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Navajo Pass tests credentials again in Kingwell

Donald McCain is keen to discover whether Navajo Pass can back up his surprise Haydock victory in Wincanton’s Betway Kingwell Hurdle.

Sean Quinlan steered Navajo Pass to an all-the-way success as the outsider of three in Grade Two company last time out, winning by four and a quarter lengths from dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air.

Saturday’s Wincanton feature is another Grade Two event, and McCain believes a good run will solidify the five-year-old’s form from Merseyside.

Navajo Pass, ridden by Sean Quinlan, on his way to winning The New One Unibet Hurdle
Navajo Pass, ridden by Sean Quinlan, on his way to winning The New One Unibet Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

“He’s in good nick – we’re going to go for it,” said the Cheshire trainer.

“We were delighted with Haydock, and it’s the obvious next race for him – there are no other races for him, to be honest.

“We’ll go and take a punt and we’ll see.”

McCain is mindful that Buveur D’Air’s run in The New One Hurdle was his first after a 420-day break – and he will hold off on making spring Festival plans until after this weekend.

“You could question the form at Haydock, so we’ll see if that stacks up before we worry about anything else,” he said.

“We’re always looking to go somewhere in the spring, but he is still a young horse.”

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Song For Someone, last year’s Kingwell winner, also lines up in Somerset.

Tom Symond's Song For Someone
Tom Symond’s Song For Someone (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The Tom Symonds-trained six-year-old was a half-length winner of the 2020 renewal, which was relocated to Kempton after Storm Dennis left Wincanton unable to host the meeting.

That victory was the first of a current three-race unbeaten spell for the chestnut, who this season has won the Coral Hurdle at Ascot and the International Hurdle at Cheltenham – both of which are Grade Twos.

Symonds expects this weekend’s rivals to pose an even greater challenge, but hopes his stable star can continue his ascent and smooth a path to one of the big spring hurdle prizes.

“Fingers crossed, he’s in good form,” he said.

“We’re really pleased with how he’s been since the International, but he’s got to step up again and give his penalties away.

“He’s really well, but it’s going to be hard work for all of them in the ground. It will be interesting to see how he goes against Navajo Pass – and with Goshen running again, we’re looking forward to it.

“Provided the script is read right then we’ll look at either Cheltenham or Aintree in the spring, but we’ll see what happens here first really. That’s how we’ll go forward with him.”

Song For Someone (left) and Goshen (right) during the Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham
Song For Someone (left) and Goshen (right) during the Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Gary Moore’s Goshen will also take his chance as a tilt at Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle hangs in the balance.

The five-year-old looked a runaway winner of the Triumph Hurdle last season when unseating Jamie Moore at the last flight, but has struggled to rediscover his best form in three subsequent runs – the first two of which were on the Flat.

As Song For Someone triumphed in the International Hurdle in December, Goshen made his hurdling return but appeared out of sorts when finishing a near 30-length last of 10.

In the aftermath he was reported to be suffering from a fibrillating heart, but Moore has now clarified that was not the case.

“He never did have a fibrillating heart,” he said.

“That was a misunderstanding, so we can forget that. It was a mix-up in conversation.”

Cheltenham still remains the target – but a below-par Kingwell run could see that plan altered.

“We hope he’ll go very well – he’s very well at home,” said Moore.

“Saturday will tell us everything, unless there’s plenty of excuses.

“The next step will hopefully be the Champion Hurdle, but if he doesn’t give a good account of himself at the weekend, then we’ll have to think of something else.”

Completing the field are Paul Nicholls’ Friend Or Foe, William de Best-Turner’s outsider Calgary Tiger and Evan Williams’ Esprit Du Large – who reverts to hurdles after experiencing mixed fortunes during a spell over fences.

Kingwell looming as next appearance for Goshen

Goshen and Song For Someone could both be rerouted to the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton following the abandonment of the hurdle races at Sandown on Saturday.

The Gary Moore-trained Goshen was found to be suffering from a fibrillating heart when disappointing as the hot favourite for the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December, a race won by Tom Symonds’ stable star Song For Someone.

The pair looked set to renew rivalry in the Listed Contenders Hurdle this weekend – and while the weather has scuppered those plans, the rematch may only be delayed rather than cancelled, with both trainers identifying the Kingwell Hurdle on February 20 as a possible alternative.

Goshen suffered a dramatic exit in last season's Triumph Hurdle
Goshen suffered a dramatic exit in last season’s Triumph Hurdle (Simon Cooper/PA)

Moore said: “It’s disappointing we won’t be going to Sandown, but the ground must be bad for them to call the hurdle races off this early.

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“It’s been a nightmare of a season for him (Goshen) really.

“The Kingwell Hurdle has got to be the next option, then if that doesn’t happen, you’re looking at the National Spirit at Fontwell the following Sunday (February 28).

“Fontwell wouldn’t be perfect as it’s getting close to Cheltenham, but I want to find out if he’s good enough to go to Cheltenham, more than anything. I can’t really go to Cheltenham off the back of what he’s done this season, but I might have to.

“He’s had no season really, but I am very happy with him at the moment.”

Song For Someone won the rescheduled Kingwell Hurdle at Kempton last season and has continued in the same vein this term, winning the Coral Hurdle at Ascot prior to his narrow victory over Silver Streak at Cheltenham.

Like Moore, Symonds is keen to get another run into his charge ahead of a possible bid for Champion Hurdle glory in March.

Song For Someone is making his mark this season
Song For Someone is making his mark this season (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We had three options – the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock, which we avoided, the Contenders at Sandown, which has been taken out of our hands and the next one on the list is the Kingwell,” said the Herefordshire-based trainer.

“I’ve just been discussing it with the owners and there are only four races left for him to run in this season, really – you’ve got the Kingwell, the National Spirit, the Champion Hurdle and the Aintree Hurdle.

“We’ll probably take in two of those, if all goes well and he’s well.

“It’s annoying he can’t go to Sandown, but I’d rather ring the owners with bad news about the ground than the horse.”

Asked whether Song For Someone could head straight to the Champion Hurdle, Symonds added: “It’s a possibility, but we were hoping to run him somewhere again beforehand.

“We don’t want to wait for Aintree and then the ground comes up firm. I know it’s unlikely that would be the case.

“We’ll just have to see what happens over the next couple of weeks. It’s frustrating, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Buveur D’Air on course to return at Haydock

Dual champion hurdler Buveur D’Air is among just five entries for the New One Unibet Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.

The Nicky Henderson-trained 10-year-old has not been seen since being surprisingly beaten in the 2019 Fighting Fifth Hurdle – in which he picked up a nasty injury to his hoof.

Henderson had been anticipating starting him back in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown next month, but the 2017 and 2018 Champion Hurdle winner has come to hand sooner than expected on the back of reports of a sparkling piece of work last week.

Ballyandy, Navajo Pass and Ribble Valley are all in the mix too on Saturday – while Tom Symonds could run his improving Song For Someone.

Symonds is also favouring Haydock’s Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle for Llandinabo Lad, rather than Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle next month.

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Impressive at Bangor and Haydock earlier this season, the six-year-old found only My Drogo too good when trying to give 5lb to the winner in the Grade Two Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot.

On the advice of former champion jockey Richard Johnson, Symonds entered his charge for the valuable Betfair Hurdle at Newbury – but he is more likely to remain in novice company.

“Newbury was a purely speculative entry, because it’s not something I’d thought about until Richard Johnson mentioned it after Ascot as an option,” said Symonds.

Llandiabo Lad leads My Drogo over the last but could not hold off Dan Skelton's runner
Llandinabo Lad leads My Drogo over the last but could not hold off Dan Skelton’s runner (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Just with the weather and everything else, he’s earned his money to be entered in it.

“He didn’t strike me as one of those types, to be honest, so it was interesting to hear Richard’s view – and novices have a good record in it.

“More likely is the Supreme Novices’ trial at Haydock or the Ballymore (at Cheltenham) at the end of the month.”

He added: “I found it interesting after Ascot that he came out of it the best horse at the weights, but he was almost four times the price of the winner for the Supreme.

“We were thrilled with him – he just wasn’t as quick away from his hurdles as he can be, but he’s probably going to be a better chaser anyway.

Song For Someone could turn up at Haydock
Song For Someone could turn up at Haydock (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We’re happy to be considering these races, and Song For Someone might head to Haydock (Champion Hurdle Trial) as well – and he’s in great form too.”

Michael Scudamore’s Nada To Prada, Donald McCain’s Minella Drama and Henderson’s Time Flies By appear among seven entries for the Grade Two.

Henderson’s Allart is the star name among nine in the Altcar Novices Chase, which opens the card.

Philip Hobbs’ Sporting John and the Fergal O’Brien pair of Paint The Dream and Silver Hallmark are other notables.

Royale Pagaille and Cap Du Nord, first and second at Kempton over Christmas, are among 18 in the Peter Marsh Chase.

Sam Brown, Sam’s Adventure, Potters Legend and Perfect Candidate are all in the reckoning too.

Symonds happy to take time assessing next move with Song For Someone

Song For Someone is set to face a Champion Hurdle trial in the new year following his big-race triumph at Cheltenham.

After seeing his stable star add the International Hurdle to his victory in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot, where he returned in style having landed the Kingwell Hurdle in February, trainer Tom Symonds said he felt it would need to be “very soft for him to figure” in the Champion Hurdle itself.

However, the Herefordshire handler has confirmed the five-year-old will receive a Champion Hurdle entry, and whether he returns to Prestbury Park in March for a tilt at the two-mile hurdling crown will depend on underfoot conditions and how he performs next time out.

Symonds said: “He’s come out of the race at Cheltenham well and feels very, very fresh.

“We’ll probably head to one of the Champion Hurdle trials – the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown, the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock or the Kingwell Hurdle again. We’ll then head for a festival of some kind. Fingers crossed he stays in one piece.

“He’s entered at Leopardstown over Christmas, but that will be too soon for him. He’s a horse who seems to take his racing well, but I think we need to give him the time he deserves.

“He will be getting a Champion Hurdle entry at Cheltenham and we’ll just see what happens between now and then.”

Song repels Silver challenge to take International honours

Song For Someone continued his progression when just holding off Silver Streak in the Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Trained by Tom Symonds, the five-year-old was dropping back in trip having won the Coral Hurdle last time out, but he had to dig deep on the run to the line.

Several hurdles were omitted due to low sun and there were plenty in with chances turning into the straight, but it was the chestnut under Aidan Coleman who continued on his winning streak.

Silver Streak, who was carried out by a loose horse in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle two weeks ago, finished with a wet sail under Adam Wedge, but he went down by just a nose to the 6-1 chance.

Goshen, the 6-4 favourite, had been keen throughout and got to the front coming down the hill, but faded out of contention quickly to be last.

Symonds said: “The lack of hurdles caused a real problem. He got out of rhythm early on and Aidan said he was very brave today.

“He did very well with no hurdles in the straight – as you saw at Ascot, when you are firing him at hurdles, that is when he is making ground, not on the flat.

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“I’m delighted. For a horse to win three Grade Twos on the trot is a really big effort and he is only a five-year-old. He is just a fantastic horse to have.

“I’m thrilled for (owners) Sir Peter and Lady Gibbings, particularly Sir Peter, who is not well and has not been well for a long time. I can tell you the replays of the Kingwell Hurdle (in February) have definitely kept him going through lockdown, as he is in his own lockdown really at home.”

Symonds believes easy ground is key to Song For Someone’s potential Cheltenham or Aintree challenge.

He added: “It would need to be very soft for him to figure in one of those (Champion Hurdle or Aintree Hurdle).

“I’m not downing him, but I just wonder if he has the tactical speed in a Champion Hurdle. I was surprised he won a Kingwell in the nicest sense. We will live on today.

“We will see how we go, but I wonder if, on maybe softer ground, and even if it was better ground, two and a half at Aintree would suit him as we have seen with that race in general it suits horses that rock and roll.

“He is just a fabulous horse and I’m glad we didn’t go chasing.”

Coleman added: “I was in top gear most of the way, believe it or not. He has a fantastic attitude. He kept finding.

“Going around the last hurdle, he picked up again and he would have been an unlucky loser as he was just in front that little bit too long.

“I’m not sure if the old track in the Champion Hurdle would suit him, I’m not just saying because of Epatante or anything like that.

“He is maybe more of an Aintree horse. He has won three Grade Twos in his last three runs and he is ready to go up in company. He is a very admirable horse. A word for Tom Symonds as well, as he has done extremely well with him.”

Silver Streak’s trainer Evan Williams felt the omission of hurdles had detracted from the race.

He said: “We’ve got to do something about these obstacles coming out as it doesn’t enhance the spectacle. I’m not saying it’s cost us, what I’m saying is it has cost the sport. My horse got beat fair and square – that is racing.

“The ground is no excuse. He is better on faster ground, but the winner has won well. I never moan about getting beat. Our horse has run a great race and the winner has run a better race.

“We won’t go to Haydock as the ground won’t suit him. If the ground is OK, two weeks today we will be at Kempton to watch Nicky’s (Henderson) mare (Epatante) swoop by us going to the last and we will admire her backside and try to get a bit of prize money (in the Christmas Hurdle).

“He is a horse of a life time for Mr Fell (owner) and us and I’m very proud of him.”

Song For Someone excels in Coral Hurdle

Song For Someone made every yard of the running to lift Grade Two honours in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot.

Nico de Boinville executed a perfectly-judged front-running ride aboard Tom Symonds’ charge to see off Call Me Lord and hot favourite Laurina with the minimum of fuss.

The five-year-old Song For Someone had been off the track since winning at Kempton in February, but De Boinville was eager to assume control from the off, with 11-8 favourite Laurina racing pretty keenly on her first start for Paul Nicholls.

She was first off the bridle turning for home and quickly dropped away as it turned into a straight duel between Song For Someone and Call Me Lord, who is trained by De Boinville’s boss, Nicky Henderson.

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However, Song For Someone (11-4) had plenty in reserve, kicking on after the last to win by five lengths.

Symonds said: “The way he won the Kingwell really sat with us and kept us going through lockdown. On that day we saw a different dynamic to him, as he won on a sharp track on good ground, which I didn’t think he would be able to do.

“Today he was quite fresh early on, Nico said. He came in quite early as we have had a few early targets, but the one I wanted to go for was this, as he had run so well here before on this ground. He loves this type of park track.

“His hurdling is brilliant. He is so technically accurate, it is a joy to watch. At home it is quite scary as you can’t school him slowly as he hits everything, but if you go flat out, that’s when you see him at his best.”

Symonds, a former assistant to Henderson, added: “I know Nico from the early days and I remember him leading me on Long Run round the bowl in Lambourn before his Gold Cup win.

“He just kept it very simple and the horse likes it simple like that, as he can keep going. He is a fabulous horse, he is so unassuming. I’m delighted for the team as they have been great.

“The plans are I don’t know what. It would not be my style to go for the Fighting Fifth as these races, no matter how easy it looks, take a lot out of the horses. I’m thinking you could look at the International Hurdle or the Christmas Hurdle, but the ground would need to be soft.”

Song For Someone earned quotes of 25-1 with Coral and 33-1 with Betfair for the Champion Hurdle in March, but Symonds said: “He is a really good horse, but whether he has the tactical speed for a Champion Hurdle, I don’t know. The one I thought he would have run well in is the one last season as it was real soft ground, but the track would suit him.

“It might be we go to the International Hurdle and have a go at that. He did win a Kingwell on good ground, but I don’t think Kempton is his track. It’s a lovely problem to have, but you just want to do right by the horse.”