Tag Archive for: Yorkhill

Yorkhill and Don Poli feature at RoR National Championships

Yorkhill and Don Poli are among the names set to appear at this week’s Jockey Club Retraining of Racehorses National Championships at Aintree.

The event, which begins on Thursday, has attracted 276 former racehorses and is the elite level for those thriving in a second career – with dressage, showjumping and showing classes held across four days.

This year’s entrants have run in nearly 4,000 races collectively, and won a combined total of more than £5.3million in prize money.

Both Yorkhill and Don Poli retired from racing last season and will be making their debuts at the championships, where they will compete in newcomer and in-hand classes respectively.

Yorkhill is best known for his unstoppable career as a novice, with his two winning bumper runs followed by a string of top-class hurdle races including the Tolworth, the race now know as the Ballymore Novices’ hurdle at Cheltenham and the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle – all Grade One contests.

A graduation to chasing was a success at first, and the chestnut picked up another Grade One prize when taking the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Festival – but his talent came with a certain waywardness, and his tendency to jump to the left started to prove costly.

He was tried over hurdles again before eventually changing hands, moving from Willie Mullins’ stable to Sandy Thomson’s Berwickshire base and giving his his new connections, plus his sizeable fan club, a swansong performance when taking Newcastle’s Listed Rehearsal Handicap Chase at 66-1 last November before retiring because of an injury.

Don Poli also spent much of his career with Mullins, winning at successive Cheltenham Festivals before finishing third in the 2016 Gold Cup and second in Aintree’s Bowl Chase.

The bay also completed the 2019 Grand National and is eligible, alongside Yorkhill, to join Saturday’s ‘Always A Star’ parade at the RoR Championships – where he will be joined by 12 other high-quality horses including Un Temps Pour Tout, Carole’s Destrier and Kimberella.

Don Poli was a two-time Cheltenham Festival winner in his racing days
Don Poli was a two-time Cheltenham Festival winner in his racing days (Nick Potts/PA)

The Jockey Club is the title sponsor of the event for the first time, and Aintree clerk of the course Sulekha Varma said: “We are delighted to welcome back the RoR National Championships to the Aintree International Equine Centre in 2021, and it is fantastic that the Jockey Club is now extending its support to become the headline sponsor of the event.

“It is great to see some familiar names among the entries, including Yorkhill and Don Poli who both enjoyed some great days here at Aintree.

“Retraining of Racehorses plays an absolutely vital role in the racing industry, and it is a great honour for Aintree to stage its flagship event and publicise the outstanding work it undertakes.”

Di Arbuthnot, chief executive of Retraining of Racehorses, added: “Due to the work that goes into preparing these horses for the championships, combined with the location, there is a special atmosphere and camaraderie across the four days of the event. We missed it last year – and along with more than 250 former racehorses, we are very much looking forward to returning to Aintree this week.

“Our thanks to the Jockey Club, the new title sponsor of the RoR National Championships. We greatly value their support for RoR generally – and this event in particular, which represents an opportunity to demonstrate the outstanding care given to former racehorses in this country, together with the range of opportunities open to them.”

Ever-popular Yorkhill retired due to injury

Trainer Sandy Thomson hailed Yorkhill a “superstar” after confirming the dual Cheltenham Festival hero had been retired due to injury.

The 11-year-old claimed back-to-back victories at the showpiece meeting when trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins – landing the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle in 2016 and JLT Novices’ Chase 12 months later, but subsequently lost his form.

After owners Graham and Andrea Wylie opted to take a break from racing last year, Yorkhill moved across the Irish Sea prior to the start of this season to run in the colours of David Armstrong, his wife Donna and top golfer Lee Westwood.

And while he was pulled up on his first run for his new connections in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree in October, the following month he rolled back the years to land a popular all-the-way victory in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle.

However, having suffered a tendon injury when being prepared to run in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster last month, time has now been called on the mercurial gelding’s racing career.

Thomson said: “It’s disappointing news, but it’s been a huge privilege to train Yorkhill – I can’t thank Dave and Donna and Lee enough.

Yorkhill and Ruby Walsh on the way to victory at Cheltenham in 2017
Yorkhill and Ruby Walsh on the way to victory at Cheltenham in 2017 (Mike Egerton/PA)

“It was a very special day when he won the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle. It was great for everybody, including all of Dave’s staff, who did a lot of hard work with him before he came to us.

“He’s going out in one piece, he’ll have another life and he’ll love it.

“We’re lucky that we’ve been involved with such a superstar.”

Yorkhill won 11 of his 27 races under rules, amassing almost £350,000 in win and place prize-money.

Seeyouatmidnight ‘pencilled in’ for Midlands National

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.

Thomson in no hurry to map out Seeyouatmidnight plan

Sandy Thomson reports stable stalwart Seeyouatmidnight to be in good shape following his heart-warming success at Sandown on Saturday.

Just a day after officially turning 13, the once-retired gelding proved the fire still burns bright with a thrilling victory in the final of the Veterans’ Chase series under Grand National-winning jockey Ryan Mania.

In the immediate aftermath of his latest triumph, his proud trainer nominated the Scottish Grand National as a potential spring target

However, Thomson feels he has other candidates for the Ayr marathon, and is in no rush to finalise plans for a horse who made a winning debut for the yard over seven years ago before going on to win the 2014 Rendlesham Hurdle and the 2016 Dipper Novices’ Chase.

“He’s a bit weary, but all good,” said the Lambden handler.

“We’ll see what the handicapper does. He’s won a veterans’ chase and Crosspark (runner-up) probably isn’t brilliantly handicapped. We’ll keep both feet very much on the ground and see.

“We’ll be looking at a nice, staying handicap somewhere, but I haven’t really been through the programme book to pick anything out.

“We’ve had some fantastic days with him and Saturday was right up there.”

Asked whether the Scottish National was on the agenda, Thomson added: “It’s slightly complicated because we have one or two other horses who are perhaps pencilled in for that.

“We own Seeyouatmidnight ourselves and other people pay a lot of money to have their horses in training, so it’s a case of trying to keep all the balls in the air and keep everybody happy.

“Whilst it would be lovely to go to the Scottish National, it might be that Seeyouatmidnight goes somewhere else. We’ve got all these nice novices and I’d like to think one of them might prove really well-in in the Scottish National, so we’ll see.”

Earlier in the season, Thomson revived the fortunes of dual Cheltenham Festival hero Yorkhill to win the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle.

Having sidestepped the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day, he could be bound for the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster later this month.

Yorkhill after his Newcastle win
Yorkhill after his Newcastle win (Nick Robson/PA)

“It’s quite complicated with him, because he wants to go left-handed and a lot of races for him are right-handed at places like Ascot and Sandown,” said Thomson.

“We’ll try to get him to Doncaster. Failing that, we’ll have to make another plan.”

Yorkhill was one of two former Willie Mullins stars to join Thomson last summer along with Irish Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup winner Bellshill, who finished last of five on his first start for his new connections in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Thomson added: “He’s had a wind operation since Haydock and his plan is the Grand National.

“The weather has caused us problems, but we should have plenty of time to get there.”

Westwood’s tears of joy at Yorkhill’s comeback victory

Part-owner Lee Westwood has spoken of his delight at seeing Yorkhill return to winning ways in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle.

A multiple Grade One winner with Willie Mullins, Yorkhill had badly lost his way in the last two seasons – having previously looked destined for greatness when  he won at the Cheltenham Festival in successive seasons.

Golfing star Westwood took over ownership with friend David Armstrong, from their mutual acquaintance Sir Graham Wylie, and sent him to be trained in the Scottish Borders by Sandy Thomson.

“He’d kind of lost his way, like a few of Graham’s horses, and Graham lost the bug of horse racing,” Westwood told Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday.

“He had a few left, so myself and Dave said ‘why don’t we take a few on and send them to the north?’.

“Dave and Donna Armstrong, and the girls that do most of the work at their yard, are the ones I’m most pleased for – and it was an incredible training performance from Sandy and a great ride from Ryan (Mania).

“But the job in getting him back in love with racing that has been done at Dave and Donna’s, it was incredible to watch it all come together.

“I think he just needed the personal touch – they’ve given him a bit of time to nurture him back to where he was.

“I was at Cheltenham the day he beat Yanworth, and I got a real feel he was back to that sort of form. His ears were pricked, he loved his jumping, and when they came at him he went away again – he was even racing the loose horse at the end.

“I was in tears. I don’t often get emotional – but Yorkhill brought a tear to my eye and I lost my voice. It’s only just come back.”

Westwood’s record and play buttons may need some recovery time too.

“I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve watched the replay,” he added.

“I’m a bit of a technophobe but I managed to record it and keep watching it back.

“I’ll never get tired of it. It was a great jumping performance – he cruised around, (and) Ryan said he was a passenger.

“People love a comeback story, and this was certainly one. Everybody had written him off – he didn’t look himself when he turned up at Dave’s yard, and he got some criticism for that, but he did what he felt was right for the horse, and it was great to see it come to fruition.

“I never get involved with where the horses run. I’m just a golfer, I’m good at getting a little while ball into a little white hole – but he’s fine this morning, which is the main thing.”

Yorkhill sparkles again with shock Rehearsal Chase success

Multiple Grade One-winner Yorkhill rolled back the years and caused a 66-1 shock in the Betfair Exchange Rehearsal Handicap Chase at Newcastle.

A top-class performer in his days with Willie Mullins, for whom he won twice at the Cheltenham Festival, he badly lost his way in recent seasons and when previous owner Graham Wylie stepped away from the game, his friends David Armstrong and golfer Lee Westwood sent him to Sandy Thomson to see if any ability remained.

There was not much encouragement to be taken from his first run in new colours at Aintree, but set alight by Ryan Mania at the head of affairs, he looked to be back in love with the game, putting in some prodigious leaps.

Whatmore, Pym and Armstrong’s other runner Cool Mix closed to challenge, but Yorkhill dug deep to beat Whatmore by a length and three-quarters.

Thomson said: “Dave said to Ryan to go out and make it – it was his call and he loved it.

“We were really happy with him coming into the race. He had an away day on Thursday and loved it.

“Harry The Viking (ex-Paul Nicholls, Borders National winner) was the model to go against to freshen these old horses up, you just fiddle away with them to get them right.

“He did a nice gallop at Carlisle two weeks ago and today he was brilliant. At 10 he’s just a youngster!”

Yorkhill was introduced into the Grand National betting at 50-1 by Betfair, while Thomson and Mania were also on the mark with The Ferry Master (6-1) in the three-mile novices’ handicap chase.

Ella Pickard registered the biggest winner of her career to date when Getaround made all the running in the Newcastle Flooring “The French Furze” Novices’ Hurdle.

Having finished fourth in the Persian War at Chepstow behind McFabulous on his penultimate run, Getaround found himself able to dominate here.

Favourite Ask A Honey Bee made a late bid for glory, but Bryan Carver had just enough up his sleeve to hold on by a head on the 10-1 chance.

“We always thought he wanted better ground,” said Pickard.

“It was a really good ride from Bryan, who has ridden him all the way through.

“We’ll look to step back up class again now, this was one of the last chances for him to run as a novice, so it was important to get more experience into him.

“It took seven hours to get here, but you’ve got to go where the races are.

“We’ve got about 15 horses in, but this would be the biggest winner.”

James Ewart’s Ascot De Bruyere notched up a fourth win at Gosforth Park with a pillar-to-post success in the D J Jeffreys Racing Handicap Chase.

Running for the first time since a wind operation, champion jockey Brian Hughes got him jumping elaborately out in front and he never looked like being caught.

Ewart said: “He’s a lovely horse and everyone knows he’s a Newcastle specialist and that’s his fourth win here now.

“His best performance was actually over two and a half miles, so I said to Brian to make sure he made plenty of use of him today as I was actually worried the ground might be too good.

“Last year he had lots of little issues and it was the first season we’ve had him we didn’t win a race with him.”

Ewart later doubled up with the Rachael McDonald-ridden Fostered Phil (4-1)

Alan King tends to find a smart juvenile or two each year and Son Of Red made a winning transition from the Flat in the opening Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group Introductory Juvenile Hurdle.

Rated 66 on the Flat, he needed every yard of the trip to reel in the front-running State Crown, who had the benefit of experience.

Winning rider Daryl Jacob said: “That was a nice performance, he ground it out for me. He’s a lovely jumper, as you get from Alan King, and I was very impressed. That was his first run over hurdles and, please god, he’ll keep improving.”