Cabot Cliffs impresses in Warwick victory

Dan Skelton is in no rush to decide whether Cabot Cliffs will be part of his Cheltenham Festival squad next month following a runaway victory in the opening race at Warwick on Friday.

A winner on his hurdling debut at Uttoxeter in the autumn, the Gleneagles gelding subsequently ran with credit in Listed and graded company at Wetherby and Cheltenham, before getting his head in front for a second time at Warwick three weeks ago.

The four-year-old looked to have plenty on his plate on his return to his trainer’s local track for the South West Syndicate Juvenile Hurdle, with Nicky Henderson’s Kempton scorer Heross Du Seuil all the rage to maintain his unbeaten record over jumps as the 4-7 favourite.

However, Cabot Cliffs (15-8) was sent straight to the lead by the trainer’s brother Harry – and while Heross Du Seuil appeared to be in top gear a long way from home, the Skelton runner scooted clear for a commanding 17-length success.

“He’s thriving at the moment. He looks great and loves jumping,” said the Alcester-based trainer.

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“He surprised me today with how straightforward it was. I think the form of his last run here at Warwick is pretty good and you can’t be anything but impressed with his progression.

“He’s a credit to himself as he’s really enjoying it and is doing everything he should do, albeit in a slightly crazy way!”

Cabot Cliffs hold an entry in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in less than three weeks’ time, but is not certain to take up the engagement.

Skelton added: “I don’t know if the handicapper will overreact massively, because the second horse obviously hasn’t run up to his form and I’m not sure what the rest is worth at the moment.

“For Craig and Laura (Buckingham, owners), Cheltenham is not their God. They’ll do whatever is right for the horse, so we’ll see how he comes out of it and see what happens.”

Jay Bee Why justified 2-7 favouritism in the British Stallion Studs EBF ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle.

The six-year-old bolted up on his hurdling debut at the track in December, before finishing a close-up fifth in the Grade Two Leamington Novices’ Hurdle last month.

Jay Bee Why jumps the final flight clear at Warwick
Jay Bee Why jumps the final flight clear at Warwick (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Stepping back down in grade, Alan King’s inmate comfortably pulled seven lengths clear of Hurling Magic.

“It was a nice display. He’s just growing up all the time, and I love the way he settled today and jumped well,” said King.

“He’s a horse we like. We’re just sort of marking time with him at the moment, as he’ll likely be going chasing next year.

“I didn’t put him in for Cheltenham because he wouldn’t have been ready for that this year, but he’ll run again this season.”

The Barbury Castle handler and jockey Tom Cannon doubled up in the concluding bumper, with Moonamacaroona (15-8) lunging late to win by a length-and-a-half – denying Alexandra Romanov and Skelton-trained favourite Get A Tonic in a three-way finish.

Improving Molly lands surprise Listed victory at Warwick

Molly Ollys Wishes bridged the gap from handicaps to Listed company to comfortably take the St Marys Land Warwick Mares’ Hurdle.

The seven-year-old made all the running and put the French Champion Hurdle winner in her place as she completed her hat-trick after wins in two handicaps.

Paul’s Saga tried to put it up to Dan Skelton’s mare at the business end, but Molly Ollys Wishes (7-2) pulled away to trounce the evens favourite by 19 lengths in the hands of Harry Skelton.

The trainer admitted some surprise at her triumph over the short-priced market leader.

“I don’t really know where that came from with her,” he said.

“She’s obviously a progressive horse this year that has gone on the upgrade – but I never expected that from her against Paul’s Saga.

“You could say Paul’s Saga probably needed the run, but take nothing away from our mare. She’s jumped great and picked up two out and has been quite authoritative in the end. I’m delighted with her.

“With her National Hunt-stamped pedigree, she’s really coming into her own.

“The French (horse) was far superior to the English on numbers, but she was so good at the end of the race.

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“Coming into this, I was hoping we’d pick up some black type. That was remarkable, really good.”

Molly Ollys Wishes was the final leg of a near 70-1 treble for the Skeltons, with the highlight being Allmankind in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase.

Benny’s Oscar (9-1) set the ball rolling when making a winning debut under Rules in the Paddy Power Novices’ Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson’s Lecale’s Article was sent off the odds-on favourite on the back of an impressive performance at Newbury, while Philip Hobbs’ Stellar Magic had won twice at Taunton.

Benny’s Oscar clears the last to kickstart a Warwick treble for Dan and Harry Skelton
Benny’s Oscar clears the last to kickstart a Warwick treble for Dan and Harry Skelton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The latter dropped away tamely just after halfway, though, and Lecale’s Article made a couple of novicey errors on the way round.

He still had every chance approaching the second last, but Benny’s Oscar showed the better turn of foot and won by two and a quarter lengths.

The winner looks a snip at just £16,000.

Skelton said: “Fair play to Craig and Laura (Buckingham owners). They found him. Craig rang me up and said ‘I’ve found you one’. To be fair, he’s good at that. Cabot Cliffs is another good example.

“He’s found him under a rock for 16 grand!

“He’s a nice big horse and he’s going to make a chaser. I thought today we might not beat the first two in the market. We’ve not had him long, but (it was) a sweet little surprise.

“There’s no fluke bout it. He quickened up going to the last. It wasn’t as though he made the running and got away from them. Hopefully he’s got a good future.

“I’ll have to do some race planning!”

Cheek-pieces brought about a revival in the fortunes of Two For Gold (7-2 joint-favourite) as he bounced back to form in the Paddy Power Warwick Castle Handicap Chase under David Bass.

Kim Bailey’s charge dug deep to hold Aso by a neck, winning for the first time since he was successful in a Grade Two novice chase at this track 13 months ago.

“The cheek-pieces really helped him,” said Bailey.

“I always thought two and a half miles on soft ground was what he wanted. We could go for the Topham.”

Bass reached 50 winners for the campaign with an armchair ride on Kyntara (4-1), who trotted up by 21 lengths in the closing Paddy Power Intermediate Open National Hunt Flat Race to give the jockey and Bailey a double.

Orkan (17-2) ran his rivals ragged with a good front-running display in the Paddy Rewards Club Handicap Hurdle.

Jamie Hamilton and Orkan clear the last to win the Paddys Rewards Club Handicap Hurdle at Warwick
Jamie Hamilton and Orkan clear the last to win the Paddys Rewards Club Handicap Hurdle at Warwick (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The Mark Walford-trained seven-year-old shrugged off the attentions of the favourite Song Of The Hunter to score by seven and a half lengths in the hands of Jamie Hamilton.

“I was very impressed – he jumped and travelled well,” said Hamilton.

“I kicked off the bend, and he picked up nicely. He’s a horse on the up.”

Ballymillsy (100-30 joint-favourite) capitalised on a mistake two out by Ballymagroarty Boy to take the From The Horses Mouth Podcast Handicap Hurdle over three and a quarter miles.

The five-year-old, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, stayed on stoutly under 3lb claimer Jordan Nailor to win by a length and a quarter on just his fourth hurdles start and on handicap debut.

“It was his first time over this trip. He’s been crying out for it – and he needed every yard,” said Nailor.

“I’ve had 41 winners in total now, and that’s 19 for the season. I’m lucky to have the support I have.”

Allmankind reigns in Kingmaker contest

Allmankind survived a scare at the penultimate obstacle to remain unbeaten over fences in the Agetur UK Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.

Dan Skelton’s five-year-old adopted his usual front-running tactics, but Harry Skelton did not seem to be going out of his comfort zone in front.

A feature of his first two victories this season, including at Grade One level last time out, has been his accurate jumping but this time around there were a couple of scruffy leaps.

In testing ground, he was perhaps not quite as exuberant at his fences, but was still able to get away from the obstacles quicker than his rivals.

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Cheddleton soon dropped away, but Sky Pirate was still in contention heading to the last fence in the back straight.

Allmankind (4-7 favourite) met that fence spot on and then got away quickly, but he still had to survive a blunder at the second last before victory was sealed.

Sky Pirate stuck to his task, but Allmankind galloped all the way to the line, coming home 17 lengths clear.

Dan Skelton said: “I was happy with the result, but all the way round it was a little concerning. The ground is testing here and he got stuck in the jumps a little.

“You can’t be asking for too many big jumps on this ground and that’s why he couldn’t get into a rhythm as he sometimes does.

“He showed a great attitude to get stuck in, he put his head down for the line. He won quite authoritatively in the end.

“He showed today he can get himself into some unusual positions at the fences and knows how to get out of he them and survive them. That is vital. That is something else he has learned today.

“I’ve no concerns about his durability or suitability, but we’re taking on two monsters (Shishkin and Energumene) in a month’s time (in the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival).”

Harry Skelton said: “(I’m) delighted, job done. The ground is really hard work. We got stuck in it a bit, but he’s pulled right away going to the line.

“He’s a remarkable horse really. He just doesn’t know when to give in. He’s done brilliantly.

“At the second last, he was probably getting stuck in the ground. When you have frost covers down, that is what it does to it. It’s the toughest ground he’s run on, but he went away well at the line.

“To come off the Flat and achieve what he’s done is brilliant. Delighted for the owners. They will be happy.”

Allmankind seeking to reign in Kingmaker heat

Allmankind bids to give his Cheltenham Festival claims a timely boost in the Grade Two Agetur UK Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick on Monday.

Clear-cut victories on this track and in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown have made Dan Skelton’s exciting prospect a leading fancy for the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy.

The five-year-old is third favourite at around 10-1 for the two-mile novice championship behind Shishkin and Energumene.

Allmankind needs to maintain his unbeaten record over fences, but he is likely to be tested despite having only three rivals.

“I’m very happy with him. He looks fantastic. I couldn’t be more pleased with him,” said Skelton.

“I think it’s going to be a decent race with Cheddleton and Sky Pirate in there getting weight. It’s a strong race. No excuses, he’s ready to go.”

Sky Pirate is rated just 2lb below Allmankind, who has a 5lb penalty for his Grade One success meaning the former receives 3lb.

Cheddleton, trained by Jenny Candlish, is not out of it on ratings either after winning his last two starts at Carlisle and Haydock.

Charlie Mann’s French import Sacre Coeur completes the quartet, with the meeting having been given the go-ahead following a precautionary inspection on Sunday afternoon.

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French raider Paul’s Saga aims to book her place in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham with victory in the St Marys Land Warwick Mares’ Hurdle.

The seven-year-old grey, trained by David Cottin, drops in trip after racing mainly at three miles including when she landed the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil in October. She has not run since being beaten there in November.

Cottin’s representative Jason Kiely has brought the mare over from France and has been in charge of her preparation.

Speaking on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday programme, Kiely said: “I’ve been over here with her for a week now and things have been going well.

“From what we have in France, she’s very, very good. She won the rescheduled French Champion Hurdle (in October), which is over three miles. She’s put it up to the boys and beaten everything we have to offer in France and is very consistent.

“She loves the heavy ground. If it was soft in Cheltenham, she’d have a huge chance.

“A win is our main objective tomorrow. If she doesn’t win, it’s going to be very disappointing.

“No disrespect to the field, but we’ve found quite a nice race for her here. It should be an ideal prep run (for Cheltenham) – she can get a look at the English hurdles and Brian (Hughes, jockey) can get a feel for her.

“There’s been a great history in the Stayers’ Hurdle for French runners. David (Cottin) mentioned before Christmas that maybe we’d have a look at Cheltenham with her and he’s kind of left it up to me to find a preparation race and make that goal achievable.

“There’s not much racing in France for us at the moment, so we’ve had to look further afield.”

Skelton believes this is the right race to give Molly Ollys Wishes her first taste of Listed company.

The seven-year-old goes into stronger company on the back of two handicap hurdle wins.

“It’s her first dip into the graded races, but I think this is a nice race to try that in,” said the Alcester trainer.

“Paul’s Saga and Eglantine Du Seuil have slightly higher marks than her, but she has only got to go up the road to do it and she won at the track last year. She is a little better right-handed, but what can we do?

“If Paul’s Saga runs like she does in France, she’ll be very hard to beat.”

The field of six includes Paul Nicholls’ Eglantine Du Seuil, who was third to Roksana at Ascot on her latest start, and the Harry Fry-trained Whitehotchillifili, winner of a Listed heat at Sandown last month.

Oldgrangewood and Spiritofthegames give the Skelton stable a decent hand in a competitive-looking Paddy Power Warwick Castle Handicap Chase and the handler is keen to get both horses back on the track.

“I just feel Spiritofthegames might improve a bit for the run,” said Skelton.

“He got a little cut at Wetherby last time, but this has been Oldgrangewood’s target since Cheltenham got called off twice.

“He’s dressed up twice to go there and it’s been off, so I’m keen to get stuck in tomorrow. It seems a long time since we ran him, but he’s in great form.”

The weights are headed by Venetia Williams’ Aso while the Mick Channon-trained Mister Whitaker and Kim Bailey’s Two For Gold, a Grade Two winner over three miles on this course last season, are among other old favourites in the line-up.

Inspection at Warwick but hopes high for Monday action

Warwick’s big rearranged meeting on Monday looks set to beat the weather, despite an inspection being called for 3pm on Sunday.

The card scheduled for Saturday was called off on Friday, but plans were in place to move the whole fixture and it looks a wise decision.

Clerk of the course Jane Hedley said: “It’s Baltic this (Saturday) morning so we definitely took the right decision.

“We’re going to have an inspection at 3pm tomorrow, we’ll start lifting the covers tomorrow morning, they may as well stay in place the rest of today.

“Temperatures are set to get to the heady heights of 1C tonight before getting to four or five Sunday. Then a band of rain comes through and it gets milder still, up to about 10C by Monday lunchtime.

“A lot of the areas that are covered are raceable already, it’s just some of the bare patches and some areas in the back straight that were never going to come round.

“I think we’ll be in a good place by tomorrow afternoon and a better one by Monday – it’s amazing how mild it’s going to be and it’s amazing the job the frost covers have done. I wouldn’t be as confident without them.”

Exeter’s meeting on Sunday faces an 8.30am inspection.

Clerk of the course Dan Cooper tweeted: “Every reason to keep looking at @ExeterRaces conditions based on the forecast for lows into Saturday morning.

“However, we are -1 this evening and temperatures need to improve, some suggestion it will. The time frozen places take to defrost remains a risk. Inspection 8:30am Sun.”

Tuesday’s meeting at Carlisle faces a 3pm inspection on Monday due to a frozen track, while Catterick’s fixture, moved from Monday to Tuesday, has no inspection planned as yet with temperatures due to rise.

Saturday cards off at Newbury and Warwick

Newbury and Warwick have both abandoned their weekend cards after the frozen tracks failed Friday morning inspections.

Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle fixture is therefore set to take place on Sunday February 21 – while Warwick’s meeting, featuring the Agetur UK Kingmaker Novices’ Chase, will be put back just two days to Monday.

The British Horseracing Authority announced those contingency plans on Thursday.

It was no surprise, after a week of freezing temperatures nationwide and snow which has wiped out the British jumps fixture list since last Sunday, that Saturday’s scheduled cards did not pass their inspections.

Both courses were scheduled to check at 8.30am, but Newbury was able to announce shortly before 8am that the inspection was failed after another freezing night.

Temperatures dropped to -5C and were still only -2C on Friday morning.

At Warwick, it was confirmed just after 8.30am that – with some frozen areas under the covers – the meeting is to be transferred to Monday.

Friday evening’s scheduled all-weather Flat meeting at Chelmsford was also abandoned after a morning inspection because of the freezing conditions and with snow still on the track. That in turn led to an inspection ahead of Saturday, which also resulted in abandonment.

In Ireland, Naas has announced a 7.30am inspection because of a forecast for snow and ice before Saturday’s card.

Lingfield will also inspect on Saturday morning, at 8am, for its all-weather fixture – because of a forecast for a “prolonged & severe frost forecast tonight”.

Further inspection required for Warwick

Saturday’s meeting at Warwick hinges on an 8.30am inspection on Friday.

Clerk of the course Jane Hedley held an initial check at 2pm on Thursday, with the course reported to be frozen in places despite the track having been covered earlier in the week.

That afternoon inspection showed the venue to be “largely raceable”, but with further freezing overnight temperatures expected, along with a cold day on Friday, Hedley admits an improved forecast is required.

She said: “We’re largely raceable under the covers, there’s just a few patches that might give us some concern.

“If the forecast was just one or two degrees out, we might be fine, so we’ll have a look in the morning and take into account the updated forecasts.

“On the current forecast, we would be unlikely to race, but it’s a bit too early to pull the plug.”

The seven-race card is due to feature the Grade Two Agetur UK Kingmaker Novices’ Chase and should it be called off on Saturday, the British Horseracing Authority has announced it will be rescheduled for Monday.

The fixture will be run in full, with original entries standing and new declarations taken by 10am on Saturday.

Saturday’s other jumps fixture, the Betfair Hurdle meeting at Newbury, is also subject to an 8.30am inspection on Friday.

An 8am inspection is required for Chelmsford, who are scheduled to race on Friday evening, while Monday’s jumps meeting at Lingfield has already been called off.

Clerk of the course George Hill reported the course to be waterlogged and frozen, with little chance of improvement, following a 2pm assessment on Thursday.

The venue will now stage a jumpers’ bumper card on the all-weather track instead.

There has been no jumps action in Britain since Musselburgh raced on Sunday, while Monday’s meeting at Fairyhouse was the last turf meeting to be staged in Ireland.

Thurles’ Thursday card was initially given the go-ahead, but further snow at the track saw the meeting called off shortly before 12pm.

Newcastle were forced to call off an all-weather meeting on Wednesday due to snow, but Thursday’s meeting was given the go-ahead after the track passed a second inspection.

Annie Mc books Festival ticket with Warwick success

Annie Mc had her connections dreaming of Cheltenham success after powering home in the Lady Protectress Mares’ Chase at Warwick.

The 13-8 favourite clinched a double worth more than 100-1 for Jonjo O’Neill and Jonjo O’Neill Jr – and now heads for the newly-inaugurated Mares’ Chase at the Festival next month.

Annie Mc is owned by the Coral Champions Club, which includes reality TV star Chris Hughes, and O’Neill said: “I thought the handicapper had got her, but the soft ground bailed her out.

“She’s honest and she jumps, and has earned her corn to go to the mares’ chase at Cheltenham. She seems to be a decent mare on the soft.”

Annie Mc (left) gets the better of Zambella
Annie Mc (left) gets the better of Zambella (Alan Crowhirst/PA)

The Jackdaws Castle trainer admitted he thought she was in trouble at one stage, and added: “She fumbled a bit (on the ground) turning in, but I was delighted with her performance. She’s my best chance of a winner at the Festival, that’s for sure.

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“The lads get a great kick out of her.”

Forcing tactics paid off for Cabot Cliffs in the Join Racing TV Now Juvenile Hurdle.

The 4-1 shot kept on strongly for Harry Skelton to dispatch market rivals Sage Advice and Goodbye Stranger by a length and a half and a nose.

Tom Messenger, assistant to trainer Dan Skelton, said: “He was in at the deep end on his previous start and that was a lot more like it. He dictated under a great ride and had plenty left.”

The Skeltons completed a double when Supremely Lucky outstayed Undersupervision in the Visit Handicap Hurdle.

Callum Bewley made the journey from Carlisle to partner Overworkdunderpaid to a hard-fought success over Definite Dilemma in the South West Syndicate Novices’ Handicap Chase.

On only his second visit to the course, Bewley pounced on Definite Dilemma on the run-in, the combination scoring by half a length.

The 7-2 favourite’s trainer Laura Morgan said: “He takes time to warm to the task and needed something to aim at, having got there too soon last time.

“He’s in at Musselburgh on Sunday and Market Rasen next week, and all being well will be out again.”

Uptown Lady posted a 40-1 shock in the Racing TV Mares’ ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle, taking advantage of the last-flight fall of Fantastic Lady.

O’Neill explained that the six-year-old has not been straightforward and said: “She’s had two wind ops and might have been lucky to win. With a mare like that it’s just great to get a win into her.”

Ben Jones and Volcano in full flight
Ben Jones and Volcano in full flight (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The almost-white Volcano galloped and jumped his rivals into submission in the Watch On Racing TV Handicap Chase under Ben Jones.

His trainer Sheila Lewis said: “He’s neat and nimble, and Ben said he’s one of the best jumpers he’s ever sat on.”

There was a big upset in the Willougby De Broke Open Hunters’ Chase when 40-1 chance Latenightpass held the rally of Highway Jewel by three-quarters of a length under Bridget Andrews. The Worlds End went off the 5-4 favourite, but was another length back in third.

Imperial Alcazar stays fresh for Festival

Fergal O’Brien will chart a direct course to the Cheltenham Festival with Imperial Alcazar.

The seven-year-old ran out a comfortable two-and-a-quarter-length winner of a Pertemps qualifier at Warwick last month, and is as low as 8-1 with some firms for the Final at Cheltenham on March 18.

While Imperial Alcazar is also entered in the Stayers’ Hurdle on the same day, O’Brien is looking towards the big handicap instead.

He said: “He’s in good form and goes for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham now, all being well.

“He runs well fresh, so he’ll go straight there without another run in between.”

Annie Mc aiming for further Listed honours at Warwick

Annie Mc seeks to back up her Listed victory at Doncaster with another big run at the same level in the Lady Protectress Mares’ Chase at Warwick on Wednesday.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained seven-year-old opened her account for the season in tremendous style on Town Moor at the end of the year, after taking on geldings in even better company on her three previous starts.

“In her first two races she was just run out of them against open company which is always harder for mares, but as you know they have good days and bad days,” said the Jackdaws Castle trainer. 

“She likes her work and is always up for going on the gallops. She is a straightforward, sound mare.

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“She is in great form. I thought this season it would be tough going for her, but she pulled one out of the bag at Doncaster.
“I think that soft ground definitely helped her there as she stayed better than everybody else on that occasion. I was delighted with the performance.

“It should be as soft at Warwick, as when you are up in this sort of class you need everything right for you really. 

One person who will be keeping a close eye on the race away from the track is Annie Mc’s biggest fan – reality television star Chris Hughes, who made his name on the 2017 edition of hit ITV2 show Love Island.

O’Neill added: “She really is Chris Hughes’ pal and when he comes in he always goes to see her. He has ridden her out before, not for a while as he has been busy, but when he does get on board her he is a capable rider.

“She is a grand mare and has been a real superstar for us, the owners and everybody involved with her.”

Harry Fry’s Momella steps up in class after winning her last two races over fences.

With conditions and the distance set to suit Momella, Fry is optimistic the nine-year-old can extend her winning run.

“We dropped her back in trip at Exeter, but it was on a stiff track on slow ground. She followed up quite quickly under a penalty on Boxing Day at Wincanton on testing conditions,” said the Dorset handler. 

“The ground will hold no fear for her and hopefully the track at Warwick will be fine for her. She has a bit to find on ratings, but she gets some weight from a few of the principals. 

“She goes there in great order and hopefully she will run a good race.”

The field is completed by 2019 winner Happy Diva from the yard of Kerry Lee, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Zambella and Destinee Royale, who represents Venetia Williams.

Sedgefield abandoned – after four inspections

Sedgefield was forced to abandon Monday’s meeting after a fourth inspection of the course – which took place at 12.30pm, the initial scheduled time of the first race.

Hopes rose for much of the morning that temperatures would increase sufficiently to allow the seven-race card to go ahead, having dipped to -2C overnight.

But they never did so, as the winter sun faded and cloud cover moved back in – with frost still in the ground.

After an initial inspection on Sunday afternoon, the announcement of another at 8.30am – put back to 10am – and then two more, the abandonment was finally confirmed on Sedgefield’s official Twitter feed.

It read: “Unfortunately racing today is abandoned.”

Clerk of the course Michael Naughton said: “The stewards took everything into account, and it was just the odd patches that were still frozen. It wasn’t worth taking the risk for safety reasons.

“It had improved, and the sun is back out again. In another hour we may have been OK, but we couldn’t put it back any further and have another inspection.”

In the hours up to 12.30, it was clear several trainers were not prepared to let their horses take part – with 26 non-runners announced because of the going.

Naughton added: “It was just patches of the course that were giving us problems.

“The majority of the course was OK. There were a couple of patches where the clouds went against us. At one point cloud cover came over, and it started cooling down again. Everything that could go against us did go against us.

“There was nothing more we could do. A lot of people made the effort to get here, so we thought we’d push it to the wire if we can and see what we could do.”

There were mixed outcomes from two inspections elsewhere on Monday morning, for Wednesday’s racing.

Exeter’s card was abandoned because of waterlogging, after 17mm of rain since Sunday morning.

Warwick may yet go ahead, however, as standing water receded – but the meeting will be subject to a second check at 2pm on Tuesday, with further rain forecast.

In Ireland, Tuesday’s meeting at Limerick has been called off because of waterlogging.

There will be an inspection on Tuesday morning for Thursday’s card at Wincanton, where there is standing water and further rain forecast on heavy ground.

Sedgefield faces fourth inspection

Sedgefield’s meeting on Monday hinges on a fourth inspection at the track – at 12.30pm, which was initially the scheduled time of the opening race.

The course passed an initial check on Sunday afternoon, as frozen conditions began to improve, with a second inspection announced for 830am on Monday.

That was put back by an hour and a half, however, in the hope that temperatures would continue to rise – having dipped to minus 2C overnight.

The course was still not raceable, though, and it was announced a further inspection must take place at 11.30am.

That too was inconclusive, and a Tweet on Sedgefield’s official feed read: “We’re doing everything we can to help our fixture go ahead so we’ll be having a further inspection at 12.30pm.”

The ground is described as heavy for the scheduled seven-race card.

There were mixed outcomes from two inspections elsewhere on Monday morning, for Wednesday’s racing.

Exeter’s card was abandoned because of waterlogging, after 17mm of rain since Sunday morning.

Warwick may yet go ahead, however, as standing water receded – but the meeting will be subject to a second check at 2pm on Tuesday, with further rain forecast.

In Ireland, Tuesday’s meeting at Limerick is off because of waterlogging.

There will be an inspection on Tuesday morning for Thursday’s card at Wincanton, where there is standing water and further rain forecast on heavy ground.

Sedgefield waits on mid-morning inspection

Sedgefield’s meeting on Monday hinges on a 10am inspection.

The course passed an initial check on Sunday afternoon, as frozen conditions began to improve, with a second inspection announced for 830am on Monday.

That was put back by an hour and a half, however, in the hope that temperatures will continue to rise – having dipped to minus 2C overnight.

A Tweet from the course read: “Inspection has been pushed to 10am. Temperatures are set to rise above 0 before 9am”.

The going is described as heavy for the scheduled seven-race card.

There were mixed outcomes from two inspections elsewhere on Monday morning, for Wednesday’s racing.

Exeter’s card was abandoned because of waterlogging, after 17mm of rain since Sunday morning.

Warwick may yet go ahead, however, as standing water receded – but the meeting will be subject to a second check at 2pm on Tuesday, with further rain forecast.

In Ireland, Tuesday’s meeting at Limerick is off because of waterlogging.

Imperial rule delights Fergal O’Brien

Imperial Alcazar could have his sights raised to Grade One company after opening his account for the season in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at Warwick.

Making just his second start of the campaign, the Fergal O’Brien-trained seven-year-old, who holds an entry in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, took a giant step forwards in running out a convincing winner.

Steering clear of the late drama, which saw Flemcara, Espion and Ardlethen all come down at the last, the 5-1 victor galloped on relentlessly to score by two and a quarter lengths.

O’Brien said: “We’ve been talking the horse up to the owners for a long time. He has not had many runs and we kept him in bumpers for a long time. It is only his second run of the season and we have been very patient, but they have been rewarded today.

“We think he is a very nice horse and hopefully he will keep progressing.”

The Ravenswell Farm handler will let the dust settle before deciding which route to take with Imperial Alcazar, who has both the Stayers’ Hurdle and Pertemps Final as options at the Festival.

He added: “Definitely we would (treat him as a Stayers’ Hurdle type). We will have a look nearer the time who goes where. Whether things change with Covid as to who comes over from Ireland, so that is why we put him in the Stayers’. It’s a lovely problem to have.”

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Although Flemcara escaped injury following the incident at the final flight, there was a sad postscript to the race, which caused around a five-minute delay to the concluding bumper, as both Ardlethen and Espion suffered fatal injuries.

Clerk of the course Jane Hedley said: “Sadly we have lost both Espion and Ardlethen. They had fatal injuries. We gave them every chance, but we had no option in the end and they have been humanely euthanized. Flemcara galloped off which was a good sign.

“Everything was in control behind the screens which allowed us to carry on, which we did. The veterinary teams did their very best as ever, but unfortunately we couldn’t save them. The connections were there and were very upset, but they were philosophical.”

Gold Bullion is a name to note
Gold Bullion is a name to note (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Gold Bullion made a winning debut in the delayed bumper to complete doubles for trainer Paul Nicholls, jockey Harry Cobden and owner Malcolm Denmark.

Having secured Grade Two glory with Next Destination in the Hampton Novices’ Chase, the trio combined again with the five-year-old, who ran out a clear-cut four-and-a-half-length winner as the even-money favourite.

Assistant trainer Harry Derham said: “That was no surprise as he has been lovely the whole way through. He is a gorgeous horse that is so relaxed.

“He was green coming past the stands, that’s why Harry didn’t want to go too soon, but when he gave him a reminder he took off. He will be a serious novice hurdler over two and half miles.”

Sky Pirate looks to have a bright future
Sky Pirate looks to have a bright future (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Elsewhere on the card, Sky Pirate opened the door to bigger and better targets after continuing his progression over fences with victory in the Edward Courage Cup.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained eight-year-old defied an 11lb hike in the weights following victory at Cheltenham to make it two wins from as many starts since being dropped back to two miles.

Moving past long-time leader Generous Day approaching the second-last, the 13-8 favourite pulled out plenty to defeat Amoola Gold by two and a quarter lengths in the hands of Jonjo O’Neill junior.

The winning rider said: “He is a bit of an enigma, as he has never shown at home that he wants two miles.

“But we had been meaning to try it and it worked out well at Cheltenham and it has worked out well again today. He is an improver at this trip.

“I think people have been getting him slightly wrong as I’m just not sure he gets the two and a half we were aiming him at, but I think he stays two miles strongly.”

Following the race Sky Pirate was cut from 7-1 into 6-1 favourite for the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival by Paddy Power – a race which O’Neill junior believes could be a suitable aim.

He added: “He would (be a horse for a Grand Annual). He has won off 145 and won quite nicely. He is still a novice so we would have to have a look, but he will be entered up in everything I’d imagine.”

Will Sting strikes under Aidan Coleman
Will Sting strikes under Aidan Coleman (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Will Sting (7-2) made the most of a drop back to two miles when giving weight all round to claim the Pertemps Network Novices’ Handicap Hurdle by nine and a half lengths.

Jockey Aidan Coleman said of the Lucy Wadham-trained winner: “The drop back in trip helped him. They went quite quick on that ground and they probably stopped a bit in front.

“He’S a nice-moving horse. I’d not sat on him before, but that ground didn’t seem an issue even though it was different to what he won on around Huntingdon.”

Notachance takes Classic Chase honours

Notachance executed trainer Alan King’s plan to perfection when lifting the McCoy Contractors Civil Engineering Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick.

The Barbury Castle trainer decided to save the seven-year-old for this valuable contest after Notachance had won at Bangor 11 weeks ago.

It paid off with the youngest horse in the line-up landing the spoils.

Notachance had only had five previous races over fences – but that did not stop him being sent off one of the 7-2 joint-favourites.

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Tom Cannon never had him too far off the pace set by Captain Chaos, before taking closer order down the back straight.

Notachance led two out, but was immediately challenged by Achille who put up a strong bid.

However, Notachance stuck to his task well to win by half a length from Achille. Le Breuil, who shared favouritism, stayed on strongly for third place, five and a half lengths away.

King said: “He is a progressive young horse and has really improved this season. We were delighted with him at Bangor and he seems to have come forward again.

“We probably got to the front a little bit too soon and he pricked his ears from the second-last, but he kept finding.

“We always thought he would suit this sort of race and going forward I would imagine we will target the Scottish National. He won’t go to Liverpool (Grand National), as I don’t like the race and neither do the owners.”

He added: “I was glad when the winning line came as it was a long way from the last, like I said. I’ve always thought he is a better horse on good ground and certainly last season he seemed a better horse on better ground.

“We will probably try to find something (before Scottish National), but we will have to go home and think about that. He is too young for Aintree, so he won’t be entered.

“I just think he has matured now and he is seeing his races out properly. He likes to be fresh and well so we won’t over-race him.”

On his season so far, King said: “It’s going terrific all round. We’ve not quite the numbers we used to have jumping-wise, but we can still produce the odd good one!”