecourses just as in hostelries in tier 2 are equally as strict. “I fancied a pint,” relates Scott, “So I went to the food outlet where drinks can only be bought to accompany a meal. There was no lager on draught so for a pint it had to be two half-pint bottles at £5.20 each alongside pasty, chips, mushy peas and gravy for £8.50. Almost £20 a shot and if I’d wanted another pint it would have been same again, as I couldn’t have got them without a second meal.

“One friend, who went there on Friday, had three pints, so three lots of pasty, chips, mushy peas and gravy. I’m not sure if he made it back again on Saturday!” said Scott.

Winner-finding was difficult from the outset and, like many punters on the day, the pleasure of getting back racing had its less enjoyable moments. Scott can at least rest assured that his day would not have been anywhere near as frustrating as Nicky Henderson’s. The multi-champion trainer must have had misgivings when deciding to withdraw Altior from the big race the night before because of the testing ground, but he still went to the track with three short-priced favourites at Sandown as well as his Gold Cup hope Santini returning to action in a Grade 2 chase at Aintree.

Sandown’s litany of shocks started early. Pars in the Middleham Park colours was 7/4 on to defy the penalty earned by his debut win in a €15k Dieppe juvenile hurdle back in March, but was a well-beaten fourth behind three more French-breds, led home by Fergal O’Brien’s Elham Valley, who won readily.

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Surely there were to be no mistakes in the next, a National Hunt novice hurdle in which Grand Mogul, twice a winner, faced three rivals, two of them newcomers, and started 2/11. Nico De Boinville had him in the first two from the start and he had seemed to have got the better of Pride of Pemberthy, the only one of the other trio to have raced previously, when the Gary Moore-trained Golden Boy Grey, another French-bred, suddenly arrived at the last galloping all over him. Golden Boy Grey went on to win by nine lengths in the style of a fair performer, whatever reasons could be found for the favourite’s tame acceptance of his fate from the last flight.

With no runner in the Tingle Creek, Nicky would have been able to switch his attentions to Aintree for Santini’s first appearance since going under by only a neck to repeat Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo back in March.

He did have a former God Cup winner in Native River to beat and in having a couple of lengths in hand of him was creditable enough first time back. Less easy to swallow must have been his failure to beat 16-1 shot Lake View Lad, ridden by champion Brian Hughes and trained in Scotland by Nick Alexander. Lake View Lad was receiving 6lb on Saturday and was 12lb wrong at the weights with the 172-rated favourite. The winner, a ten-year-old who carries the Trevor Hemmings colours, must inevitably come into focus for a Grand National challenge after this.

The National fences were in use twice on Saturday and seemed to be back to a much more formidable status in both the William Hill-sponsored Becher and Grand Sefton Handicap Chases. Henderson’s Might Bite, who was second in Native River’s 2017 Gold Cup, has only occasionally shown anything like that level since and he appeared to have a clear dislike of the obstacles which led to an early pulling up by Jeremiah McGrath. So it was left to Sandown’s finale, a valuable handicap hurdle, if Henderson was going to salvage a spot of consolation from a dreadful day.

The punters, including Scott by all accounts, went in with both feet on 6-4 shot Mister Coffee, an alarmingly-easy winner of his last race over course and distance a month earlier and raised 10lb for this tough handicap hurdle. His late run never looked like matching that of in-form Benson, who completed a hat-trick for himself and an across-the-card double for Dr Richard Newland. The doctor’s love affair with the Aintree fences had continued a few minutes earlier with the 20-1 success of Beau Bay under Charlie Hammond in the Grand Sefton.

The Sandown race had been shaped by the predictably-fast pace set in the early stages by Totterdown, twice a course and distance winner, but reckoned by the Fergal O’Brien stable to be at the limit of his handicap potential. His mark will need to come down, and two earlier tries this year over fences have not revealed a similar level of talent in that discipline.

That reverse did nothing to take the gloss off a memorable day for this stable. Just a year since he moved from his original premises rented from his former boss Nigel Twiston-Davies, O’Brien’s progress is such that he is needing to take temporary use of a 30-box barn at Graeme McPherson’s stables while development of his own base continues – “it’s like a muddy building site at the moment”, says Fergal’s assistant and partner, Sally Randell.

Earlier they were celebrating Elham Valley’s win, yet another example of how they improve horses from elsewhere. Beautifully-schooled for this debut, the 70-odd rated Flat performer came smoothly through under Paddy Brennan to bring the stable tally to 63 for the season. “That equals our best score set last year,” says Sally. With five months of the season to go, a first century must be in the offing, not wishing to jinx it, of course.

There can only have been one highlight of the day, though, the unchallenged victory of the David Pipe-trained Vieux Lion Rouge in the Becher Chase over three and a quarter miles and 21 fences of the Grand National course. Now an 11-year-old, Vieux Lion Rouge won on his first try in the race four years ago, by which time he’d already run in the previous April’s Grand National won by Rule The World.

Opportunities for tackling Aintree’s National fences don’t come very often. It’s feasible, but very rare for a horse to run twice at a Grand National meeting, needing a run either in the Topham or Foxhunters as well as the big race. Back in 1977 Churchtown Boy won the Topham on the Thursday and then finished runner-up as Red Rum completed his third and final Grand National victory, to which he could add two second places in between the second and third wins.

Vieux Lion Rouge, owned by Professor Caroline Tisdall and John Gent, has run nine times around the Grand National course – it would have been ten without a break, no doubt, had the 2020 Grand National been run. Twice the big race has needed to have one of its 30 fences omitted for safety reasons, so Vieux Lion Rouge has navigated safely over an almost-unimaginable total of 223 fences without mishap. The one blemish on his safe jumping career was an unseat of Tom Scudamore three fences out one day at Chepstow when he was still in with a chance of winning. Two pulled ups also slightly mar his otherwise excellent completion record in all races.

Considering he must now be regarded as an Aintree specialist, the fact that he has won 11 of his 27 other races, between bumpers, hurdles and chases, as well as the two around the big fences, speaks volumes for his versatility, talent and the trainer’s skill. Tom Scudamore must have been livid to have been on the Pipe’s stable’s apparently better-fancied Ramses De Teillee on Saturday, a 13-2 shot against the 12-1 SP of the winner. That made it still only eight times in the gelding’s long career that Scudamore had not partnered him. That also included his first Grand National challenge back in 2016 when James Reveley was in the saddle. Tom has been on the gelding on all his other Aintree excursions.

For a few years I’d been thinking that Aintree had become relatively soft, something that the old timers regularly trot out. That wasn’t the case on Saturday, possibly with the testing ground contributing to the potential for errors and fatigue. That this old boy could canter round behind but in touch with a very strong field, go to the front easily by the second-last fence and draw 24 lengths clear up the run-in was a marvellous display and brilliant advertisement for the talents of David Pipe and of course a certain older member of the family who still keeps careful watch on events equine down in Somerset.

- TS

Harry Skelton enjoys afternoon to savour with Grade One double

Nothing will ever top Harry Skelton’s wedding day – but a Grade One double at Sandown highlighted by a second Betfair Tingle Creek success for Politologue ensured he celebrated another day to remember.

Success on the biggest stage has been plentiful for Skelton in recent seasons, and having steered the Paul Nicholls-trained grey to Queen Mother Champion Chase glory at the Cheltenham Festival in March, the pair teamed up to secure more top-level success together.

Watched by a crowd of 1,827, the 11-8 favourite defeated stablemate Greaneteen by seven lengths, in a race that came immediately after Skelton had partnered Allmankind, trained by his brother, Dan, to victory in the Planteur At Chapel Stud Henry VIII Novices’ Chase.

Skelton said: “It’s not a bad afternoon. Marrying my wife was pretty good so that would have to come top of the list, but this is a close second. It was a magic 45 minutes.

“Politologue was very good. He jumped the first two very well and I felt like I was in control of it then. When he was pricking his ears turning in where the Pond Fence is usually jumped I thought ‘there is plenty left in the tank here’. It is certainly a day I will never forget.

“To be honest I was coming here very relaxed. I knew I had two good rides and on their best form, and if they put their best performances up, they would be bang there and that is exactly what they have done.”

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While the decision made by Nicky Henderson to declare Altior 24 a non-runner on Friday evening robbed the Tingle Creek of some of its gloss, Skelton believes it would have taken something special to stop Politologue claiming the fourth Grade One of his career.

He said: “A horse like Altior is a fantastic horse and he was the strongest competition, but on the ground I’d rode on on Friday wasn’t too worried and they obviously took him out because of that.

“It made the job a bit easier, but it would have taken a good horse to have beaten him today. It is remarkable really.”

Having cut his teeth jumping with Nicholls, the 31-year-old praised the 11-times champion trainer for the part he has played in helping to rejuvenate the career of the John Hales-owned gelding.

He added: “He is getting older, but Paul just seems to make him younger somehow. I’ve sat on him a couple of times this time around in the autumn and a couple of weeks ago I schooled him and he did feel like a young horse. He felt fantastic.

“He is going to be lightly raced and I imagine he might have one run, then go for the Champion Chase. Hopefully I will retain the ride on him.”

Harry Skelton and Politologue in full flight
Harry Skelton and Politologue in full flight (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Though enjoying plenty of time centre stage lately there was a time not so long ago where winners were hard to come by for Skelton, something he feels makes occasions like this all the more special.

He said: “I rode eight winners one season and I thought the whole world was going to end. It is a rough game and a tough game. Paul has always said take your time, be patient.

“We spent a long time at Ditcheat and we learnt a lot from Paul and today I’ve ridden a Grade One winner for my brother and for Paul. All my racing career and everything I’ve put in has been worth it. I’m very lucky to be in the position I am now. You have got to enjoy it.”

The decision to embark on a career over fences with Allmankind is starting to look an inspired one by connections judging by his latest Grade One triumph, although Skelton revealed there was still a question mark as to whether he would truly take to chasing.

He said: “When we went to Wawrick first time out, if you watched him school at home you would have said ‘crikey’ and wouldn’t have been putting your hand up to ride this one. Going into Warwick we were going into the dark. He basically bolted for two miles.

Allmankind initiated a famous Grade One double for Harry Skelton
Allmankind initiated a famous Grade One double for Harry Skelton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He has obviously got a massive engine, but he probably doesn’t have a lot upstairs and that is what makes him good. He will go through a wall for you and he is a hard stayer at the end of two miles as he has got such a big heart he will keep running and that is what you need.”

Allmankind has a way to go to match the exploits of Politologue over fences, but Skelton believes he can, given time, reach the same heights.

He added: “Allmankind is quite hairy at times, but for him to come round here and do that of the back of little experience is very good.

“They are both very strong staying two-milers. Allmankind has got a hell of a lot to do to live up to do what Politologue has done, but he has started his career off well and he is going in the right direction.”

Doing Fine refuses to be denied London National honours

Doing Fine – first past the post when the race was declared void 12 months ago – put the record straight this time in the Betfair Exchange Back And Lay London National Handicap Chase at Sandown.

Neil Mulholland’s 12-year-old led for most of the gruelling three-mile-five-furlong journey and rallied in admirable fashion at the business end to come out on top.

Crosspark looked like he might take his measure, but Doing Fine (15-2) proved a willing partner for conditional jockey Millie Wonnacott and got the verdict by three-quarters of a length. Regal Flow was 11 lengths away in third place.

Mulholland said: “It is great result. It is good for the yard, good for the horse, good for everybody. I think it is good for racing.

“For a handicap chase everyone really got behind him and knew it was a deserved success. In racing you have to move on.

“It was one of those things really and we have had to deal with it again at Fontwell the other day so we are getting used to it.

“I think it is all about today really. What happened last year was unfortunate, but thankfully today made up for it.

“This horse is a good, solid fun horse for the Neil Mulholland Racing Club. They don’t pay big fees, but they get good days out and the prize-money is between all of them and you are giving people back something at a lower level and there is no big expectations because they haven’t forked out big money.

“I think we will give him a little break now and we can bring him back for things like the bet365 Gold Cup and things like that.”

Wonnacott was delighted the horse was able to make amends for last year when the race was voided due to a fatal injury to Houblon Des Obeaux, with a number of riders failing to stop after a yellow flag was waved.

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“He always tries his best and he jumps for fun and that’s the best I’ve seen him travel,” she told ITV Racing.

“He was very unlucky last year when it was taken away from him. Thank god he’s done it again.”

Millie Wonnacott riding Doing Fine (left) clear the last
Millie Wonnacott riding Doing Fine (left) clear the last (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The 7lb claimer only recently returned from a bad injury she sustained in August.

“Three months ago I got some pretty nasty fractures in my vertebrae and I wouldn’t be riding here if it wasn’t for Oaksey House,” she said.

“They were fantastic in getting me back. I wanted to get back before this weekend ideally and they made it happen.”

Wonnacott had earlier been involved in an incident during the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase, when she and Angus Cheleda together with their jockey coach were on the track as the horses were turning into the home straight on the final circuit.

The three, together with the clerk of the course, were interviewed and shown recordings of the incident, with the stewards reminding them of their responsibility to remain vigilant when walking the course, so as to ensure their and other participants safety at all times.

Fifty Ball set up a potential shot at Grade One glory in completing a double for Gary Moore in the Read Paul Nicholls On betting.betfair Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

The five-year-old followed up his inaugural British victory at Ascot last month when making his first start over two miles a triumphant one under Niall Houlihan.

Taking control of matters mid-race, the 5-2 shot continued to pour on the pressure from the front before crossing the line 13 lengths clear of runner up Naizagai.

Fifty Ball could return to Sandown for the Tolworth Hurdle
Fifty Ball could return to Sandown for the Tolworth Hurdle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Moore said: “The form of his Ascot win had been boosted earlier in the day as the horse he beat (Straw Fan Jack) won fairly comfortably at Aintree.

“Today the drop back in trip was a bit of a concern, but I felt that the strength of the race wasn’t that strong and the stiff track track on heavy ground would play to his strengths.

“If the Tolworth came up heavy we could maybe come back for that. The next race was going to be a 0-135 at Ascot over two-miles-five on the 19th, but that might come too quick.

“If the handicapper did the sensible thing the Lanzarote would be a good race.”

Golden Boy Grey took both Moore and those in the stands by surprise after flooring 2-11 favourite Grand Mogul by nine lengths to make a winning debut in the My Oddsboost On Betfair “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle.

Moore said of his 11-2 winner: “It was a little bit of a surprise. Me and Jamie (Moore) went through the race last night and we thought there would be a strong gallop that would test his fitness as it was his first run, but they have hacked.

“He showed a rare turn of foot in bad ground and it played into his hands. You wouldn’t want to go too mad too soon.

“His owner (Bob Arnold) is a lovely man and that is the first winner I’ve trained for him in his colours.”

Paddy Brennan in winning action aboard Elham Valley
Paddy Brennan in winning action aboard Elham Valley (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Fergal O’Brien praised the work fellow trainer John Gallagher did with Elham Valley (11-2) after he ran out a length-and-three-quarter winner of the Betfair Free Bet On The 1.50 Introductory Juvenile Hurdle.

O’Brien said: “The owners were at Goodwood and they saw him run and they tried to buy him on the day as he was in a seller. That didn’t come off on the day, but we spoke to Andrew Balding the day after and managed to get him.

“A lot of credit goes to John and Rebecca Gallagher as they did a lovely job with him when they got him back home.

“His jumping was very slick and every time Paddy (Brennan) wanted him to go through gap he was there. He was so good over his hurdles and that is all credit to the boys and girls that have schooled him at home.”

Aintree and Sandown delighted to welcome Saturday crowds

Aintree and Sandown were among the tracks to welcome back crowds on the first Saturday since the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

The end of the second national lockdown on Wednesday allowed sports in Tier 1 and 2 areas to have limited spectator attendance once again under the Government’s latest guidance, with up to 2,000 permitted in Tier 2 areas.

Both Aintree and Sandown come under the latter category – and officials at both courses spoke of their delight at another step towards normality.

One of the main fixture casualties of the original coronavirus shutdown was the Grand National at Aintree, meaning the paying public had not attended the Merseyside venue since the Becher Chase meeting a year ago.

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Sulekha Varma, who became Aintree’s first female clerk of course ahead of this fixture last season, said: “To have spectators on course, I think everyone can feel it’s just lifted things.

“We’ve got plenty of owners in attendance as well, which is really good news, and really good quality racing.

Racegoers study the form at Aintree
Racegoers study the form at Aintree (Tim Goode/PA)

“Our limit is 2,000 people – that’s the limit the Government has placed on us. We’re certainly getting close to that, if not quite at it.

“The beauty of Aintree is it’s such a massive space that 2,000 people can keep their distance from each other very safely.

“It’s a step in the right direction – that’s the best way to put it. It’s the first step in what will be an ever-faster moving journey for us, and let’s hope this time next year we won’t even be thinking about it any more – that would be nice.

“It would be wonderful if we were getting close to that (normality) by the time the National meeting comes around, who knows?”

The card at Sandown was also the first meeting to host Grade One contests – including the Tingle Creek Chase – since the return of crowds.

Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper said: “It’s great to have a crowd of sorts back here. Hopefully it is the first step towards bigger crowds being allowed back in as soon as it is safe to do so.

“You can sense the difference in the atmosphere compared to the behind closed doors meetings. There are PA announcements, the buzz of the crowd, a roar as they approach the last and a big round of applause as the winner comes back in after the race.

“It’s all progress. It’s not quite where we want to be and we are not back to the old normal, but it is a big improvement on how we have been racing since June.”

Politologue produces Tingle Creek masterclass

Politologue gave Paul Nicholls a record 11th victory when leading home a one-two for the Ditcheat trainer in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.

Altior’s absence may have taken away some of the gloss from the two-mile Grade One showpiece – but there was no doubting the quality of Politologue’s performance in the hands of Harry Skelton.

The John Hales-owned grey was last seen causing an upset in the Queen Mother Champion Chase winner, but there was no surprise about this victory.

In front from flag-fall, Politologue was not concerned by the proximity of Rouge Vif and managed to ward off that rival. It was then left to Nicholls’ other runner Greaneteen to put it up to his stablemate but, try as he might, Politologue (11-8 favourite) was too strong.

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The nine-year-old crossed the line seven lengths clear to give Skelton a Grade One double after Allmankind’s exhilarating display in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase.

Politologue was cut to 8-1 from 14-1 to win the Champion Chase at Cheltenham for a second time with Coral, and to 6-1 from 20-1 with Betfair.

Nicholls said: “It was a good performance. We were fairly confident we had him well. He had his issues and we completely changed the way we trained him. He was very well in the Champion Chase and he didn’t just win that because the race fell apart, we actually felt we had him better and we felt we had him better today.

“He is a little bit like Kauto (Star) was in his last year in that he was probably as good as ever. He is probably as good as he has ever been. That is what we were really hoping for and expecting today, that he was going to do that.

Harry Skelton in full flight aboard Politologue
Harry Skelton in full flight aboard Politologue (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“The other horse, Greaneteen, has run well – he just lacked a bit of class he (Politologue) has got. Two Tingle Creeks and a Champion Chase, his CV is pretty good. To keep winning those races they have got to have resolution, stay sound and keep coming back for more and he has got all of that.

“He might not be a Master Minded or Sprinter Sacre, but he is tough and keeps winning and that is what you want in this game. He is a horse the crowd loves.

“That often (happens not getting the credit he deserves) – if Altior had run today and he had beaten Altior he would probably have got a lot more credit than he deserves as people will now crab the race – but you can only win what you are up against.

“We were looking forward to taking on Altior today as the last time they met there was a length and a half between them in the Champion Chase and we think we have got the horse a lot better now and as good as ever, so it would have been an interesting race, but Nicky decided not to run and he will go elsewhere.

“All you can do is win on the day and he did it well again.”

Looking to future plans, Nicholls said: “The only option I would give us before Cheltenham, if he comes out of the race OK, is go to Ascot for the Clarence House. It will either be straight to Cheltenham or go to Ascot for the Clarence House before.

“I said to John he is in the form of his life and I think if he is fit and well the Clarence House might be a possibility and then go to Cheltenham. He is not getting any younger, it’s a Grade One and then he has got a nice time before Cheltenham.”

Allmankind powers to Henry VIII success

Allmankind put in an exemplary round of jumping to maintain his unbeaten record over fences in the Planteur At Chapel Stud Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown.

After making a winning debut over fences at Warwick, having previously finished third on his final start over hurdles on his seasonal return at Cheltenham, the Dan Skelton-trained four-year-old took another step forward by claiming the second Grade One of his career.

Though pressed for the lead down the back straight by eventual third Ga Law, the Tim and Bill Gredley-owned gelding soon moved back into a clear initiative he would maintain to the line.

Impressive Ffos Las scorer Hitman moved off in pursuit of the 2-1 favourite on the approach to the final two fences, but he could not find the gears to go with Allmankind and two and a half lengths separated the pair at the line.

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Skelton said: “It was brilliant. I’m just delighted we ended up going down the chasing route. We were a little bit head-scratching after his debut run of the season at Cheltenham. Perhaps the horse lulled me into a false sense of fitness that day as I thought he was a lot fitter than he was.

“Tim said let’s go chasing and I thought OK, it’s a bit of a brave man’s route. He wasn’t that great the first couple of schooling sessions at home, but ever since Warwick he just thinks these (fences) are brilliant and loves jumping them. He was a little bit out to his left, but we had a chat beforehand to contain that as much as possible.

“It is great watching those horses over the two-mile chase track here. I’m delighted to be on the winner’s roll with him.”

Assessing future plans Skelton earmarked the Grade Two Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick in February as possible target, ahead of an outing in the Sporting Life Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival, for which he was cut to 10-1 by Sky Bet and 8-1 by William Hill.

He added: “We will look at the spring targets. We will probably go back to Warwick for the Kingmaker, then look at the Arkle then look at Liverpool as well. He is a pleasure to have and has been a remarkable horse for us, a dual Grade One winner.”

Paul Nicholls will consider stepping runner-up Hitman up in trip on his next start, although he has not ruled out taking on the winner again.

He said: “It was a good run. Harry Skelton nicked it from the back of the Pond Fence and five lengths is hard to get back. It was only the fifth run of his career and second over fences and it was very good.

“All we did was stay on up the hill and his inexperience just caught him out down the back and those Railway fences. I wouldn’t be afraid of taking on the winner again with a bit more experience.

“He might get a bit further and he might be ideal for the Scilly Isles and Pendil.

“It was a good run for a young horse.”