Tag Archive for: Warwick

Haydock on alert for the weekend with weather warning in place

Haydock’s clerk of the course Dan Cooper has admitted the decision to water on Tuesday ahead of racing on Friday and Saturday now looks “questionable” with rain having hit the Merseyside track on Wednesday morning – with more on the way.

The going was good to firm, good in places and five millimetres of water was applied to the track, with some rain forecast.

However, the weather outlook changed for the worse and an amber weather warning is now place, ahead of a card that is due to see the return of the unbeaten Vandeek plus a high-class cast for the Temple Stakes.

“We’re currently in the midst of a large weather event. There’s a mixture of yellow and amber weather warnings and the forecast really deteriorated for us yesterday in the late morning and afternoon,” said Cooper, speaking on a Zoom call at lunchtime.

“We’ve essentially got a position where they’ve declared this morning (for Friday) on good to firm, good in places, I’ll go on another afternoon walk and then an evening walk.

“We’ll more than likely be changing the ground to good very shortly and I should imagine by the morning it will be good, potentially good to soft in places. Then we have a dry Thursday and Friday by the looks of things – I’m assuming that the ground will probably stay at the slower side of good.

“We had a difficult decision to make on Tuesday with irrigation. The decision was made in light of the forecast and we were confident in that being the right decision, but that same forecast has since deteriorated which makes the decision look questionable. I understand and I have to say it was made with the detail that was at hand at the time.”

Warwick called off Wednesday’s jumps fixture after 42.5mm of rain left the track waterlogged in places, while heavy rain also accounted for Gowran’s Flat card.

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‘It’s over!’ Skelton fears title hopes have gone this term

Dan Skelton has all but conceded defeat in the race to be crowned Britain’s champion trainer ahead of the conclusion of the season at Sandown on Saturday.

The Alcester handler appeared to be in the box seat after a fantastic four strikes at the Cheltenham Festival last month saw him go ahead of his former boss and mentor Paul Nicholls, and he remains in front of the 14-times champion as the campaign reaches a climax.

However, Skelton was knocked off top spot after Willie Mullins saddled I Am Maximus to win the Grand National at Aintree and following a four-timer at Ayr seven days later, including the Scottish National success of Macdermott, the master of Closutton now appears almost certain to become the first Irish-based trainer to land the British title since Vincent O’Brien did so twice in the 1950s.

Following a Thursday treble at Warwick courtesy of Take No Chances (13-8 favourite), Ace Of Spades (9-4 favourite) and Jafimgoso (7-1), and with the likes of Langer Dan, Nube Negra and Le Milos part of his final day team, Skelton is still mathematically in with a shout of being top dog – but in his mind, he has already been beaten.

Take No Chances and Harry Skelton on their way to victory at Warwick
Take No Chances and Harry Skelton on their way to victory at Warwick (David Davies/PA)

“As regards the trainers’ championship, to be quite honest with you, it’s over!” he told Racing TV.

“I can’t beat Willie, it would require our horses to win nearly every race they’re entered in on Saturday and him to have no prize-money at all.

“I can’t concede, because conceding means you walk off the pitch and we’re not walking off the pitch, we’re going to go down there Saturday, hopefully we’ve got some lovely chances and it’s great to run some nice horses.

“The reality of beating Willie is, it’s not reality, I’m afraid, but it’s been an absolute pleasure to have contested it.”

Skelton was keen to pay tribute to Mullins and his team, adding: “I think we have been beaten by somebody who is doing so well at the moment and all of the aces landed up for him.

“He’s won the Champion Hurdle, the Gold Cup and the Grand National all in the same year and when he needed to, he won the Scottish National by a head, so it feels like sometimes it’s meant to be.

“It’s been a pleasure and those two trainers (Mullins and Nicholls) will be no prouder than I am of my team – horses, owners, staff – it’s been a remarkable year.

“Hopefully we can get through £3million in prize-money. That’s only ever been done once by Nicky (Henderson) and six times by Paul before.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done and I’ll enjoy Saturday. I’m not going down there with any pressure, I know the reality of the situation.

“I thank everybody – media, owners and staff – who have built it up to be exciting, but I’m afraid that while the last day is going to be great for the sport, as regards the destination of that trophy, it feels like it’s won.”

Warwick Races – Thursday April 25th
Ace Of Spades ridden by jockey Harry Skelton (left) on their way to victory (David Davies/PA).

Whilst Skelton feels this chance has gone, he remains just as determined as ever to chase his dream of becoming champion in the future and is already planning for next season.

He added: “Really, this year it only came about when Protektorat won the Ryanair.

“Before then, I suppose there was a moment in January when I was only 70 or 80 grand behind Paul and I thought ‘this could be interesting’. And then Paul got on a real run and went 200 to 300 clear, so it was gone from my mind then until Protektorat won.

“And then of course, it’s just been an honour to be involved in the battle with those two, but nothing will ever quell my enthusiasm to try and be champion trainer, everyone knows I want to try and do it.

“We’ve been very sensible with what we’ve run over the last week and we’re very sensible about what we’re running on Saturday, we can’t lose sight of that, we have to run the appropriate horses.

“Then we’ve got some to run through May and June, we’ll see how that goes, but I didn’t expect to be this close this year, so it came as a bit of a surprise.

“At times, it’s been very stressful, at times when you think you might be getting the upper hand and then things don’t go your way, you learn something new about yourself – you have to be a different type of professional, you have to conduct yourself in a different way.

“So, I’ve learned an awful lot from it and hopefully I can put those lessons to good use in the future and we’ll give it another go.”

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Waterlogging causes Warwick abandonment

This afternoon’s National Hunt meeting at Warwick has become the latest victim of the current wet spell, with course officials left with no option but to abandon the fixture due to a waterlogged track.

While persistent rain continues to play havoc with the racing programme, no inspection was planned at Warwick, with only minimal rainfall forecast overnight.

However, the track posted on X on Thursday morning: “Following 16 millimetres of rainfall overnight and into this morning, which is a significant change from the three millimetres initially forecast, the track is now waterlogged and therefore unraceable.

“All tickets will automatically be refunded.”

Southwell’s Thursday card is set to go ahead as scheduled after the course passed a precautionary check at 7.30am, but racing at Clonmel in Ireland has been called off.

Further disruption looks likely heading into the weekend, with Friday’s meeting at Wetherby subject to a 3pm inspection this afternoon and Saturday’s Premier Raceday at Kelso also under threat.

The Borders track is due to host a high-profile card, part of which is set to be shown live on ITV, but the ground is currently heavy, waterlogged in places and an inspection will take place at 8am on Friday to assess the latest state of play.

Chelmsford’s meeting scheduled for Saturday evening has been moved to an earlier start, from 5.25 to 2.50.

A statement from the British Horseracing Authority read: “In light of the current forecast for Saturday April 6, the BHA has agreed to move Chelmsford City’s fixture to a 2.50 start and rearranged the running order.

“This is in order to ensure an appropriate level of racing content for our customers on Saturday afternoon and offer potential ITV coverage to the Woodford Reserve Cardinal Conditions Stakes at 3.30 should other fixtures on Saturday be abandoned.”

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Fontwell loses National Spirit card to waterlogging

Heavy rain around the UK continues to hit this week’s National Hunt fixtures, with Sunday’s top-class card at Fontwell and Friday’s meeting at Warwick falling to the weather.

The £80,000 Grade Two Star Sports National Spirit Hurdle was to be the feature race of Fontwell’s biggest day of their centenary year.

However, persistent heavy rain has left standing water on the West Sussex venue, with 18mm falling prior to a 4pm inspection on Thursday.

Clerk of the course Philip Hide said: “The track is waterlogged and I’m seeing water lying where I’ve never seen it before.

“We just haven’t got any fresh ground to offer up to get any meaningful racing line, with a forecast for plenty more rain – although the forecast doesn’t have a lot to do with it, because it would need to improve a fair amount from where we’re at and there’s just no prospect of it happening.

“Even though I was expecting today to be wet, we’ve probably had 5mm above where I dreaded being. We had about 5mm in 25 minutes around 12 o’clock today.

“It’s an important race for us, but unfortunately, however much you want something to happen, you can’t make it happen. I couldn’t just keep going blindly forward, I’d be misleading people.

“It’s not a hard decision to make and it’s not a decision I’ll regret at any stage – I’m happy to have made it in a timely fashion, to be honest.

“Obviously, there’s a chance they might put the race on somewhere for those horses that have been waiting for it – I think Brewin’upastorm has had it as a target since winning it last year.”

Following another downpour at Warwick, the adjacent Gog Brook burst its bank and left the course unraceable due to waterlogging.

Officials quickly decided there would not be sufficient improvement ahead of raceday and called an early halt to proceedings.

A precautionary inspection has also been scheduled for 8am ahead of Exeter’s jumps meeting on Friday.

After 10.5mm of rain fell on Thursday morning, the ground was described as heavy but raceable, although the last hurdle in the backstraight is being omitted.

The prospect of further showers has forced officials to take another look at conditions in the morning.

Thursday’s meeting at Huntingdon was called off due to a waterlogged track, but prospects for Saturday’s big jumps meetings are more encouraging.

The Premier Raceday fixture at Kempton, which features the £150,000 Coral Trophy Handicap Chase and a trio of Grade Two events, is set to be staged on going that is soft, heavy in places.

There has been plenty of rain in the Surrey area but the forecast is for sunshine and showers on Friday and Saturday.

Newcastle’s Eider Chase card is currently set to be run on ground described as heavy, soft in places.

Gosforth Park received less rain than expected over the last two days and a bright and breezy day is forecast for Friday.

Temperatures could drop to around zero for a short time at night, bringing the possibility of a light frost, but raceday has a predcited low risk of showers through the afternoon, with a light breeze and highs of 7C.

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Heavy going at Newbury but ‘track is in very good condition’

Testing conditions will be the order of the day at Newbury on Saturday but no problems are anticipated if the forecast proves correct.

While more rain has fallen at the Berkshire track than was expected earlier in the week, no inspection is currently planned.

“We’ve had 45 millimetres this week, which is more than we were anticipating on Monday ahead of entries,” clerk of the course George Hill told Sky Sports Racing.

“We were expecting 25-35mm in total after entries but we’ve had more and we’ve seen a few tracks caught out already, but luckily we’re OK as we stand at the moment.

“The going is heavy, soft in places at the moment. We’re expecting 2-7mm, the forecasters are saying, but the heaviest of that will be this afternoon, so we’ll monitor that. It is due to finish by 5pm, so fingers crossed we only get what is forecast and we don’t end up with more, as we’re looking forward to tomorrow.

“I don’t think it will have a chance to get holding or tacky, I think it will ride as described or a little better, given we could have a dry 18 hours.

“The track is in very good condition, we’ve got fresh ground on both tracks and we vertidrained the track last week, which helped us out massively ahead of this heavy rain.

“Obviously, the Betfair Hurdle has filled for the first time in four years, which is fantastic, it’s great to have the Willie Mullins horses, they arrived in the early hours of the morning safe and sound.”

Unfortunately, Saturday’s meeting at Warwick has been called off due to a waterlogged track.

The fixture was due to feature both the Grade Two Kingmaker Novices’ Chase and the Listed Warwick Mares’ Hurdle, in which Cheltenham candidate You Wear It Well was set to run.

However, a total of 36mm of rain fell at the track on Thursday, leaving the course unfit for action.

Clerk of the course Tom Ryall said: “We had 36mm in total yesterday, it started about 4am and carried on through to midnight.

“When we came in this morning, parts of the back straight where it runs parallel with Gog Brook are waterlogged, as that was put on red alert last night, while the owners and trainers car park has flooded and that has spilled onto the track.

“We are basically about 50 per cent under water, so there is really no hope of racing.”

Uttoxeter were also due to race on Saturday, but that fixture has been abandoned.

The course is waterlogged, with further rain forecast.

Friday’s meeting at Kempton got the go-ahead after a morning inspection, while the other scheduled jumps fixture at Bangor was called off on Thursday afternoon.

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Waterlogging claims Saturday’s Warwick card

Saturday’s meeting at Warwick has been called off due to a waterlogged track.

The fixture was due to feature both the Grade Two Kingmaker Novices’ Chase and the Listed Warwick Mares’ Hurdle, in which Cheltenham candidate You Wear It Well was due to run.

However, a total of 36 millimetres of rain fell at the track on Thursday, leaving the course unfit for action.

Clerk of the course Tom Ryall said: “We had 36mm in total yesterday, it started about 4am and carried on through to midnight.

“When we came in this morning, parts of the back straight where it runs parallel with Gog Brook are waterlogged as that was put on red alert last night, while the owners and trainers car park has flooded and that has spilled on to the track.

“We are basically about 50 per cent under water, so there is really no hope of racing.”

Uttoxeter were also due to race on Saturday, but that fixture has been abandoned.

The course is waterlogged with further rain forecast.

Friday’s meeting at Kempton got the go-ahead after a morning inspection, although an area of the track is riding heavy, while the other scheduled jumps fixture at Bangor was called off on Thursday afternoon.

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Windtothelightning fancied to go well at Warwick

Oliver Greenall expects another bold showing from Windtothelightning in the TrustATrader Warwick Mares’ Hurdle on Saturday.

While the six-year-old is taking a big jump in class and is facing Jamie Snowden’s Cheltenham Festival winner You Wear It Well, Greenall is buoyed by the fact that only four will go to post for the Listed race.

The winner of four of her seven races under rules, Greenall, who trains in partnership with Josh Guerriero, hopes she can pick up some black type before potentially going chasing next season.

“She’s a mare on the up and I couldn’t believe that there was only four runners,” he said.

“She seems well, she’s had plenty of time since her last run, she should like the ground and she’s a tough, honest little mare.

“I can’t quite believe we are where we are with her to be honest, because she’s not flashy at home at all. She wasn’t over-expensive and when we first got her, she was a bit workmanlike and we didn’t have great expectations.

“We’re just delighted really that she keeps progressing and hopefully she’ll run well again.

“I think she’ll get three miles in time and, while she is a little bit small, I think she’ll go chasing.”

Dan Skelton’s Get A Tonic also runs, along with Mel Rowley’s Blue Beach.

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Givemefive puts Major winners on course for Cheltenham

Givemefive looks set to take his famous golfing owners to the Cheltenham Festival after maintaining his unbeaten record over obstacles with a runaway success at Warwick.

The four-year-old carries the colours of Smash Racing, a syndicate that includes a couple of Major champions in Northern Ireland’s 2010 US Open hero Graeme McDowell and his American colleague Brooks Koepka, who claimed back-to-back victories in the same event in 2017 and 2018 and has also won three PGA Championships.

A winner on the Flat for Johnny Murtagh in September, the Holy Roman Emperor gelding was subsequently snapped up to pursue a jumping career with Harry Derham.

Derham recalled how winning a challenge with McDowell during a Pro-Am contest led to him getting the two golfing stars on board.

He said: “I’ve known Graeme for a long time and the conversation about owning a racehorse came about at a Pro-Am event. He said if I got closer to the pin than him then he would buy a horse and I somehow managed to get it within a few feet of it and beat him.

“Graeme then got the other guys involved and they are both very engaged in all the conversations about the horse on WhatsApp.”

With Koepka’s friend Daniel Gambill also an owner, Givemefive made a successful debut for his new connections at Market Rasen last month and was a 2-1 shot to follow up under a penalty in the Hazelton Mountford Insurance Brokers Juvenile Hurdle.

Givemefive was a clear-cut winner at Warwick
Givemefive was a clear-cut winner at Warwick (David Davies/PA)

Derham had been eyeing the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Festival prior to his second jumping start – and while that still looks his most likely Cheltenham target, the trainer admitted he will also have to look at the Triumph Hurdle following a dominant 18-length victory in the hands of Paul O’Brien.

“I thought he had improved, but I was not expecting that,” Derham said.

“He was carrying a penalty against smart horses, but he is obviously a smart horse.

“He is a real professional little horse. Graeme, Brooks and Daniel are great guys and they were all watching the race in Florida. My WhatsApp has been going mad with messages after that.”

LIV Golf League 2023 – London – Preview Day – Thursday July 6th
Graeme McDowell with Sir Anthony McCoy during a LIV Golf League preview day (Joe Giddens/PA)

Considering future plans, he added: “We were hoping he might go and run in the Fred Winter (Boodles) and you could go for the Adonis at Kempton before that. Entries close for the Triumph Hurdle tomorrow and I’m going to enter him after winning like that carrying a penalty.

“I need to think about it. To run in the Fred Winter, he needs to have another run. If he didn’t need to have another run, then I would almost certainly run him in the Fred Winter.

“I’m not going to commit to anything now, but it is a nice problem to have.”

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Sam Brown hits the right note in veterans’ final

Sam Brown swooped late to deny Aye Right in the Unibet Veterans’ Handicap Chase at Warwick.

The event had been rescheduled from Sandown’s abandoned card last Saturday and a field of 14 was stacked with familiar names and fan favourites.

Aye Right has not tasted glory since winning the 2021 Rehearsal Chase but it looked as though he could finally break that barren spell as he jumped the last fence with a marginal lead in the hands of 7lb claimer Dylan Johnston.

However, Sam Brown was hot on his heels and the pair were almost level on landing before settling down for a proper battle on the run to the line.

It was Sam Brown who found most for Jonathan Burke though, with the Anthony Honeyball-trained winner pulling two and three-quarter lengths clear, with a further 12 lengths back to Mill Green in third.

“We have been quite lucky really as he had a bit of an issue and we would have been struggling to get him to Sandown last week,” said Honeyball, who was winning the race for a second time.

“We thought we had him in good order in general and this is fantastic. I knew half way through that in this sort of race, it was just giving him a chance to stay in there and his jumping was just good enough today, it kept him in it.

“Maybe the open handicaps are just going to be a bit tough for him sometimes if he isn’t jumping very slick, but Johnny just hunted him through it really and kept him on the bridle as long as he could.

Sam Brown won the Veterans' Chase at Warwick
Sam Brown after the Veterans’ Chase at Warwick (Adam Morgan/PA)

“Similar to Aintree, when he turned in, I thought when he gets into overdrive he can really pick up.

“We have thrown a few things at him really and the blinkers worked well at Punchestown, he went really well there.

“He went OK at Cheltenham, that was a ray of light for us last time out over two-miles-four. We just thought we would change things up and I don’t think it would make a lot of difference, but was just something for us to make us think we would find more.

“It’s great to get him here in one piece and then go on to win, and of course we won it with Jepeck a few years back so it was very special.”

Jonathan Burke enjoyed another big Saturday winner at Warwick
Jonathan Burke enjoyed another big Saturday winner at Warwick (Steven Paston/PA)

Sam Brown had handed his rider a broken arm when taking a crashing fall at the Chair in the Grand National, but he is more than forgiven having provided the 28-year-old with another big Saturday winner.

Burke said: “He owed me one and we got there. It was an awful fall in the National and I was lucky to come out of it with just a broken arm. He fell again at Punchestown only two weeks after and they’ve done an incredible job to get him back and to have the enthusiasm he has.

“I rode him in the Badger Beer and he didn’t want to know, so Anthony has tricked about with him and ran him over two and a half miles at Cheltenham and was never going to be his bag, but it was a case of getting him to try to finish a race.

“He enjoyed it today and went through the race well. Turning in, I just had to wait and not go too soon, but he was going to have to really give up on me to not win. Once I winged the last and got a crack into him, he picked up and was away then.

“I’m delighted for the horse and delighted for the owners, they were good enough to stick me back on him after decking him in the National.”

Aye Right finished a gallant second yet again at Warwick
Aye Right finished a gallant second yet again at Warwick (PA)

It may have been delight for connections of Sam Brown, but for Harriet Graham and Gary Rutherford it was heartbreak once again as Aye Right had to settle for minor honours for the third time this season.

“I’m dead proud of the horse but it is frustrating to be second again,” said Graham.

“Look at his record in these veterans’ chases – he’s been second, third, second.

“You can’t take it away from the horse and we’ll take him home and find him something nice for the spring.

“We were on the verge of going hunter chasing with him, which is level weights, but he’s probably too good for that still.”

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My Silver Lining clings on for brave Classic victory

My Silver Lining hung on for victory in an exciting finish to the Wigley Group Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick.

The three-mile-five-furlong heat proved a thorough test of stamina on soft ground and it was Emma Lavelle’s charge who emerged the victor in the hands of James Best.

Percussion was the first to really set sail for home but the two mares, Galia Des Liteaux and My Silver Lining, had the race to themselves in the straight.

My Silver Lining (17-2) had a couple of lengths in hand jumping the penultimate fence and still held a distinct advantage at the last, but Galia Des Liteaux was cutting into her lead with every stride on the flat.

However, the winning post arrived in time for My Silver Lining, who prevailed by three-quarters of a length, with the pair 12 lengths clear of third-placed Guetapan Collonges.

Best hailed it as a career highlight as My Silver Lining is owned by his mother-in-law Celia Djivanovic.

He said: “Emma, Barry (Fenton, assistant trainer) and the team at home have got her spot on for today and particularly Phoebe who rides her every day – she loves the mare more than me I think – and I’m just thrilled for all connections.

“I hadn’t fully gone for her and gave her a flick turning in just to keep her up to her work. I knew I was in front a long way from home and they can prick their ears have a look around, but I knew she would dig deep for me. As long as we jumped the last full of running, I was confident it would take a good one to get by us.

“With the family connection I think it is the best day of my career. It means that much that the whole family are here, my wife and my two boys. My mother-in-law loves her racing and I’m just so pleased to win a nice one for her. This is a very big race in it’s own right and the family connection makes it so special.”

The winning trainer was not in attendance but her husband and assistant, former jockey Barry Fenton, was at Warwick to witness My Silver Lining’s victory.

My Silver Lining and connections after big-race success at Warwick
My Silver Lining and connections after big-race success at Warwick (PA)

He added: “It’s a great day for James and I’m delighted for him. He gave her a lovely ride and a great ride all the way. He got into a nice position and got a nice rhythm and even though he committed early enough, he knew he had enough to get home. It was a great ride.

“What My Silver Lining lacks for in maybe a bit of class, she makes up for in honesty and simplicity, she’s just a solid mare.

“A Midlands National could be a possibility. It wasn’t like today was any great plan, she just worked her way into her position today. You would have to be thinking something like that because I think that is what she is all about – long-distance staying races, lots of fences and preferably testing ground to take a bit of the speed out of it.

“She’s so straightforward for those National type races and she’s not a boat. I remember when Shotgun Paddy won this, it was essential he had to get out of the gate because he was a slow horse, but My Silver Lining just has a bit more.”

Galia Des Liteaux had won the Grade Two Hampton Novices’ Chase on this card 12 months ago, but was having to settle for the silver medal this time around.

Galia Des Liteaux was a brave second in the Classic Chase
Galia Des Liteaux was a brave second in the Classic Chase (Nigel French/PA)

However, connections had no excuses after her strong staying performance and hinted at a Grand National entry for the likeable eight-year-old, who was attempting to concede 20lb to the winner.

“I think you would have to enter in the Grand National and see,” said Tom Messenger, assistant to Dan Skelton who is currently away on holiday.

“Credit to the winner, we obviously gave her a lot of weight but it is good to see two brave mares at the end of a race like that.

“She was staying on well and Harry (Skelton) just said she was running a bit awkwardly round the bend, but once he straightened her up, she stayed on again.

“I think if we keep her in these staying races, she has a good attitude and jumps well.”

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J’Ai Froid digs deep for Warwick win

John Kington enjoyed his biggest victory in the saddle as J’Ai Froid took advantage of a final-flight blunder from Kyntara to claim the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at Warwick.

Both Laura Morgan’s winner and the Mel Rowley-trained runner-up were to the fore throughout in the extended three-mile contest, but J’Ai Froid’s chance appeared to have evaporated as the 11-year-old came under a drive two out while Kyntara appeared full of running under Charlie Deutsch.

However, Kyntara put in a sluggish leap at the last which gave the chasing pack hope and Kington conjured up extra from the willing veteran to rally for a three-quarter-length victory at odds of 8-1.

Kington was keen to express his gratitude to J’Ai Froid’s handler Morgan, who has allowed him to strike up a fine partnership with one of her stable stalwart’s this season.

He said: “I moved down by Laura’s at the start of the season and began to ride out, I’ve been in four or five mornings a week and she ended up putting me on him for his first run of the year and he ended up winning.

“Luckily enough and thank you to Laura, but she has kept me on him and we haven’t been out of the first two.

“It’s marvellous for the team back at home and I’m just a small part of the team who gets to enjoy riding him on the track.

“It’s one of the biggest days of my riding career and I’ve been at it a long time. I love my racing and this is what I’m here to do. I’m normally away somewhere else riding when the racing is on the TV and it’s thanks to Laura really for giving me that opportunity.

“Days like this are what you wake up in the morning for, finding that one horse, and I’m over the moon.”

Nigel Hawke’s Donnacha (2-1 favourite) had bumped into quality opposition when placing at Cheltenham the last twice, but supplemented his early-season Chepstow success with a battling display under Lorcan Murtagh in the Michael Costello Memorial Handicap Hurdle.

“He deserved that,” said Hawke. “The last two runs have been in good company and he hasn’t disgraced himself and he’s a work in progress and is improving all the time.

Donnacha is a horse on the up for Nigel Hawke
Donnacha is a horse on the up for Nigel Hawke (PA)

“We won at Chepstow first time out, so this is his second win of the season and he has been to Cheltenham twice. The idea was to go to Cheltenham to get an idea of what we have got and we got that.

“We waited 18 months before he even hit the racecourse, he was a lovely three- and four-year-old but we’ve waited and are reaping the rewards now. There is a lack of these horses in the country because it takes time, but with the right owners you reap rewards long term.”

Betfair left Donnacha unchanged at 16-1 for Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle on February 10 and Hawke confirmed that race would come under consideration for the steadily improving six-year-old.

He added: “He’s in at Newbury (in the Betfair) and we will see what happens – we will have to have a look at it.

“Whatever he does this year, he will be a better horse next year over two and a half (miles) and probably fences, so I won’t be killing him this year.

“I think we will look after him a bit and there are thoughts of the EBF Final (at Sandown) but by then the ground might have dried out.

“Let’s go home with the programme book and see, If he had won by 15-20 lengths today and he didn’t have the Newbury entry you would be kicking yourself, but we’ll see how we go. He’s a great horse for the future.”

There were only two runners in the Unibet Edward Courage Cup Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase but Dan Skelton’s Etalon marked himself as a horse on the rise by following up his impressive Newbury return with a cosy 44-length success.

Meanwhile, Joe Tizzard’s Diamond Ri (evens favourite) opened his hurdles account at the second attempt in the Wigley Support Fund ‘National Hunt’ Maiden Hurdle.

An impressive bumper winner at the track in the spring, he bumped into Paul Nicholls’ well-regarded Insurrection at Exeter on his hurdles bow, but upped in trip he produced a professional performance in the hands of Brendan Powell.

Diamond Ri got off the mark over hurdles at Warwick
Diamond Ri got off the mark over hurdles at Warwick (PA)

“I think the form of his Exeter run is brilliant and he just tweaked a muscle, hence you haven’t seen him again since,” explained Tizzard.

“He’s still very raw and has a lot to learn still, but he’s getting the hang of it and he’s getting the hang of jumping at home. He’s not going to be an immediate natural because he’s a big frame of a horse, but he has a big engine and Brendan was just educating him and said once you gave him a flick, he quickened away nicely. I like him a lot.

“He’s going to make a lovely chaser and he’s just a big, raw National Hunt youngster, he’s not a speedster or anything like that but he has a lot of class.

“He’ll get all the entries and we will run again in three weeks’ time (in a novice under a penalty) and we’ll see where we are. He hasn’t got to go to Cheltenham but he’ll have the entries and sometimes you have to take your chance while you can as well.

“We’ll just try to do right by the horse, let him develop and let him tell us where he wants to end up.”

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Grey Dawning back on track at Warwick

Grey Dawning regained the winning thread with a comfortable triumph in the Trustatrader Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick.

Dan Skelton’s charge had looked set for a Cheltenham victory last time out, only to make a mess of the penultimate fence, which saw him have to give best to Ginny’s Destiny.

Sent off the 5-4 favourite to make amends, Harry Skelton was happy to settle in behind the front-running Apple Away for much of the three-mile contest, with Broadway Boy the only other horse really in contention on the turn for home.

However, he began to struggle as Grey Dawning made smooth progress on the outside to grab the lead from Apple Away at the second last, despite running slightly down that fence.

He was also a bit slow to jump at the last, but Skelton’s mount kept galloping to the line to win by 14 lengths – a result which saw Betfair cut him to 10-1 from 16s for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

“You wouldn’t know how good this horse is and I couldn’t believe he won two bumpers, but he just comes alive at the track,” said winning rider Harry Skelton.

“Who knows where he might end up, but he’s very exciting and it was nice to see him win like that today.

“Apple Away and Broadway Boy went off on the front-end and I was able to just follow away and when we swung into the straight and got racing, he came alive.

“He had the race won and just pricked his ears. He went a bit left and he always does that. It’s gone really well and it’s nice to see him do that.

“I really think he could get any trip and the way he races, he just sits behind the bridle a bit, he relaxes and is never keen. He’s so unassuming but when you get him to the track he comes alive, so I think he will get any trip.”

With Grey Dawning’s trainer on holiday in Barbados, it was left to assistant Tom Messenger to assess the performance of the talented seven-year-old having scored on this card for the second year in a row.

He suggested connections could now take a look at Sandown’s Grade One Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase before a shot at the Cheltenham Festival comes under consideration.

“He’s so unassuming and you don’t think he is going anywhere, then Harry wakes him up and he comes alive and he put it to bed really quickly in what I think was a really competitive race,” said Messenger.

“We will really enjoy today and he obviously won on the card last year in the Leamington Spa. We always thought he would be a good chaser and barring a mistake at Cheltenham last time, he has been foot perfect so far, so we’re delighted.

“We may go to the Scilly Isles at Sandown if that is the right thing to do and he comes out of this all right, then he will have a couple of entries at Cheltenham and we will see. It’s really exciting.

“He’s had a few runs this year and Dan has always been keen to get him experience. If he’s the horse we think he might be next season, then he has to get experience and when he goes up against the big boys this year and next year, we want that to be with some experience under his belt.

“Dan has rang me and was very excited. I hadn’t heard from him all day, but I did then.”

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Twiston-Davies expecting Broadway to put on Warwick show

Broadway Boy is out to confirm his position as one of this season’s leading novice chasers in Warwick’s Trustatrader Hampton Novices’ Chase on Saturday.

Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, the six-year-old has excelled over fences so far this term, where ambitious campaigning has seen him win three of his first four starts over the larger obstacles.

Since his sole defeat at the hands of Flooring Porter, Broadway Boy has twice dazzled at Cheltenham – firstly when winning a Listed event by an emphatic 20 lengths and then returning in December to outgun a cast of seasoned performers which included former Gold Cup third Protektorat.

He now takes the next step on his novice chasing journey, with Willy Twiston Davies – who bought the horse for owner David Proos and rides him out most days – confident the talented gelding is the one the others have to beat.

He said: “He’s been very, very good so far and obviously it’s not Cheltenham, which is his preferred track, but he jumps very well left-handed and it’s a good jumping test for him, the ground is fine and we know he stays well, so you would hope he will be bang there.

“Looking at the race, you would like to think the others have him to worry about and they have to step up to his level, so we go there quietly confident.

“We will learn a bit more on Saturday and both Grey Dawning and Apple Away are not bad horses, but hopefully if he beats them, it cements him as one of Britain’s top staying novices.”

Dan Skelton claimed the Grade Two contest with Galia Des Liteaux 12 months ago and will attempt to repeat the dose with Grey Dawning, who scored on the card over timber in 2023.

Grey Dawning was highly impressive at Haydock in November
Grey Dawning was highly impressive at Haydock in November (Nigel French/PA)

Grey Dawning has made a respectable start to his chasing career, impressing at Haydock on his penultimate start before rallying following a juddering error two from home at Cheltenham last time to be denied by just under a length.

Some 14 lengths adrift of the Skelton contender at Haydock was Lucinda Russell’s Apple Away, who had to settle for third place on that baptism of fire in the chasing ranks.

However, the Grade One-winning hurdler put the experience gained to good use when romping home at Leicester next time and, having delighted connections with her jumping in the East Midlands, is now set another stern challenge which could dictate which path she takes later this season.

“I wish we could find an easier race, but this is where she is at and this is what we do,” said Peter Scudamore, Russell’s partner and assistant

Apple Away tasted Grade One glory at Aintree over hurdles
Apple Away tasted Grade One glory at Aintree over hurdles (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I think Nigel and Dan’s horses are very good horses but she jumped very well at Leicester and she won a Grade One at Aintree (over hurdles), so she deserves her chance.

“I was pleased by the way she jumped (at Leicester) and we gave her quite a big ask first time over fences at Haydock. But she learnt from that and got it together at Leicester and really jumped well. She has toughened up and is on the upgrade and let’s hope she puts up a good performance round Warwick.

“We would love to go to Cheltenham with her and we just need to decide if she runs in the mares’ race, a handicap or the Brown Advisory.”

Joe Tizzard’s The Changing Man split Cheltenham Festival winner Stay Away Fay and Grey Dawning when they clashed at Exeter and is entitled to his place in this line-up, while Evan Williams’ Carbon King completes the five-strong field, having made a winning chasing debut at Ffos Las last month.

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Veterans’ triumph in Ramses De Teillee’s sights

Ramses De Teillee will attempt to go one better than 12 months ago when the veterans get the chance to shine at Warwick on Saturday.

The Unibet Veterans’ Handicap Chase was the headline attraction on last weekend’s abandoned Sandown card, but all is not lost for some of the sport’s most popular warriors, with the race rerouted to the Midlands with a first-prize of £38,580 on offer.

David Pipe claimed the first ever running of this event with Soll in 2016 and came close to adding to his tally 12 months ago as Ramses De Teillee failed to reel in Mel Rowley’s shock scorer Wishing And Hoping.

Correcting the record has been top of the agenda ever since and having been kept fresh for the contest, a stroke of fortune sees the race take place at a venue where the gallant grey has impressed in the past.

“It’s great that they have rescheduled it and it is a very popular race,” said Pipe.

“This has been the plan all season and he’s in good form and won round Warwick last year so we know he handles the track.

“He goes well fresh which is a positive and we’re looking forward to it. It would be lovely if he could go one better this year and he’s in flying form at home.”

There is a stacked field of 14 heading to the start of this three-mile event but none arrive in better form than Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Good Boy Bobby, who pounced late to prevail against Aye Right at Chepstow before adding to his tally at Sandown.

Now owned by Dash Grange Stud, the 11-year-old will bid for a hat-trick in first-time cheekpieces which connections hope will help him negotiate the early stages of the contest.

“Bobby has been brilliant this year and this has been the target since Jayne McGivern (of Dash Grange Stud) bought him and kindly sent him back to us,” said Willy Twiston-Davies, assistant to his father.

“He’s wearing cheekpieces because it is going to be a bigger field and a lot more competitive than his last two, so hopefully it will help him get a good start and travel over the first few.

“He looks in very, very good form at home and the track and trip will be perfect and we’re expecting another bold bid.”

Thomas Darby carries Olly Murphy's  hopes
Thomas Darby carries Olly Murphy’s hopes (Mike Egerton/PA)

Venetia Williams’ Cepage and Olly Murphy’s Thomas Darby both arrive having tasted victory in their most recent outing.

The latter, who was fourth in the Chepstow event won by Good Boy Bobby on his return, took a good step forward to deny the reopposing Mill Green over track and trip and possesses a touch of class that could see him thrive even at this late stage of his career.

“He’s in good form and this has been the race we have targeted ever since he won at Warwick the last day and we’re looking forward to running him,” said Murphy.

“He has course-and-distance form and fingers crossed he will have a good chance in a competitive race.

“It will be his first run in what would be a really big-field competitive handicap over fences, but for his age I think he is pretty unexposed over the larger obstacles.”

Harriet Graham and Gary Rutherford’s Aye Right has had to settle for minor honours behind both Good Boy Bobby and Thomas Darby so far this term.

The consistent 11-year-old will be partnered by the talented 7lb conditional Dylan Johnston as Graham and Rutherford seek to further reduce Aye Right’s burden and connections dream of landing a first victory since the 2021 Rehearsal Chase.

“We made the decision to put a 7lb claimer on because he is not a big horse and we have always felt the handicapper has never really relented on him and we just thought we should try it,” said Graham.

“Dylan is one of the good up-and-coming conditionals, so we thought we would give it a go and we’re quite excited about it.

Harriet Graham's Aye Right
Harriet Graham’s Aye Right (PA)

“The handicapper has let him off a little bit but it’s taken a lot of asking. Even to qualify for the race, because the qualifiers are 0-150 and he was 154 I think, I had to get the handicapper to drop us so we could qualify.

“He has relented slightly, but when you compare him to Good Boy Bobby who beat us at Chepstow and we beat him two years ago in the Rehearsal, I think he has been a lot more lenient with him and he’s never gone up to the same extent that Aye Right ever went off.

“We know Aye Right always runs an honest race and because of his front-running style, he’s hardly hiding, but it’s great to have a horse like that.”

Fellow northern raider Top Ville Ben went close at Aintree on Boxing Day and is another heading into the race with good form to his name, with Richard Hobson’s Lord Du Mesnil another to make the podium prior to this.

Two For Gold has been a real stalwart for trainer Kim Bailey
Two For Gold has been a real stalwart for trainer Kim Bailey (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Meanwhile, set to shoulder top-weight is Kim Bailey’s Two For Gold, with the handler thrilled to give his high-class staying chaser the chance to compete amongst his fellow elder statesman.

“It’s a very competitive race and the poor old chap has to carry top-weight,” said Bailey.

“If he finished in the first four I would be thrilled to be quite honest, but having said that he seems in a very good place.

“Veterans’ races are very popular and I’m a big supporter of them.”

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Aye Right remains on course for veterans’ final

Harriet Graham has confirmed Aye Right an intended runner in Saturday’s rearranged Unibet Veterans’ Handicap Chase Final at Warwick but is a little disheartened the prize-money has been reduced.

The original race was due to be run for £100,000 at Sandown last weekend, when it would have been the feature race, but that meeting was abandoned through waterlogging.

This Saturday, the race will take place at Warwick, like Sandown owned by Jockey Club Racecourses, but the total prize fund is down to £75,000.

“He’s still in and the plan is to go, hopefully the weather doesn’t intervene again,” said Graham, who trains Aye Right in partnership with Gary Rutherford.

“I’m a little bit put off that they’ve managed to knock £25,000 off the prize fund. This race will probably have 14 runners and nearly every horse will have a story behind it. We’ve all run in races to get there.

“I know it is really hard to reschedule races and I know everybody at the BHA works really hard to do it, but it just seems a wee bit cheap. That’s just my feelings, it maybe doesn’t matter to the big trainers and owners.

“It’s a bit like Premierisation, it’s awful for small trainers and awful for small racecourses. They are taking the money from the poor to give to the rich. It’s Robin Hood the wrong way round.

Two For Gold is the highest rated among the entries
Two For Gold is the highest rated among the entries (Steven Paston/PA)

“I know the Jockey Club have two Premier meetings on Saturday, with Kempton and Warwick with really decent prize-money, but to me it just seems a bit cheap to take money off what is a Final.

“These horses have provided entertainment for the last six or seven years, a little recognition would have been the right thing to do.

“I am pleased it’s on, we plan to go and hopefully the weather doesn’t spoil it again.”

Aye Right is once more likely to meet Good Boy Bobby, the two fought out the finish to the 2021 Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle and the seventh leg of the Veterans’ Series in October at Chepstow, securing a narrow success apiece.

Thomas Darby, Two For Gold, Sam Brown, Mill Green, Ramses de Teillee and Lord Du Mesnil are among 16 entries.

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