Star Gate’s Challow challenge as Williams eyes another Grade One

Evan Williams is still on a high following Silver Streak’s maiden Grade One win on Boxing Day – and he is chasing another top-level success with Star Gate in the Mansionbet Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury.

The youngest runner in Tuesday’s line-up – he does not turn five until New Year’s Day – brings an unbeaten record into the contest, having won his only point-to-point, a maiden hurdle at Chepstow and scored a very impressive success in a Grade Two at Sandown last time out.

“It might be asking a bit much to win another!” said Williams.

“He handles soft ground, we know that, but he’s only a four-year-old – although he turns five at the end of the week.

“I didn’t envisage giving him such a busy campaign if I’m honest – it definitely wasn’t on my radar.

“But the horse is fresh and well, he’s come out of Sandown well – and this is probably the only place we could go in reality.

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“I didn’t want to drop down in trip for the Tolworth (at Sandown on Saturday) and I didn’t fancy running him somewhere with a penalty in a Grade Two, having won one of those already.

“It’s a very hot race, very deep, and it will be very difficult to win.”

Kim Bailey’s Does He Know failed to win in two outings over timber last season but is three from three this time around, with one of those a Grade Two at Cheltenham last time out.

All his wins have come on a decent surface, though, and Bailey is unsure how he will handle softer ground, with the meeting subject to precautionary inspection at 8.30am due to the threat of frost.

David Bass gets a great leap out of Does He Know on their way to winning at Cheltenham
David Bass gets a great leap out of Does He Know on their way to winning at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He’s pleased us enormously with what he has done so far, but this is a big step up and we need to find out whether he is a March Cheltenham horse or not,” said the Andoversford trainer.

“He deserves to be running in a race like this, anyway.

“I don’t know about the ground (being softer). I had him entered at (nearby) Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, but that will be heavy – we’ve got a covering of snow this morning. Fingers crossed, he will handle it.”

Paul Nicholls is another trainer with a Grade One already in the bag over Christmas, having won an incredible 12th King George with Frodon.

He runs Bravemansgame, very impressive at Exeter and Newbury the last twice.

“I think the world of Bravemansgame who has a big future and won so impressively at this track a month ago over this trip,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“He has matured and strengthened, continues to please at home – and I’m hopeful the soft ground at Newbury will not be a problem for him.”

Alan King’s The Glancing Queen has twice run well in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and made a winning start to life over hurdles at Warwick last month.

“The Glancing Queen was very impressive at Warwick and enjoyed the experience, which was what we wanted, so we now look forward to seeing how she shapes up in grade,” King told his website.

Dan Skelton’s Wilde About Oscar and the Sophie Leech-trained Enfant Roi complete the classy field.

Star Gate shines in Sandown feature

Star Gate maintained his unbeaten record as he took a step up in class in his stride with a stylish success in the Ballymore Winter Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

Having made an impressive debut under rules at Chepstow towards the end of October, the Evan Williams-trained four-year-old followed up in similarly taking fashion for Grade Two honours.

Racing just in behind early leader Sending Love, the 5-4 favourite showed a smart turn of foot in testing conditions to surge into a clear lead between the final two flights.

Meeting the last on a good stride, the Angela and William Rucker-owned gelding galloped on resolutely to defeat Valleres by eight and a half lengths.

Williams – enjoying a swift across-the-card double after Bold Plan lowered the colours of The Big Breakaway at Exeter – refused to get carried away with the performance of Star Gate, who was introduced at 20-1 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle by Coral and William Hill.

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“He is a nice horse. It’s very difficult when there’s such a small field, though,” said the Vale of Glamorgan handler.

“While he is a nice horse he’s very much a baby so every step with him is an important step.

“I think we want to be careful with him. I don’t want to say what we’ll do or where we’ll go.

“I don’t think he’s one I’d want to run again too quickly as that was very heavy ground and he is only a four-year-old.”

De Boinville, who was having his first ride for Williams, said: “I was really impressed. We didn’t go much of a gallop early on, but we certainly quickened up very well.

“He was very impressive over the last and quickened all the way to the line. I’m delighted with him and for Evan with the across-the-card double.

“He is still such a raw horse and there is still so much to come from him. As Evan said, he is a big baby still. It was just very much a case of looking after him and getting him jumping and away we went. He came out of my hands at the first and I thought I would leave him to it.

“We went no pace and that’s why I decided to help Harry (Cobden on Sending Love) along otherwise we would have been going very quick to the last. It was great to see him run through the line like that.

“I think two and a half (miles) for now will be his trip.”