Tag Archive for: Stag Horn

Classy Flat performer Stag Horn hunting Albert Bartlett prize

Archie Watson, who is more accustomed to training winners on the Flat, rolls the dice with Stag Horn in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday.

The Lambourn handler has a 29 per cent strike-rate over jumps this winter and Stag Horn has won both his starts over hurdles, at Hereford and in Grade Two company at Warwick.

Now he takes on the Irish battalion in the three-mile Grade One with the five-year-old, who is bred to win a Derby, being by Golden Horn out of a Galileo mare.

“It was probably last summer that the idea of hurdling came about,” said Watson. “It became apparent at Pontefract the previous October that he wanted a trip.

“He ran in the Queen Alexandra at Royal Ascot which really suited him and he finished fourth.

“Speaking to his owners, they were very happy to give it a go over hurdles to see if he could be a high-class animal over an obstacle and so far it has been amazing really.

“We sent him down to Henrietta Knight’s and she did all the preliminary jumping with him. She loved him. He took to it very naturally, which isn’t particularly usual for a Flat horse going hurdling.

“I’ve always felt Stag Horn wants three miles, so hopefully he will take another step forward upped in trip in the Albert Bartlett. If he jumps as well as we know he can, I hope he can put a bit of pressure on the others.”

John O’Connell runs both Bardenstown Lad, who has won four of his last five over hurdles, and Mahler Mission, who landed the Grade Two River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster last time.

Both horses are on a hat-trick for the County Meath handler, who said: “Bardenstown Lad is going there in great form and obviously he is a fresh horse. He hasn’t had a hard winter campaign.

“It is a very open race and you will need a lot of luck in running, but we couldn’t be happier with him.

“The other horse, Mahler Mission, isn’t out of it, either. He is rated 1lb higher than Bardenstown, having won the River Don. We have two chances who deserve to be there.”

Bardenstown Lad has winning form at Cheltenham
Bardenstown Lad has winning form at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Bardenstown Lad won a novice hurdle over course and distance in October and has had just one run since, taking a three-runner affair at Musselburgh early last month.

“Bardenstown winning at Cheltenham is a big factor,” added O’Connell. “That was one of the reasons we took him there, as we wanted to give him some course experience as we have always had this race in mind for him. I wouldn’t swap him in the race, anyway.

“Mahler has bundles of stamina and that is what you need for this race, so he will be interesting as well.”

Henry Daly took a while before making a decision on whether Hillcrest would line up in the shorter Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle or this three-mile contest.

The towering seven-year-old, who is the highest-rated British runner, won a extended three-mile Grade Two at Haydock last time.

Hillcrest goes to the Albert Bartlett as the top-rated British runner
Hillcrest goes to the Albert Bartlett as the top-rated British runner (Simon Marper/PA)

Daly said: “It was fairly obvious after his win at Haydock that he got the three miles, so he should get the same trip at Cheltenham.

“He’s won over two and a half there, but this looked like the obvious race.

“He is in good form and schooled well last week. It is a tough race but it is a Grade One, so deserves to be.”

The Gordon Elliott-trained Ginto is well fancied, having won all three of his starts over hurdles including a Grade One at Naas last time.

Minella Cocooner is a Mullins representative
Minella Cocooner is a Mullins representative (Donall Farmer/PA)

The Irish challenge is a strong one, with Willie Mullins saddling a quartet, who include Minella Cocooner, the mount of Paul Townend, and The Nice Guy, who will be ridden for the first time by Sean O’Keeffe.

Seven-year-old The Nice Guy has won two bumpers and scored on his first run over hurdles with ease at Naas last time.

Mullins said: “He’s a horse that’s surprised me. At home I couldn’t get that type of feeling that he could win one bumper, never mind two, and then win a hurdle very easily.

“He’s not a big, strong, three-mile chaser to look at, but the way he jumps, I think he’s going to be a nice chaser. I’m very happy with his progress.”

Imperial Cup winner Suprise Package, who barely turned a hair when scoring by nine lengths at Sandown on Saturday, carries 5lb extra in another hugely competitive renewal of the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle.

Kevin Sexton renews the partnership with the Paul Leech-owned six-year-old, with James Bowen having deputised last weekend.

His trainer, Peter Fahey, said: “He is in great form and seems to have come out of the race really well. Nicola, who looks after him, is very happy with him.

“He did the job really well and it was a great performance on the day, but this looks a tougher race – although I wouldn’t be swapping him for anything!”

While there is no bonus for the Imperial Cup winner should he follow up in any race at Cheltenham this year, Brian Ellison hopes Cormier can strike for the north and pick up £100,000 cheque after scoring in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso 13 days ago.

“He’s in good form and he has taken his last run well,” said Ellison.

“He likes the course and won there in January, so is well worthy of his place.

“He has to run because of that hundred-grand bonus, doesn’t he? He has schooled well and we’re looking forward to it.”

The unexposed State Man, who fell two out on his debut for Mullins at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, but bounced back to score by a wide margin at Limerick, tops the market.

Top Bandit represents Gordon Elliott
Top Bandit represents Gordon Elliott (Brian Lawless/PA)

Top Bandit, who took a course and distance maiden in October and is seeking a fourth consecutive success, heads a strong team for Elliott, while the British challenge is spearheaded by Greatwood Handicap Hurdle winner West Cork, trained by Dan Skelton, and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ I Like To Move It, who won over course and distance in November.

Runner-up in the Grade Two Kennel Gate at Ascot, Colonel Mustard represents Lorna Fowler, who felt he had a hard race when subsequently third to Sir Gerhard in a Grade One at Leopardstown last month.

“He tried so hard,” said Fowler. “The way he has matured this season has been unbelievable. He just gave it everything on ground he didn’t really like.

“He was quite tired afterwards, so we gave him plenty of time to recover and he seems to have come back to himself really well.

“Hopefully he will be going there on his A Game. There are plenty to beat, but we will have a go, anyway. I hope he would have every chance.”

Archie Watson dreaming of Cheltenham Festival glory

Archie Watson would rank a Cheltenham Festival winner as similarly significant to Royal Ascot success as he prepares Stag Horn for a tilt at the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

The trainer is more readily associated with the Flat having enjoyed Group One glory, with Stag Horn initially a performer on the level before taking up hurdling in December.

Winning a novice hurdle at Hereford on his debut, the Golden Horn gelding then stepped up to Grade Two level in the Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick in January.

Jumping soundly from the front under Nick Scholfield, Watson’s bay ran on to an impressive seven-length victory to maintain his flawless record under the National Hunt code.

“Although I’ve said his jumping has been good he did make a couple of novicey errors which meant he didn’t win as well as he should have done at Hereford but he really tidied that up at Warwick,” the trainer said.

Stag Horn before the Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick
Stag Horn before the Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick (Simon Marper/PA)

“He did everything that we asked of him and Nick, who will ride him at Cheltenham, was amazed how well he jumped that day and I thought that he won very well.

“He was very green in the straight still looking around plenty and I’m sure he will come on again for that.”

Now the Albert Bartlett at the Festival beckons, a meeting that holds equivalent significance to Royal Ascot and the Breeders’ Cup in Watson’s eyes.

“I grew up being a fan of jump racing so it is amazing to have a runner at the Festival. We are really looking forward to having a runner there on the big occasion,” he said.

“We are under no illusions how hard the job will be, but you have to say that he goes there with a chance. It is very exciting for the owners (Ben and Sir Martyn Arbib) and everyone in the yard to have a horse that is hopefully going to Cheltenham with a viable chance, which is good.

Stag Horn winning The Royal Sussex Regiment Handicap at Goodwood
Stag Horn winning The Royal Sussex Regiment Handicap at Goodwood (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I think a lot of trainers would be happy with a horse like this going into a race like the Albert Bartlett.

“Cheltenham is great just like Royal Ascot is on the Flat, but we wouldn’t be running him at Cheltenham if we didn’t think he had a chance.

“For us on the Flat it is winning a Group One, winning at Royal Ascot and winning at the Breeders’ Cup that are the most important ones, but if you could have a Festival winner it would be right up there.”

Watson’s Lambourn base only houses a handful of jumpers and will remain that way, with his partner and amateur dual-purpose jockey Brodie Hampson very much involved with the National Hunt string.

“I love having a few jumpers around and that is the way we would probably like to do it,” he said.

“We are not suddenly going to have a string of 50 jumpers here. It will always be between five and 10, but it would be good if we could have a few high-class ones.

“These horses though are hard to come by and that is why we are lucky to have Stag Horn.

“If he turned up in a sale every jumps trainer in Britain and Ireland would want to have him so we are lucky he is a home grown that has taken to hurdling.

“He is good on the Flat, but I feel like he has got a lot of class for this sphere and he has shown that.

“Whatever happens at Cheltenham though he is a Grade Two winner already, but I hope he will continue running in nice races over obstacles.”

Classy Flat stayer Stag Horn could have bright future over hurdles

Stag Horn could be set for a graded assignment after revealing another string to his bow with a promising victory on his hurdling debut at Hereford on Saturday.

At his peak the four-year-old was rated 108 on the Flat, winning five times and crossing paths with the great Stradivarius when fourth behind him in the Group Three Sagaro Stakes at Ascot in April. He was also fourth in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at the Royal meeting.

The Archie Watson-trained gelding’s most recent run on the level was a success as he took the Phil Bull Trophy at Pontefract in October for the second year running, after which his evident stamina inspired connections to consider hurdling.

The Save The Children Christmas Jumpers Novices’ Hurdle was the bay’s first outing over obstacles and he took to the task happily, making all of the running under Gavin Sheehan and winning by a length and three-quarters having started as the 4-5 favourite.

“I was delighted with him,” said Watson.

“He needs such extreme trips on the Flat that we can’t run him too often, there aren’t really the races for him.

“It was great of (owners) Sir Martin and Ben Arbib to want to have a crack over hurdles and I was very happy with him, I thought he jumped well throughout bar a couple of novicey errors later on, which just let the others back into it a bit.

“He’ll have learnt plenty, he’s come out of it well and we’ll start to think about where to go next, he’ll probably step up in class later in the month or in January.”

Stag Horn was one of the least experienced jumpers in the field as many of his rivals had already run over hurdles at least once, but his schooling with Henrietta Knight stood him in good stead as he jumped confidently and fluently for the majority of the race.

“He’s obviously had 13 runs on the Flat, but in terms of jumping he’s always schooled well at home and he’s done a lot of his preliminary groundwork with Henrietta Knight,” Watson explained.

“I couldn’t really have been happier with his first run and we’re just hoping he’ll continue to progress because if he can translate some of his Flat form to hurdles he could be pretty good in this sphere.”

While a step towards a higher-calibre hurdling contest is next on the agenda, his Flat career has not ended and he looks set to develop into a useful dual-purpose runner in valuable contests under both codes.

“He probably needs two miles, or further than two miles even, on the Flat. There aren’t too many races to run in – he could run in something like the Chester Cup and go back to Royal Ascot for one of the staying races in the summer, but we’ll see how he goes in the spring over hurdles first,” said Watson.

The triumph saw Stag Horn given a 40-1 quote for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – but there is likely to be a different target in March, should connections elect to go to Cheltenham.

Watson explained: “Gavin felt he would hopefully be a horse for something like the Albert Bartlett at the Festival, though he’s obviously going to have to take significant steps forward to be competitive at that higher grade.

“We’ll step him up in class, he’ll go somewhere like Warwick, there’s a Grade Two hurdle there in January (Leamington Novices’ Hurdle), and then we’ll take it from there.”