Francky Du Berlais snatched victory from the front-running Pistol Whipped in a pulsating finish to the feature Clarke Handicap Chase at Uttoxeter.
The Peter Bowen-trained eight-year-old was only in sixth place at the second-last fence – and was still a few lengths behind the leader at the final obstacle.
He was quickly away from it, however, and reduced the gap on Pistol Whipped to get his head in front where it mattered, winning by a nose in the hands of Bowen’s son, Sean.
Pistol Whipped looked to have the opposition cooked as he put in a superb round of jumping for Nico de Boinville and victory looked assured for Nicky Henderson’s charge until Francky De Berlais came from the clouds to collar him on the line.
Captain Tommy was four and a half lengths away in third place, with Pink Eyed Pedro fourth.
The winning trainer said: “He did it well, but he only just got there.
“He’s improving with a bit of age. He shouldn’t go up too much in the weights for that.
“I’d say he’d go for the Summer Plate at Market Rasen, I imagine.”
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Time To Get Up lived up to his name as he challenged late to grab victory in the Marston’s 61 Deep Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter.
The 3-1 favourite was still more than a length behind Mighty Thunder at the 24th and final fence in the marathon contest.
But jockey Jonjo O’Neill junior, riding for his father’s yard and owner JP McManus, had timed his telling challenge to perfection as the eight-year-old did get up on the run-in for a length success.
Behind Mighty Thunder, who had taken over at the first in the straight from long-time leader The Two Amigos, was Final Nudge in third and sole Irish challenger Screaming Colours fourth – beaten a further two and a half lengths and length and a half respectively.
The winning rider said: “He’s a huge horse. He was obviously in the Kim Muir, but we just thought a big, flat, galloping track would suit him. He’s a pleasure to ride.
“We’re delighted, this wasn’t necessarily the plan, but he won last time and we just thought, as he’d gone up a bit in the weights, that it looked a nice target for him.
“He’s a gorgeous horse and he had some nice hurdle form back in the day, so he was entitled to take his chance.”
The winning trainer admitted he was not certain his runner would see out the four-mile-two-furlong distance.
He said: “We weren’t sure whether he’d stay, but you don’t know until you try it. The ground was grand, everything was grand – it all came together.
“I’d say, for the trip, the ground was probably better drying out a bit. You don’t want it bog-deep when you’re going a long way and trying to get four miles, but everything went according to plan. He gave him a grand spin and it all went to plan.”
O’Neill trains the favourite for this year’s Randox Grand National in Cloth Cap, and Aintree could be a consideration for this horse next year.
He added: “I would think about the National, maybe next year. He’s a good old jumper and now we know he gets the trip.
“Whether he’ll have the pace for the National I don’t know, the National now is a fairly pacey race. We’ll see how we go.
“That was the plan, and it all sounds so easy when it works out.”
O’Neill was particularly thrilled to give his son a big-race winner.
He said: “It’s great, really. That’s what you dream of, isn’t it? When it all goes according to plan it’s even better.”
As for Time To Get Up, he added: “He’s a lovely looking horse and a grand character – he’s great to do anything with. He jumps very well – and now we know he stays too, so we’re delighted.
Time To Get Up is lightly-raced, but one previous performance on his CV already stood out – when an 11-length second to dual Cheltenham Festival winner Monkfish in a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse in December 2019, on his last start before joining O’Neill from Joseph O’Brien’s yard.
O’Neill said: “The Monkfish form isn’t too bad! I don’t know how he got that close to him, but he did.
“He’s had leg trouble but has done the job today, and he’s the type of horse that gradually progresses. We’re very happy with him, and hopefully he might be a National horse down the road. He has what is required for Aintree.
“He’s in the Irish National, but that might come too soon. He’s one to look forward to next year.”
O’Neill is due to be strongly represented at Aintree next month by Cloth Cap, whose preparation continues to go well.
He said: “I might take him to Lambourn for a school over the National fences, but he’s in good order and if we can keep him that way for the next couple of weeks that will do me.
“It’s a great time for the yard.”
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Wilde About Oscar claimed a fourth victory over hurdles when taking the Burton Union Handicap Hurdle at Uttoxeter for Dan and Harry Skelton.
The six-year-old won on his hurdles debut at the track in October and was victorious again at Aintree before stepping up to Graded calibre when contesting Newbury’s Challow Novices’ Hurdle in late December.
A mistake at the seventh hurdle put paid to that plan as the gelding was pulled up, but a subsequent run at Exeter did produce Listed honours and the son of Oscar looked in fine fettle once again when winning by three-quarters of a length as the 9-5 favourite at the Midlands track.
“He’s a really honest little horse,” Harry Skelton said.
“His jumping has just got better and better with each run and he’s really progressed.
“He can definitely progress even further next season.”
Ask Me Early cruised to a comfortable victory in the three-mile 1834 Novices’ Handicap Chase after trainer Harry Fry vetoed a previously mooted run in the Midlands National itself.
The grey won on his debut over fences at Chepstow and followed up with a second victory at the same track in January, but a subsequent run at Sandown resulted in disappointment as the gelding was pulled up when never really travelling.
That performance was clearly forgotten at Uttoxeter as the seven-year-old ran with his previous zest and jumped fluently under Sean Bowen to record a two-and-a-quarter-length triumph.
“He’s been so progressive in his first two starts over fences, from the word go at Sandown he was never travelling or jumping with the same enthusiasm,” Fry explained.
“We got him home and he was very sore through his back and we diagnosed kissing spines, which we’ve treated.
“He roared right back to form today, he’s a real out-and-out galloper and jumps for fun.
“Truth be told, I was training him for the Midlands National today, but when we flopped at Sandown I thought I couldn’t aim that high.
“This is a lovely race for him and it’s great to see him bounce back to form, he’ll be a lovely second-season chaser to look forward to next season.”
Saint Dalina followed up a course-and-distance victory in December with another Uttoxeter success when taking the Marstons Brewery Handicap Hurdle for Charlie Longsdon and Tom Buckley.
Travelling fluently throughout, the mare was only challenged by Tim Vaughan’s Tight Call after clearing the final obstacle, but was able to hold on as the post approached to prevail by a neck.
“I’ve ridden her a few times and I really like her attitude,” Buckley said.
“She’s an out-and-out galloper and I can’t wait until she goes over fences – she’ll be even better then.
“To be fair to her, coming here today, the ground’s a bit quick for her, but she’s kept her head down, the cheekpieces have worked and she’s done it nicely.”
“She’s tough, she’s been a massive improver this season,” Longsdon said.
“I sort of aimed at this race thinking it was a lady riders’ race but obviously it got changed, but she’s gone and done it nicely.
“It was hard work, but she’s done a good job.”
Rosmuc Relay triumphed on his first run for Tom Lacey when a five-length winner of the 61 Deep Handicap Chase.
The nine-year-old was previously trained by Kim Bailey before switching stables earlier in the month, a move that has seemingly succeeded in revitalising the gelding.
A 16-1 chance, Rosmuc Relay took up the lead with a fence remaining and was able to shake off Richard Hobson’s Discko Des Plages to prevail.
“It’s freshened him up a bit,” said jockey Stan Sheppard.
“With how the race panned out, I wanted to make the running, but I was always happy just sitting where I was travelling.”
The Edgar Wallace (15-8) went one better than his recent runner-up spot when taking the DE14 Novices’ Hurdle by two lengths.
Trained by Kim Bailey and ridden by David Bass, the six-year-old took an early lead and made all of the running, holding on to prevail by two lengths despite the field closing in on him after the final turn.
Fergal O’Brien’s Onagatheringstorm finished second, with £620,000 purchase Interconnected a further length and a quarter behind in third.
“I knew from experience that round here on the hurdles course it was tight enough,” Bass said of his ride.
“I thought if I could wind him up and inject a bit of pace until he was there then he might get away from them.
“He is a good horse, he is, some of his bumper form is very good. There’s a lot to look forward to.”
Legendary Rhythm (17-2) lost her maiden tag when taking the Horninglow Mares’ Handicap Hurdle by a length and a half for trainer Tom Symonds.
Anthony Honeyball’s Kilbeg King then took the concluding two-mile Marstons Pedigree Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race under Aidan Coleman by an impressive seven and a half lengths.
“It was a nice performance,” Coleman said.
“Kilbeg King travelled nicely the whole way and picked up well when I asked him to.
“I sat on him a couple of weeks ago so I knew he was quite nice and the race worked out well. “
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Cheltenham’s prestigious Trials Day meeting on Saturday has been abandoned due to waterlogging.
Officials had made people aware the meeting was in the balance due to midweek rainfall which exceeded expectations and an inspection had been called for 2pm on Friday.
An early update on Friday suggested it was touch-and-go following another wet night in the Cotswolds.
However, with standing water in places, some fences already set to be omitted and not enough space to redirect the runners around the waterlogged patches, the meeting has been called off.
Clerk of the course Simon Claisse said: “We were always saying that we had to hope we wouldn’t get what was forecast and we’ve had what was forecast, unfortunately.
“We’re waterlogged in too many places to find a way round and there is no prospect of any improvement in the next 24 hours.”
The British Horseracing Authority later confirmed the possibility of races such as the Cotswold Chase and Cleeve Hurdle being rescheduled is under consideration, but a final decision will not be made until after the weekend.
The ruling body posted on Twitter: “We are currently considering options for restaging some of the races from the abandoned Cheltenham Festival Trials Day card.
“However, as the current picture is so changeable as regards to the continued very weather weather and which courses are going to be raceable in the coming days, it is not possible to make any definitive announcements at this stage.
“We will provide a further update after the weekend when the situation with the weather and the conditions of racecourses will be more clear.”
If there is any improvement in conditions over the next 48 hours, it will come too late to save Uttoxeter’s fixture on Sunday.
A total of 30 millimetres of rain has fallen in the past 48 hours at the venue, leaving the course waterlogged and officials with no option but to cancel following an 8am inspection on Friday.
Fairyhouse’s Saturday card is subject to a 7.30am inspection after it passed a Friday afternoon check, while Sunday’s meeting at Catterick must pass a precautionary inspection at 8am on raceday morning due to the threat of frost.
Hereford will not be racing on Monday, after the waterlogged course failed a Friday afternoon inspection.
Connections of Seeyouatmidnight are considering the Midlands Grand National for the ever-popular 13-year-old following his victory at Sandown.
Seeyouatmidnight’s career has been littered with injury problems – but he showed he retains plenty of ability when taking the spoils in the final of the 2020 Veterans’ Chase Series at the Esher track earlier this month.
“He’s grand. We’ve half got the Midlands National pencilled in,” said Thomson.
“Sandown was great for everybody – great for racing and great for us. These are the stories we need because we’ve got this opportunity to captivate a new audience and get more people involved. That’s brilliant.”
Another old favourite, Yorkhill, was among a team of five horses Berwickshire handler Thomson took to work at Newcastle racecourse on Thursday.
The 11-year-old, who sprang a 66-1 shock in the Rehearsal Chase at the Gosforth Park track in November, galloped on the all-weather surface with Elf De Re and Duc De Grissay, who should have run in the North Yorkshire Grand National had Catterick not succumbed to the wintry weather.
The Ferry Master and Coolkill were also put through their paces.
“It was grand. There was no snow between here and Newcastle really,” said the trainer.
Yorkhill and The Ferry Master hold entries in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster on January 30.
“The Sky Bet is more likely for Yorkhill than The Ferry Master,” said Thomson.
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Seaston Spirit could head straight for the Midlands Grand National following his victory at Plumpton on Sunday.
Reverting to the larger obstacles after a 21-length success over hurdles at Ffos Las in November, Oliver Sherwood’s charge produced a career-best performance to land the Sussex National and claim a fifth win from his last six starts.
“I’m well happy with him. He’s a tough horse – he’s extraordinary,” said the Lambourn handler.
“Leighton Aspell (retired jockey) actually sent me a message of congratulations after the race and reminded me that he’d won on the horse just over a year ago off a mark of 98. He’s now won a Sussex National off 125.
“He was entered at the sales not long after Leighton won on him, so he was literally in the last-chance saloon. He obviously heard about it as he’s taken off since!
“He can still make the odd mistake, but we expect that and he’s going the right way, obviously.”
Sherwood hopes there is more to come from his charge, who may not run again before bidding for big-race honours at Uttoxeter on March 20.
He added: “The Midlands National would be the ideal race for him. I don’t know what he’ll go up for winning at Plumpton, but I think it should get him in off a low weight at Uttoxeter.
“I’m not entirely convinced he’s ready for Newbury or Sandown or somewhere like that.
“I’m going to have no choice but to go for those kind of races because of his mark. Whether he’ll go to Uttoxeter without a run, I don’t know, but my feeling is he probably will.”
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/2.57370773-1-scaled.jpg12802560Geegeez Newshttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngGeegeez News2021-01-04 14:48:562021-01-04 14:48:56‘Extraordinary’ Spirit could chart direct route to Midlands National
Fusil Raffles made a winning start to his new career over fences in the SSR Congratulates Phil Bell 55 Today Novices’ Chase at Uttoxeter.
A Grade One-winning juvenile hurdler, Fusil Raffles was last seen finishing well beaten in the Champion Hurdle, when he had his major market rival for this contest, Gumball, one place behind.
Fusil Raffles jumped well throughout as Gumball, despite some hairy leaps at the head of affairs, set a brisk tempo.
Quick Grabim, winner of the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle when trained by Willie Mullins, moved up menacingly down the back straight as Fusil Raffles began to look tapped for speed.
However, on the run between the second last and final fence, Fusil Raffles got a second wind and Daryl Jacob moved him upsides.
Another safe jump sealed the deal and the 5-6 favourite pulled four lengths clear of Quick Grabim. Betfair gave the winner a 25-1 quote for the Arkle in March.
Henderson said: “He jumped very well, but took a big blow turning in. They went very hard, which they are always going to do when Gumball is around!
“Gumball has beaten Verdana Blue on the Flat and is rated higher than Fusil over hurdles, so they were always going to go fast and I thought he was good.
“It’s possible he might want two and a half miles – it’s not that he’s slow, but he stays two miles very well. I was delighted with him really.
“He is out early for one of mine. We brought him in early with the intention of running him in that Listed Hurdle at Kempton in October, but then I realised he’d be ready long before then.
“We started schooling over fences and realised he enjoyed it. I don’t know where next, but he does jump well and that’s a good start. He was just ready to run and we had to go to war today – it was a nice starting point.
“He can only do one thing and that is improve for it.”
Regarding the rest of his string, Henderson added: “A lot came in earlier, but only because they went out earlier.
“They got on some really good grass in the spring and they are bigger than normal, they were doing too well. They are not forward, but you can’t afford to be – that’s the biggest danger.
“We’re ready to press on, but you can’t because there’s no ground and no races for them yet – but we are still only in September. We’ll have a few for Chepstow in October, normally we aren’t ready for that.”
When it was suggested Altior could start his season in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham on November 15, Henderson said: “You could look at that, but then you’ve got the Tingle Creek (Sandown, December 5) as well.”
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