Cheltenham blow for sidelined Adam Wedge

Adam Wedge insists he will be cheering for Silver Streak as loudly as anyone in next week’s Unibet Champion Hurdle after being ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival due to injury.

Wedge steered the Evan Williams-trained grey to Grade One glory in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day and had been looking forward to renewing the partnership in the feature event at Prestbury Park on Tuesday.

However, the Welshman was unseated at the final flight when riding Hoi Polloi at Newbury on Friday – and while he took up four rides at the Berkshire track the following afternoon, a scan on Monday morning revealed he had sustained a fracture to his T12 vertebra.

Wedge, who won the Stayers’ Hurdle aboard Lisnagar Oscar at last year’s Festival, said: “It’s a hard blow to take, but it’s the way it is.

“I had the fall on Friday and stupidly rode on Saturday, not knowing it was that serious. I went to hospital on Sunday morning and then I went down to London on Monday for an MRI scan, which revealed the injury.

“It’s going to be hard, missing out on riding Silver Streak, but it will still be fantastic to watch him run and see how he goes.

“I’ll most definitely be cheering him on.”

Wedge (left) with Secret Reprieve at Chepstow
Wedge (left) with Secret Reprieve at Chepstow (David Davies/PA)

Wedge now faces a race against time to ride at Aintree next month, where his potential mounts include Randox Grand National contender Secret Reprieve, who could bid to follow up his Welsh Grand National success in the world’s most famous steeplechase.

He added: “The doctors reckon I could be back in around a month.

“I’m looking at being back for Aintree, if it’s possible. That’s the aim.”

Silver primed to bid for Champion Hurdle gold

Silver Streak is primed for the Unibet Champion Hurdle – and will be a “different animal” if granted his favoured good ground on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Evan Williams has no doubt his admirable grey will do himself proud again, whatever the conditions on Tuesday.

But the Glamorgan trainer knows too that if the rain stays away, Silver Streak’s chances of doubling his Grade One tally – following his victory from title-holder Epatante in Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle – will be vastly increased.

Williams intended throughout to keep the hugely consistent eight-year-old fresh through the mid-winter months, and reports him in fine shape for the challenge ahead.

He said: “He’s grand – we were always going to go straight to the Champion after the Christmas Hurdle, so everything is good.

“He just had a bit of a freshen-up, tipped away quietly, and we just built him up then for a crack at the Champion.”

A very wet January and early February would hardly have played to Silver Streak’s strengths in any prep races and although some more rain is forecast this week, the recent dry spell has left the Cheltenham ground bordering on good in places.

Williams added: “The thing with Silver Streak, if you run him on heavy ground he’ll try hard for you, if you run him on soft ground he’ll try hard for you – but if you run him on good to soft ground, or faster, he becomes a different animal.

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“I can’t overemphasise that to people – on good to soft ground, the horse gets a lot of help off the going. On heavy ground, he just runs his heart out for you.

“But the ground is the difference between winning a Grade One and not winning for Silver Streak.”

Williams has already seen proof of that, after a change to front-running tactics also paid off with his near seven-length superiority over a below-par Epatante at Christmas.

“At Kempton, it was our ground and we got lucky with the opposition, and we won a Grade One,” he said.

“He will only reach those heights when the conditions underfoot are to that specification.”

Williams is less concerned how the Champion Hurdle is run because he is confident Silver Streak can adapt to whatever his rivals choose to do.

Honeysuckle will be one of Silver Streak's most formidable opponents next week
Honeysuckle will be one of Silver Streak’s most formidable opponents next week (Niall Carson/PA)

“You ride the race according to what’s in front of you at the time,” he added.

“Kempton was Kempton, and Cheltenham will be Cheltenham.

“I’m not in any way, shape or form worried about having to make the running or having to not make the running.

“All I’m worried about is the other runners against us in a Champion Hurdle.”

While Silver Streak took his two-month break, the prolific Honeysuckle and a back-to-form Goshen were prominent among those who have enhanced their credentials and Williams was impressed.

“I’m a horse racing fan, and I enjoy watching any quality horse,” he said.

“To see Honeysuckle win was brilliant, and I was particularly pleased with Goshen.

“I’m a fan of the horse, but I’m an even bigger fan of the connections.

“It was a joy (in Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle). We had a runner in the race (Esprit Du Large) and I’ve never been so happy to be blown off the park!”

He can be confident that will not happen with Silver Streak – third and sixth in the last two Champion Hurdles – but is reassured too that the pressure is off in any case after his Kempton win.

“I like to see good horses, and it’s a joy to be even talking about our horse in the same breath as those ones,” added Williams.

“I’m in a very lucky position – our Grade One is in the bag. All I want to do is go to Cheltenham, have a bit of luck in running and win, lose or draw, as long as that horse comes back in one piece and it’s a good race, I’m just delighted to take part.”

Silver Streak will take direct route to Champion Hurdle

Evan Williams will keep Silver Streak fresh and direct the Grade One-winning grey straight to the Unibet Champion Hurdle next.

Having landed his first top-level victory on Boxing Day with the surprise scalp of the reigning champion Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle – adopting front-running tactics for the first time – Silver Streak has become a genuine Cheltenham contender.

However, Williams acknowledges his chance depends almost entirely on the ground – with none of his eight career wins achieved on anything worse than good to soft.

“He deserved it, he tries every time and is very hard on himself,” said Williams, who explained he and jockey Adam Wedge decided on their change of tactics at Kempton after a long discussion.

“We talked and talked, and kept going through the race,” he said.

“The epitome of a fool is someone who keeps doing the same thing and expects a different result.

“We just thought we had to try something different – and thankfully it all worked out.

“It will be straight to the Champion Hurdle now, and we’ll hope for a dry spring – because he is a different horse on that ground.”

Silver Streak shocks Epatante in Christmas Hurdle

Silver Streak upset odds-on favourite Epatante to spring a shock with an all-the-way win in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

Jockey Adam Wedge employed a significant change of tactics on Evan Williams’ grey, and Silver Streak rose to the challenge – jumping accurately and running the finish out of this year’s Champion Hurdle heroine, who was sent off the 1-5 favourite but had to settle for second.

Epatante made one untimely error, at the third-last, as Aidan Coleman asked her to close down the winner – and although she managed to move within striking distance early in the straight, Silver Streak had plenty in reserve and surged clear again after the last to win by six and a half lengths.

The 13-2 victory was his first at Grade One level and recompense for misfortune at Newcastle in last month’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle, when he was carried out at the second flight by a loose Not So Sleepy, before Epatante won with ease there.

Williams, who was not at the Sunbury track, said: “There are lots of horses that people say deserve this and deserve that, but the reality is it is a tough old game and nobody deserves anything really – but that lad today, he is so genuine and because he is so genuine and tough he did deserve it.

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“I was hoping he would be good enough one day, as I kept telling everybody, but to land it like he did does mean an awful lot to us really.

“The ground is a huge thing and I can’t overemphasise that. He has been running some very good races in defeat on ground which isn’t what he wants, but he goes out there and does his best on it, even though he is not getting the purchase he needs.

Adam Wdge powers to victory aboard Silver Streak
Adam Wedge powers to victory aboard Silver Streak (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I said to Adam, who was riding here after schooling on Christmas Eve, that I want to make the running in the Christmas Hurdle. I said I don’t want to be second or third in a Christmas Hurdle, that means nothing to me. We either go a good gallop and finish last or we roll the dice and get something out of it.

“I had no ambition to be second or third in a Christmas Hurdle, I wanted to win one – and the only way I could see that was to ride him and go a very good gallop. I would say the jockey has played a blinder. I do think he is a Kempton horse, and if you look at his form around Kempton it is outstanding.

“Let’s not worry about the Cheltenham Festival or let’s not worry about anything else. He has won a Christmas Hurdle, and if that is all we ever do and win a Grade One Christmas Hurdle with him then I’m a very proud man.”

Nicky Henderson, meanwhile, will regroup with Epatante.

The Seven Barrows trainer said after saddling the winner of the closing race on the card: “I’ve had a chat with Aidan. She scoped clean, her heart is clean and she blew for 20 minutes which is spot-on normal. Twenty minutes is right, 15 minutes you’ve done nothing and 25 minutes you are not fit.

“Aidan said he wasn’t getting the same feel he did off her at Newcastle. I don’t think that was the ground – it was just one of those things that happened. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with her.

“She has been really well in herself, and her preparation has been completely perfect – for me anyway. We all thought everything was 100 per cent. Aidan just felt he wasn’t going well enough, because she is the sort of horse you can just ride along on the bridle and press the button and she goes.

“It just didn’t happen, and Aidan said it didn’t feel likely to happen. I’d say we will leave her until Cheltenham. There is something lurking there, but at the moment we only have a limited amount of tests. That wasn’t the Epatante we love on the day, but they are not machines.

“Whatever you do, you sometimes can’t explain these things. Aidan knows her well and he said he wasn’t getting the vibes.”

Coleman said: “The winner deserved to win. The race went to plan, but just from turning in that burst of speed she has wasn’t there for some reason. She will be back. That made no difference (the mistake down the back).”

Silver Streak set for Christmas Hurdle again

A second tilt at the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton is next on the agenda for Silver Streak following his narrow defeat at Cheltenham last weekend.

The Evan Williams-trained grey was runner-up to subsequent Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante in last year’s Christmas Hurdle – and has been successful on each of his two other visits to the Sunbury venue.

After being carried out in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on his penultimate start, Silver Streak aimed to get back on the winning trail in last Saturday’s International Hurdle.

After being caught in an unpromising position as the field rounded the dolled-off final hurdle, the seven-year-old stormed up the hill to be beaten just a nose by Song For Someone.

Williams said: “He seems grand and well since the weekend and he will go to the Christmas Hurdle.

“You could say he was a little bit unlucky, but the best horse won. The winner was giving us weight, and we were second best on the day – we have no complaints.

“We’ll go to Kempton and try and get some place money again.”

Silver seeking Fighting Fifth gold

Evan Williams hopes Silver Streak can secure a first Grade One victory in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday week.

The Llancarfan handler believes the seven-year-old deserves a win at the highest level – having been placed three times in five starts at the top table, including when finishing third in last year’s renewal of this two-mile prize.

Silver Streak made a triumphant return to action for the second season running last month, in the same Listed contest he had won at Kempton a year earlier.

Williams said: “Silver Streak will go to Newcastle for the Fighting Fifth – then we will try to go for the Christmas Hurdle, which he was second in last year.

“He has been second and third in Grade Ones and you just hope he can win a Grade One.

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“I might be silly and I might be trying too hard to make him do something that is difficult to achieve.

“I just think he deserves it because he has run so many nice races – it would be nice to have it on his CV.”

Williams expects Silver Streak’s Kempton prep run will help increase his chances of gaining an elusive Grade One success.

He added: “It was a performance at Kempton that you could only be happy with. He didn’t have a hard race, and it was good to blow the old cobwebs away.

“To get a run under your belt and win as you like helps a lot mentally, as well as physically.

“Wherever he goes next, it’s going to very difficult to win, but at least he is going there with a little bit of spice in him.”

Esprit Du Large finished a race for the first time since his Grade One victory at Sandown when finishing third last time out at Carlisle (Mark Kerton/PA Images)
Esprit Du Large finished a race for the first time since his Grade One victory at Sandown when third last time out at Carlisle (Mark Kerton/PA Images)

Williams was pleased to see Esprit Du Large put in a clear round of jumping in a graduation chase at Carlisle, following back-to-back falls in the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival in March and the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter.

He added: “I don’t know how he fell at Exeter, but he fell and that was two on the bounce – which is never a good position to be in, because he had a mother and father of a fall in the Arkle.

“Thankfully I had him entered at Carlisle, and we got a run under our belt. It was not a flashy run because he finished third, but it was a clear round on a racetrack.”

Plans remain fluid for Esprit Du Large, who tasted Grade One glory in last season’s Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown, with Williams intending to find another confidence booster before aiming at bigger targets.

He added: “It is difficult where we go – we are between a rock and a hard place. He is only a young horse and he hasn’t had a lot of racing. We are in a lot better position, having had a clear round under our belt.

“We will just rebuild him back. We won’t do anything flashy – we just want to let him enjoy himself somewhere.”

Silver Streak kickstarts season with repeat Kempton success

Silver Streak set up a return to Grade One company by securing back-to-back victories in the Racing TV Hurdle at Kempton.

The Evan Williams-trained seven-year-old made his first start since finishing sixth in the Champion Hurdle a triumphant one – with victory in the same two-mile Listed contest he landed on his return to action 12 months ago.

Although one of the first to come under pressure rounding the home turn, the 9-2 shot responded well to move through and pass long-time leader Diego Du Charmil over the second last before establishing a decisive advantage.

Once in command, Sliver Streak maintained his gallop all the way to the line to defeat odds-on favourite, and the 2018 winner of this race, Verdana Blue by six and a half lengths.

Williams said: “Ground is important to him, and he has run good races here in the past.

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“Verdana Blue is a smashing mare and she has done nothing wrong – but under his right conditions, our horse is a smart horse. They haven’t gone quick enough really for us.

“They have quickened from the last down the back into the bend – which caused a bit of scrimmaging. If our horse had a hard-run race it would be a different job again.”

Williams had plenty of praise for winning rider Tom O’Brien, who was deputising while the grey’s regular partner Adam Wedge serves a suspension.

He said: “Adam Wedge is banned, and he would have ridden him. Horse racing is a funny old game – and you get good times and bad times.

“A lot of people have short memories – (but) I like to think I’ve a good one. Tom has been good to me in the past … he deserved the ride today, and he has done a fine job.”

All roads for Silver Streak will lead back to a third shot at the Champion Hurdle, for which he was introduced at 33-1 by Paddy Power.

But a return to the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, in which he finished third last year, could be first.

Williams added: “The Fighting Fifth would have to be on the agenda, because the track would suit as long as it doesn’t get very deep.

“It’s very easy to go for a Grade Two, and that could be the sensible option, but I do think he has a Grade One in him.

“He deserves to win one of the very good races, because I think he has got the talent (to do it).

“He does love fast ground, and I would love to run him in a fast-ground Champion Hurdle.”

A classy race inevitably recorded a quick time on fast ground – but trainer Nicky Henderson felt a stronger gallop would still have suited Verdana Blue much better.

He said: “She does stay very well, as we have seen on the Flat, but it turned into a bit of a sprint.

“She had everything in her favour, but they went no pace at all. She has got a turn of foot – but it is hard to use it, coming off that pace.”

Silver Streak set for seasonal bow at Kempton on Sunday

Evan Williams has no plans to embark on a chasing career with his high-quality hurdler Silver Streak.

The seven-year-old, who ran on the Flat for Ann Duffield before joining Williams’ Glamorgan stable, has won six contests over the smaller obstacles since switching codes.

The gelding was schooled over fences at home after a successful 2019-20 season, when he won Kempton’s Listed Matchbook VIP Hurdle and was placed in the Christmas Hurdle and the Fighting Fifth, both Grade One races.

Despite that, Williams will not be campaigning Silver Streak over fences and he will begin his season back in the same Kempton Listed event on Sunday, although the contest is now backed by Racing TV.

“It’s never been our plan to go chasing, we said we’d school him to see, but he’ll never go jumping a fence,” he said of his 2019 Champion Hurdle third.

“That would be a waste of time. He’s not a natural chaser, he’ll stay hurdling.”

Beyond this weekend’s engagement, Williams has no firm plans for the son of Dark Angel, preferring to plot next steps after the race

“I don’t know what we’ll do yet, to be honest,” he said.

“I think we’ll just chip away quietly over hurdles and conditions hurdles and just see where we are from there.

“We won’t make any radical plans. We’re starting off at Kempton, we’ll see how we get on from there and slot into things. We’ll see how it pans out.

“He’s grand and he could do with a start, everything is grand with him. He’s looking really good.”