All-Weather 2016/17: Horses to Follow

By Mark Rowntree (@uptheirons007)

Lingfield Park (October 27) heralds in the return of the All Weather Championships for 2017, so now is the opportune time to focus upon a handful of horses that can almost certainly make their mark on the All-Weather this winter.

Lightscameraction (Gay Kelleway) will need no introduction to All-Weather aficionados. The 4yo Pastoral Pursuits gelding sports an impressive record on synthetics, with his most notable victory coming in the 5f 3yo Sprint on All Weather Championships Finals Day 2015. After taking a Handicap from a mark of 102 (Dec 2015) & a Listed Fast Track Qualifier off 106 (Feb 2016), he returned to Lingfield to tackle the 6f all age Sprint Championship final on Good Friday 2016. Weakening inside the final furlong, he could only muster eighth place behind Alben Star from his revised perch of 109.

Lightscameraaction recently returned on turf from an extended summer break seeking to capitalise on a much lower mark on grass. Touched off at Chester, he missed an intended run at Beverley due to softening ground, and has raced twice more at Haydock, and at Leicester. Looking certain to score on the latter occasion (in a Class 2 Handicap) he drifted inside the final furlong and was run down close home by Mirza. His trainer has gone on record as stating the winter All-Weather season is the main focus with Lightscameraction, and despite holding a lofty rating, he’s certain to be ultra-competitive in the very best quality 5f races at Lingfield Park.

Zymyran (David Simcock) is a progressive juvenile in the care of a trainer who is progressing quickly through the Newmarket ranks. This Henrythenavigator colt has only experienced a Tapeta synthetic surface to date, having raced at Wolverhampton & Newcastle, alongside Chepstow, Epsom and Yarmouth on turf. Successful from a mark of 70 on his fourth start at Yarmouth, he brought a progressive profile (and a revised mark of 75) to Newcastle in late September for a Class 4 Nursery over the straight mile. Held up in behind, in very tough, gusty conditions, he made smooth headway when pulled out by Jamie Spencer at the furlong pole, and only had to be shaken up to draw readily clear to down Major Cornwallis by an ever widening three and a half lengths.

The confidence with which Zymyran was handled by Jamie Spencer suggested a safe knowledge that he was way better than his mark of 75, with much of this confidence likely gained by the fact that his previous race at Yarmouth had subsequently worked out extremely well. Raised 10lbs for this Newcastle success (to a mark of 85) he reportedly has a valuable Nursery target ahead at Wolverhampton in November.

Faiseur De Miracle (Micky Hammond) hasn’t been seen on a racecourse since May 2016, but looks the type to do well on artificial surfaces. Picked up by his shrewd trainer after just a sole start for Mark Johnston as a 3yo in 2015, he reappeared on the Tapeta at Wolverhampton as a 4yo in February 2016. A striking individual he travelled beautifully through that race, posting an excellent comeback run, beating all bar the Roger Varian trained Appeared.

Faiseur De Miracle duly backed up this reappearance run by making all and hacking up by six lengths in a similar Wolverhampton Maiden before following up in a decisive manner from a mark of 83 in a 1m3f+ Soft ground Catterick Handicap in April 2016. On his most recent start in May, a mark of 94 proved beyond him at Hamilton Park. Whilst it’s fair to say he didn’t quite get the run of the race or perhaps handle the much faster conditions, he could only finish sixth of eight to Sir Chauvelin. Given his style of running, sharper tracks such as Lingfield and Wolverhampton are most likely to suit Faiseur De Miracle, as opposed to the more galloping aspect of his most local All-Weather venue (Newcastle). However, if taking the All-Weather route as opposed to hurdling; which is a possibility given his dual purpose trainer, he’ll most likely pick up a decent 1m2f+ Handicap this Winter.

Flymetothestars (Sir Mark Prescott) is a strapping, scopey three-year old Sea the Stars gelding who is firmly back on an upward trajectory. A winner of a 1m Maiden on debut at Southwell in February; when downing Hermitage Bay (pair twelve lengths clear of the remainder), he perhaps raced too keenly on his return (up in trip for his Handicap debut) on the Kempton Polytrack on September 21st.

Flymetothestars & Ryan Powell

However, Flymetothestars bounced right back to his best next time (in early October) when stepping upto 1m 4f on the Tapeta at Newcastle. Again keen, he was produced at the two furlong pole by Ryan Powell, this time edging left, but staying on strongly to see off All About Time by one and a half lengths. Raised 8lbs from a mark of 83 to 91 for this success, this rise doesn’t appear enough to stop him following up, with jockey Ryan Powell telling stating that “he nearly went round again” when asked if he’d be suited by stepping up even further in trip. If remaining in the care of Sir Mark Prescott for a winter campaign on the All-Weather (and not heading to the sales); expect Flymetothestars to figure very high up the pecking order in the middle distance or stayers divisions.

At the other end of the spectrum, and unlike the horses mentioned above, Groundworker (Paul Midgeley) can hardly be described as progressive. However, this doesn’t mean that the 5yo Tagula gelding can’t have a profitable winter on synthetic surfaces.

A three time winner (on turf) for previous trainer Sylvester Kirk, Groundworker has been placed on five occasions from nine starts for his current trainer. Unexposed and lightly raced on synthetic surfaces, his fast-falling Handicap mark (60) looked very appealing ahead of his most recent run at Newcastle. His mark had in fact fallen by 10lbs (from 70) since his last appearance on the All-Weather at Wolverhampton in March 2016, and he was dropping into 0-60 grade for the very first time.

Not quite getting the run of the race at a crucial time around the two furlong pole, he was unable to reel in the Richard Guest trained Horsforth, but got to within a fast diminishing half-length at the line. Success in a future 0-60 Handicap for Groundworker is a formality, especially with the tongue-tie now reapplied for the first time by his current trainer. At a fairly lowly level, he’s more than capable of progressing quickly with his highest winning rating on turf in 2014 coming from a mark of 75. He’s the type of horse to go under the radar in the North and will pay to follow at the minimum 5f trip.

Footnote: All content is the Copyright of MarkRowntreeRacing. Permission should be sought directly from the author (Mark Rowntree: @uptheirons007) before reproduction in print or online. Should such permission be granted, full author acknowledgement must accompany the reproduction.

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Audio Racing Previews & Reviews 

If you’ve been following this website for a number of months or even years, you’ll undoubtedly have noticed a reduction in the number of posts from race meetings across the North.

However, this certainly doesn’t mean that I’ve not been going racing; far from it in fact. Time constraints and other professional & personal commitments mean that I’ve been unable to maintain the regularity of these posts throughout 2016.

More recently, I’ve been posting regular audio updates on AudioBoom (under MarkRowntreeRacing). This is not only quick and convenient from my perspective, but also allows the listener to download and listen to my latest thoughts whilst on the move. 

An example from the weekend is available here: 

As always, these posts are freely available for all. Please do let me know what you think.

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The North & Scotland: National Hunt Horses to Follow 2016/17

by Mark Rowntree (@uptheirons007) 

HESTER FLEMEN – Nicky Richards (Paul & Clare Rooney)

8yo Chestnut Mare – Flemensfirth/Hester Hall

Hester Flemen hasn’t been a regular visitor to the racecourse, but she’s unbeaten in three rules appearances for Donald McCain and Nicky Richards. A strapping, strong mare with a background in Irish Point to Points, fences were always going to be her forte, so in truth it’s no real surprise that she’s been lightly raced as she fills out into her frame.

A facile Carlisle bumper victory (December 2014) was quickly backed up by a winning debut over hurdles in a small field Novices Hurdle for Mares (2m4f) at Newcastle (January 2015). Absent thereafter, she left the care of Donald McCain during the early months of the 2015/16 season to join Nicky Richards at Greystoke.

She made her first start for Richards at Catterick in December 2015, when making all and staying on well to take a 3m 1f Beginners Chase by six lengths. In maintaining her unbeaten record, she disposed of the more experienced trio of Racing Europe, Central Flame and Warriors Tale.

This success left Richards with a dilemma for the remainder of the season, with few suitable Novice events open to a mare with her ability. However, as has always been the case with Hester Flemen, the longer term is of more importance, and her trainer has stated that she’ll be upped markedly in grade this winter.

Richards reported to Racing UK: “I think she’ll be a black type mare – she’s very nice.” Furthermore, with her bumper, hurdle and beginners chase victories all coming on either Soft or Heavy ground, Richards noted: “She’s very ground dependent –she needs cut.”

LADY BEAUFORT – John Quinn (The Desperados)

5yo Chestnut Mare – Shirocco/Kadassa

The word ahead of her debut on Morebattle Hurdle day at Kelso (February 2016) was that plenty was expected of Lady Beaufort. However, similar comments also applied to her main market rival, the Nicky Richards trained Randy Pike.

Lady Beaufort raced prominently towards the leaders and travelled well throughout before ranging alongside and swiftly past Randy Pike approaching the final furlong. With the pair pulling well clear of the remainder, Lady Beaufort was merely pushed out by Richard Johnson to record a comfortable three length success.

Whilst strictly on paper, a Class 6 Heavy ground National Hunt Flat race at Kelso isn’t worth going overboard about; especially with Randy Pike a well beaten third at Ayr subsequently, the professional attitude of Lady Beaufort stood out.

Lady Beaufort passed through the Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham Festival Sale (Lot 2), but was retained by her vendor at £80,000. If kicking off the new campaign from her current yard, Lady Beaufort is likely to be campaigned in Novice Hurdles, and quite possibly if progressing quickly, she may be able to follow Intense Tango’s route to Wetherby and then onto Doncaster for the Listed and Grade 2 Mares’ Hurdles.

CLOUDY DREAM – Malcolm Jefferson (Trevor Hemmings)

6yo Grey Gelding – Cloudings/Run Away Dream

Cloudy Dream needs little by way of introduction, having progressed rapidly through bumpers, novice hurdles and into competitive handicap hurdles.

The grey Cloudings gelding kicked off his previous campaign in a bumper at Carlisle (October 2015), before being a beaten odds-on favourite in a Hexham Novices Hurdle. The suspicion was he’d been given a moderate ride at Hexham, with subsequent time analysis seeming to back this view up. Held up off a very slow pace, the race developed into a blisteringly quick finish over the final two furlongs. Nevertheless, the form worked out well with both the winner Nuts Well and second Waiting Patiently also progressing quickly thereafter.

Stepped upto 2m 3f next time at Doncaster, he galloped all over old foe Waiting Patiently showing a smart turn of foot from the final hurdle to score by one and a quarter lengths. After a few months off the track he went onto produce a career best on each of his final two starts upped into Handicaps.

As a six length winner over 2m 2f+ at Market Rasen (off 122), he subsequently contested the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr from a revised mark of 133. He fair rattled home from the last (when seventh at best) to get within a fast diminishing length and a quarter of the Dan Skelton trained Ch’tibello. Ch’tibello of course having form closely tied in with Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Altior from earlier in the season.

Whilst Cloudy Dream has shown an ability to handle Soft ground, he avoided the worst of the winter weather and Good or Good to Soft seems to be his optimum underfoot conditions. The suspicion is that despite his ownership, he’ll most likely remain over hurdles this season, with valuable conditions events such as the Morebattle and Premier Hurdles (over 2m 2f at Kelso) possibly on the agenda. He’ll start the 2016/17 season with a revised hurdles rating of 137.

BETAMECHE – Dan Skelton (Judy Craymer)

5yo Grey Gelding – Kapgarde/Kaldona

With Dan Skelton training at Alcester in Warwickshire, I admit to being a shade out of geographical focus by including Betameche within this list. However, I make no apology, and having previously been trained by Nicky Richards and unbeaten in bumpers at Newcastle & Wetherby, his inclusion is fully justifiable.

A physically impressive grey gelding, Betameche was a striking winner of a Class 6 Newcastle National Hunt Flat race (December 2015) on debut as a four year old. Well backed overnight, and despite showing some signs of greenness, Betameche got the job done with the minimum of fuss, and in the style of a horse with a very bright future.

Therefore, it came as a major surprise to learn that Betameche had been sold by his previous owners (Langdale Bloodstock) to head into training with Dan Skelton.  He reappeared for his new connections at Wetherby (April 2016) with the market strongly suggesting that he would be forced to play second fiddle to the Warren Greatrex trained Keeper Hill. However, upon visual inspection in the paddock, Betameche simply reaffirmed my previous belief that he was a very nice youngster in the making, which frankly left me baffled by such market disparity.

Betameche travelled strongly throughout for Bridget Andrews, eased to the front about a furlong and a half from home and galloped on strongly to repel previous winners Sam Spinner and Keeper Hill by four and a half and six lengths respectively.

“Abundantly talented” were words that I’d used to describe Betameche following his Newcastle debut success, and whilst both of his victories to date have come with cut (Soft & Heavy), he appears to lack neither speed nor stamina. If continuing to progress for his excellent young trainer, it’ll be no surprise to see Betameche in action at Cheltenham come March 2017. Based upon what we’ve witnessed, 2m 4f could be his optimum trip for a Novice Hurdle campaign.

NEWTOWN LAD – Lucinda Russell (John J Murray/Lynne Maclennan)

6yo Bay Gelding – Craigsteel/Rocher Lady

Newtown Lad is a horse that strikes me as very much in a similar mould to the Michael Scudamore trained Kingswell Theatre (in the same ownership).

A 20 length winner of a three-mile Yielding to Soft Irish Point to Point at Boulta (November 2015), Newtown Lad has subsequently raced on three occasions this side of the Irish Sea for Lucinda Russell.

An inauspicious seventh of twelve in a Haydock bumper in late March 2016, was somewhat surprisingly backed up by success just a couple of weeks later at Hexham in a Heavy ground two mile Novices Hurdle.

Whilst Newtown Lad looked the part pre-race at Hexham, it was very much with the longer term in mind. A strong looking rangy individual, Newtown Lad appeared very much chasing material; and chasing material over staying trips to boot.

Therefore; it was a shade disappointing that Newtown Lad wasn’t able to build upon his initial success when stepping upto 2m 7 & a half furlongs back at Hexham in another Novices Hurdle. Beaten into fourth by just over four lengths by Buckskin Boulta, Newtown Lad was a shade laboured and one paced in the closing stages of the race.

However, in his defence, this race was came in June, was off a short break, and he did have the disappointing but talented 125-rated Another Bill in behind. Furthermore, an official going description of Good is likely to have been plenty quick enough for Newtown Lad.

A Novice Chase campaign most likely awaits this winter, with staying distances of three miles on Soft ground promising to suit. Although the bare form of his Hexham success may not amount to much (fourth placed Wazowski did win subsequently), Newtown Lad will more than pay his way with time in both Northern Novice Handicap and Handicap Chases.

WAITING PATIENTLY – Malcolm Jefferson (Richard Collins)

5yo Bay Gelding – Flemensfirth/Rossavon

Waiting Patiently has form closely tied in with Cloudy Dream, and whilst it was no surprise to see Cloudy Dream reverse Hexham placings with Waiting Patiently at Doncaster (November 2015), Waiting Patiently remains a most promising prospect.

By Flemensfirth, Waiting Patiently appeared to avoid the worst of the ground last winter, and the combination of a sharper track and drying Good to Soft ground helped the 5yo break the Maiden tag in an above average Class 4 Novices Hurdle at Sedgefield on his final start (January 2016).

This Sedgefield race looked competitive on paper beforehand with runner up Libby Mae a three time course winner, and the third placed Western Rules (undone by the drying ground) a prior dual bumper and Novice Hurdle scorer. Furthermore, the fifth placed Ash Park went onto record four victories subsequently for Stuart Coltherd by mid-June 2016.

Confidently handled by Harry Challoner, Waiting Patiently evidently relished stepping upto 2m3f at Sedgefield, staying on strongly to score by three and a half lengths.  An official hurdles rating of 123 looks very workable, set alongside the improving Nuts Well (133) and Cloudy Dream (137). Waiting Patiently has enough ability to land a valuable Northern Handicap Hurdle for his new trainer Malcolm Jefferson. Drying ground will most likely play to his strengths and spring 2017 could well be his time to shine.

BIG RIVER – Lucinda Russell (Two Black Labs)

6yo Bay Gelding – Milan/Call Kate

Big River hasn’t been seen in action since winning at Kelso in October 2015, but is back in training ahead of the 2016/17 season. Noted on his trainers’ website as a strong robust type who should be a stayer over fences, he’s a horse to look forward to this season.

A Glenbane Point to Point scorer, the 6yo Milan gelding has visited the racecourse on three occasions for Lucinda Russell. A half-length runner up to the heavily backed Brain Power in a Newcastle bumper (February 2015), Big River quickly went one better the following month when downing the scopey subsequent dual hurdle winner Gully’s Edge at Kelso.

On his sole start over hurdles at Kelso (October 2015), he justified favouritism when taking the 2m Carnacrack “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle by two lengths from Just Georgie. Staying on strongly from the last, Big River appeared certain to be well suited by stepping up in trip, and it was a surprise to see him absent thereafter for the remainder of the 2015/16 campaign.

Big River looks the type to relish fences, and will be going Novice Chasing sooner rather than later. He’s likely to be far more adept over a trip of three miles (than two), although it should be noted he’s done the majority of his racing to date on ground no softer than Good to Soft. With this in mind, and if presenting themselves, it’s worthwhile waiting to see if he can handle more extreme ground conditions. However, Big River is a horse with a future over fences for a trainer who has a proven track record of excelling with staying chasers.

SAM’S ADVENTURE – Brian Ellison (Mrs J A Martin)

4yo Bay Gelding – Black Sam Bellamy/My Adventure

Sam’s Adventure more than demonstrated his natural ability by building upon an emphatic debut success at Wetherby when landing the valuable DBS Spring Sales Bumper at Newbury in March 2016.

This is a race which traditionally works out well and in just seeing off the Harry Fry trained Bags Groove by a nose, Sam’s Adventure displayed his character and tenacity in abundance. This Newbury test had been in stark contrast to his debut at Wetherby when largely unchallenged for much of the home straight he was merely pushed clear to score by nineteen lengths.

Furthermore, the fact that Sam’s Adventure was able to step up swiftly from a Class 6 to a Class 2 race in the space of four weeks, bodes extremely well for the future. At a relatively raw age of four, he not only maintained his unbeaten record, but defeated rivals from the South (some his elders) who were already previous winners. These horses included Sir Antony Browne (Alan King), Boudry (Warren Greatrex) and Cultivator (Nicky Henderson).

Sam’s Adventure’s owner tends to do relatively well with her Novice Hurdlers; so most likely to start off in a low key event in the North; it will be fascinating to see how this son of Black Sam Bellamy fares over obstacles. A trip of 2m at a track such as Carlisle would seem the obvious starting point, but Sam’s Adventure appears the type to be able to cope with stepping up in trip as the season progresses. Given his proven ability to handle testing ground, a reasonable late November target could be the 2m6f The French Furze Novices Hurdle at Newcastle on November 26th.

DUBAI ANGEL – Malcolm Jefferson (Mrs D W Davenport)

5yo Bay Gelding – Dubai Destination/Just Another Penny

Given an extended break since finishing second to Braavos at Market Rasen in October 2015, Dubai Angel promises to be a horse open to further improvement.

Whilst no match for the fully tuned up Meet The Legend at a Kelso twilight fixture in September 2015, Dubai Angel had shown distinct promise in emerging best out of a pack which contained subsequent three time winners Mardale and Barney Dwan; with the latter named landing a valuable Sandown Park Novices Handicap Hurdle (March 2016) from a mark of 129. Dubai Angel’s Kelso bumper was certainly a strong race for the grade and the time of the year, with Meet The Legend also making his mark for new connections in the South after leaving the care of Keith Dalgliesh.

Whilst appearing a shade one paced when beaten by Braavos (now rated in the high 120’s), Dubai Angel can be excused, with a step up to 2m4f over hurdles always promising to suit. Furthermore, with the benefit of hindsight in mind, it’s quite possible that Brian Hughes will be keener to play to those ‘staying’ strengths going forward than was the case at Market Rasen.

I’d anticipate that the combination of a further year to strengthen physically and the stepping up in trip over hurdles will see Dubai Angel in an increasingly positive light. He is a horse that is likely to be fairly well handicapped when allocated an initial mark, and can be envisaged winning plenty of races for connections who should be commended for favouring the longer-term development off their horses over the immediacy of a rushed development during their formative years.

BESTIARIUS – Keith Reveley (Richard Collins)

4yo Bay Gelding – Vinnie Roe/Chione

The overnight and early morning markets spoke volumes for Bestiarius ahead of his racecourse debut at Newcastle (March 2016). A half-brother to Night in Milan, the strong market confidence was well and truly justified as the four year old ran out a most convincing four length winner of a Heavy ground ‘Newcomers’ National Hunt Flat Race.

In the immediate fortnight that followed this race, Bestiarius was a late entry (Lot 23) to the Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham Festival Sale, before being an even later withdrawal. Given this sales entry, it remains to be seen whether or not Bestiarius has been sold privately or indeed kicks off the new campaign for Keith Reveley.

Whilst the bare form of this Newcastle race is either untested (runner up Blakerigg yet to reappear) or deemed fairly moderate (third placed Black Ivory finally a winner at Hexham, and fourth placed Eaton Hill subsequently a runner up in a small field Ffos Las bumper), Bestiarius has the potential to prove far superior to his Newcastle rivals with time. He’s most certainly a horse for the notebook for Novice Hurdles, with an already proven ability to handle deep ground; conditions which prevailed at Newcastle throughout the majority of the previous National Hunt campaign.

Footnote: All content is the Copyright of MarkRowntreeRacing. Permission should be sought directly from the author (Mark Rowntree: @uptheirons007) before reproduction in print or online. Should such permission be granted, full author acknowledgement must accompany the reproduction.

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Hexham : 18th April 2016

A regular run of the mill Monday afternoon at Hexham, but very much the kind of fixture to suit ardent Northern National Hunt enthusiasts down to the ground.

The seven race card featured a plethora of horses we’ve got to know well over the winter months and testing ground conditions were yet again prevalent.

Beyondtemptation made all to land the 2m4f feature Handicap Hurdle under Thomas Dowson, in the process recording her fifth success from her last six starts. 

Given her rapid progress during the winter months, a mark of 100 was clearly still a generous one. Furthermore, she appeared to see out this trip of 2m4f well, having previously appeared much more suited to the minimum of 2m. Nevertheless, she will find life harder going forward, with the handicapper unlikely to miss following this career best effort. 

By contrast, connections of the third placed Kid Valentine could have justifiably felt aggrieved to have been allocated a steep looking opening mark of 120 for an emphatic course success in a recent 2m Maiden Hurdle. With this in mind, it’s most likely the Michael Smith trained youngster was beaten purely by his mark today rather than the step up in trip. He looks all stamina and ran a solid enough race at this longer trip given the circumstances.

Very First Time was one of two long odds-on favourites to be beaten. A winner of a decent Novice event at Newcastle early last month, Tim Easterby’s 4yo filly was reported to have run flat throughout on this occasion by jockey Brian Harding.

Newton Lad landed the spoils on his second start for Lucinda Russell (his debut over hurdles). A strong 6yo ex-Irish pointer, he looks every inch a reasonable Novice Chase prospect for next season. He dwarfed Very First Time, being very much the standout horse to take from the card.

Ryedale Racer (4/9f) was also comfortably beaten stepping up in trip to shy of three miles. The initial view that Malcolm Jefferson’s youngster was beaten by the trip probably worth shelving, given the post race reports which emerged that the 5yo had bled from the nose. That said; to my eye, Ryedale Racer lacks the size and scope for such a stamina test.

This statement couldn’t be further from the truth for the winner Conquer Gold. By stayer Gold Well, 3m is probably her bare minimum, and this strong honest looking mare is likely to be seen at her very best next year in staying Handicap Chases at the likes of Carlisle or Towcester.

Conquer Gold & Brian Harding   

Suprise Vendor loves Hexham, and the Stuart Coltherd trained 10yo comprehensively out pointed his eight rivals to take the 2m Handicap Chase with ease.

Raised 8lbs for a recent success over hurdles at Ayr, his chance appeared an obvious one from an unadjusted Chase mark of 99.

Although subsequently beaten here over 2m4f (by Flaming Thistle), and on the level at Pontefract (when losing a shoe), this track and trip clearly plays to his strengths (twice a winner here off similar marks). In truth, only Rosquero laid it down to Suprise Vendor, with the winner more than likely to score again should the ground remain testing. Hindsight also confirming that Rosquero must surely have won at Newcastle last week when unseating young Harry Reed at the fourth last fence.

Flaming Thistle recorded a fourth Hexham success with a gritty performance in the 3m Handicap Chase. The strapping 12yo has a clear affinity for the Northumberland track and comfortably reversed placings with Gibbstown a mere twenty days on from their last meeting. 

This 3m trip is ideal for Flaming Thistle, and he was given a great ride from Grant Cockburn to enhance his course record on Heavy ground to 3 wins from 4 starts. Cockburn had previously partnered Flaming Thistle to an all the way success over 2m4f here in March.

The veteran Ockey De Neulliac just held on to land the odds from Wicklow Lad in the Hunters Chase despite appearing all over the winner when clear at the last. This trip of 3m most likely just stretching the stamina of a grand old 14yo. Sam Coltherd was recording a double in booting home the ex-Ferdy Murphy trained gelding.

The concluding three runner bumper went the way of outsider Knocklayde (11/4); providing Galashiels trainer Katie Scott with her first winner in a bumper. Scott being more commonly known for her chasers.

The next fixture at Hexham is on April 30th with the feature race being the Heart of All England Maiden Hunters Chase.

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From Yorkshire & Nottinghamshire to Maison Laffitte (via Timbuktu) with Victoria Haigh

The bustle of the commune of Maison Laffitte in the north-western suburbs of Paris may be a far cry from Wiseton, Nottinghamshire, but for former model, jockey and now trainer Victoria Haigh it could quite frankly be Timbuktu just so long as her life is with horses.

Haigh is in the process of rebuilding not only her professional career, but her entire life, as the only fully French licensed English female trainer in France.

  Victoria Haigh (Image supplied via :

During the course of 2011, Haigh and her former partner became embroiled in a bitter child protection case, which had a devastating impact upon both of their lives. This case concluded with a custodial sentence for Haigh, but most sadly for her, the loss of all contact with her eldest daughter. Haigh explains:

“I haven’t just had to rebuild a career; I have had to rebuild my whole life from scratch with a baby to care for, with no friends or family around me, like a refugee.

“Sh** happens to everyone, but we all know it is how you bounce back that forms your character. My late father was a great footballer and had 18 years as a professional, so genes are passed on and my genes are not those of a quitter.

“I know my strengths, my talent and my ambition. To leave the country of your birth with nothing, only a two year old child, one must have a very good reason to do so.

“I am as determined to succeed in France as when I was in England. I am actually very happy that circumstances in the UK made me leave, as I adore France and would probably have never moved here otherwise.

“I will not allow things that were out of my control to determine the rest of my life.”

Life for Haigh is certainly about looking forward as she describes working with horses and helping them to achieve success as a fantastic job. 

Horses have been in her blood since a very early age. Her grandfather had several racehorses and their speed and more latterly the subsequent thrill of race riding reaffirmed this close bond.

At present, Haigh has six horses stabled at her pristine French base with a few more on nearby farms waiting for owners. Haigh explains:

“Maison Laffitte is a top class training centre. The team looking after the gallops are working on them all morning.

“I am very happy to be based here, and compared to my last training centre in Wiseton (where my ex-assistant Ivan Furtado is based) there is no comparison.

“If I trained listed and Group placed horses from Wiseton, with the right horses here, everything will be fine.”

The lure of French Racing is appealing for many owners and breeders with the added benefit of breeding premiums effectively serving to boost prize money. Premiums are paid to the owners and breeders of French-bred and French-assimilated horses in order to encourage and promote thoroughbred breeding in France. Haigh explains:

“Owners are involved here for a variety of reasons, but there are professional owners, which would rarely happen in the UK. In addition, there are many owner breeders too as the premiums available are good for the breeder.”

One of the other main advantages of holding a French license is the €3000 available to owners per year to transport their horses to the races. Whilst other former English trainers now based in France (but without a specific French license) do not benefit from this windfall, Haigh is more fortunate. Of the somewhat different situation back home in the UK she claims:

“Owners spend a fortune on transportation for peanuts in prize money.”

The French commonly hold English trainers in high esteem. Many believe that they have horses in their DNA and the fact that Haigh is a female trainer makes little difference to her career. For example, the success of Criquette Head-Maarek across International racing circles is of legend status in France, with Haigh stating:

“The Head family here are like the Balding’s, Hannon’s, Easterby’s Walsh and Carberry’s in England and Ireland.”

This open-armed welcome hasn’t made adjusting to life in France any easier for Haigh, but the more she has lived there the more she has grown to love the Country with the education system in particular drawing praise for immeasurably benefitting her younger daughter.

Haigh explains the numerous day-to-day challenges brought on by the language barrier, including her dealings with French Racing administrative bodies, banks, suppliers, bloodstock agents, jockeys and stable staff.

“There is a very good reason why there aren’t even more English trainers here. It has been (and still is) incredibly difficult.

“I speak and understand French to a certain level, but I’m not fluent yet. It will come with time and practice. My four year old daughter explains the storylines at the cinema to me!”

The French way of life and training career is very much a long-term project for Haigh. England is the past, whilst France represents the future.

“I’m here to stay. My daughter will be educated here right the way through her school days. She loves her life and is happy so that makes me happy.

“My life has never been too far away from racehorses and as long as they are in my life, it is bearable.”

The problems encountered by Haigh are well documented, but any accusation of a lack of drive or determination to succeed should not be levelled in her direction. Ambition continues to burn brightly, with further expansion (numerically) on the agenda. Haigh is seeking additional support from within France in order to achieve her dream.

“Getting access to train the top French thoroughbreds has to be the goal. I’m in talks with industry leaders about examining potential ways forward to take full advantage of being a previously successful English trainer now based in France.

“I have always loved the different classes of horse and how their breeding makes all the difference. I can spend hours just looking at sales catalogues.

“Long-term, I hope to have at least one of my two daughters follow me into racing. They both have a love for horses and ride very well. However, we will see how their education goes as they are both still very young so there is plenty of time.”

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Newcastle : 20th December 2015

An eventful feature Northumberland Chase went to the Nicky Richards trained Bernardelli as Newcastle brought the curtain down on 2015 with their traditional pre-Christmas raceday.

Partnered by Craig Nichol (registering a double after the earlier success of Jonniesofa), Bernardelli escaped the carnage in behind, leading at the third last and staying on strongly to score by a comfortable five lengths.

The striking No Deal took a heavy fall at the first fence before the favourite The Rambling Kid hit the deck at the ninth when holding every chance. The Rambling Kid also responsible for bringing down course specialist Boric and the riderless No Deal.

Whilst it was left to the rallying Carrigdhoun to chase home Bernardelli, the Maurice Barnes trained 10yo was in truth a well held runner up. That said, down in grade, this run represented a fair step forward for Carrigdhoun who’d been a shade below par of late.

Trust Thomas took third spot after looming ominously between the final two fences. However, despite this trip of 2m4f being in advance of his optimum (2m), history tells us that Trust Thomas finds precious little off the bridle. His winning chance truly scuppered with the omission of the usual final fence and an extended run in of one and a half furlongs. He needs all of the cards to drop his way and more to get his head in front, yet he nearly always fills the frame.

Jonniesofa (Rose Dobbin) had earlier initiated the Nichol double with a bloodless success in the 2m6f Novices Hurdle. His previous course second to Ballydine in the French Furze was rock solid form, and he duly preceded to make all putting sole conpetitive rival Deputy Commander to the sword.

Jonniesofa & Craig Nichol 


Jonniesofa will now be doubly penalised in Novice company (earlier Kelso success also solid), and he’ll need to either step up in grade or perhaps go Novice Chasing. 

He revels in soft ground and a good test of stamina, and is now clean winded after reportedly arriving at the Dobbin yard in Alnwick with a wind problem. He’s a decent prospect for an up and coming Northern trainer.

Nick Alexander also has his string in fine fettle, with Newcastle being a happy hunting ground so far this campaign. He and daughter Lucy followed up doubles at the previous Newcastle meeting with another double courtesy of Clan Chief and Gold Opera.

However, neither success was wholly straightforward and nor was the journey to the course from Scotland. The Alexander horsebox was forced to come West on the A69 from Carlisle rather than directly South on the A1 due to the ongoing closure of the Forth Road Bridge near Edinburgh.

Clan Chief has always looked a chaser in the making since scoring in a bumper at Ayr in the early part of 2014. However, having unseated Lucy Alexander over fences at Sedgefield recently the 6yo was switched back to hurdles in what looked a winnable 2m Novices Handicap.

Always prominent, the Generous gelding outstayed the runner up Mister Hendre down the finishing straight with the pair well clear of the remainder. From a mark of less than 100, Clan Chief looks likely to collect another Northern hurdle before heading quickly back over fences.

Mister Hendre was nibbled at in the market (25/1 to 10/1) and ran his best race to date for trainer Susan Corbett. Previously with Anthony Honeyball and Peter Bowen, the reasonably sized grey looks more than capable of landing a race or two from a basement mark of just 75. Having raced recently over further, this drop back to the minimum trip may prove to be the key to Mister Hendre.

Gold Opera took the 2m4f Novices Limited Handicap Chase to complete doubles for the Alexander’s. Whilst this success looked anything but likely with a circuit to run, the 6yo responded to his jockey’s urgings from the home turn and forged clear after jumping the last. A sharp manoeuvre around the omitted usual final fence apart, Gold Opera quickened up smartly looking every bit in need of this 2m4f trip.

Runner up Island Confusion (Lucinda Russell) posted a good comeback from a break conceding ten pounds to the winner Gold Opera. He looked the most likely winner at the second last and did nothing wrong at all off a mark of 116. Lightly raced for his age (7), he looks a natural over fences and will be off the mark next time.

Alto Des Mottes recorded a second UK success in the staying Novices Handicap Chase (2m7f+). The Dream Well gelding was building upon a short odds spring success at Hexham in disposing of Askamore Darsi by a decisive 13 lengths. Any sizeable uplift from his current mark of 112 will mean life will be much tougher for Alto Des Mottes going forward. However, he yet again demonstrated his liking for a most testing racing surface.

May Hay hacked up in a messy small field 2m Mares Handicap Hurdle. Making the long journey North from Newmarket for Anthony Carson, she was eased clear by Jack Quinlan down the straight from the exposed front runner Beyondtemptation. May Hay was clearly in a different parish to her three rivals here (even off 11st 12lbs) and will never pick up a softer race. She bypassed the chance to double up at Fakenham the following day having ‘not eaten up’.

The racing futures of Near to Tears and Lochnell look limited based upon their combined efforts. Whilst they may not have enjoyed the deep ground, their chances were also further weakened when their respective jockeys Peter Buchanan and Lucy Alexander gifted the proven front runner Beyondtemptation a soft fifteen length lead from the tapes. Neither horse was ever in the race thereafter with only Jack Quinlan aboard the winner seemingly ‘alert’ to the way the race was likely to be run.

Red Indian was a gritty winner of the concluding junior bumper for Lincolnshire trainer Chris Bealby. The 3yo Sulamani debutant made the most of the rail to get on top of the more experienced Very First Time (Tim Easterby) after a good battle from the two furlong pole. 

Whilst this race may have lacked any real depth, it was a pleasing effort from Red Indian and a good ride by Jake Greenall. I’d marked Red Indian down in the paddock as a horse who appeared a shade immature, so he can only learn from this racecourse experience. Very First Time appears to be improving with each and every run and did little wrong in defeat rallying under pressure.

Of the remainder, the odds on favourite Applaus was bitterly disappointing back in third. The clear paddock pick (size and well forward) he was unable to build upon an emphatic success in a similar race run in similar conditions at Wetherby. The extended 1m6f trip didn’t appear to be the excuse for his defeat, with the writing on the wall for Applaus with Joe Colliver pushing along on the front end on the turn for home. Whilst Applaus remains the best longer term prospect of this bunch over hurdles, the form isn’t likely worth going overboard about.

Newcastle are back in action (weather permitting) in 2016 on Thursday 7th January.

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Northern Update: 10th-15th December 2015

The latest Northern update covers the recent meetings at Newcastle, Doncaster, Carlisle and Catterick.

Newcastle – Thursday 10th December 2015

Got the Nac (Keith Dalgliesh) and Betameche (Nicky Richards) were the leading performers on the afternoon landing their respective races with a degree of authority.

The former was easy to back on his debut for Dalgliesh and new owners Richard and Katherine Gilbert. An ex Oliver Sherwood inmate he’d joined his new connections from the Doncaster May Sale for £40,000.

Racing keenly throughout, but fencing well, the 6yo Beneficial gelding had the race in safe keeping turning for home and ran out an unchallenged six length winner from the Keith Reveley trained Special Catch.

Got the Nac will certainly strip much fitter for this reappearance, and may learn to settle more on his next outing having shaken off his initial freshness. Although he beat relatively little of note with Kiama Bay bitterly disappointing, he’s clearly a 130’s rated horse with further potential for improvement.

In truth, Got the Nac looks to be an ideal replacement for the owners recently retired Montoya’s Son. Montoya’s Son was a standing dish at Newcastle during the course of last season.

The grey Betameche was the horse for money in the closing bumper. In a race which featured all sorts of shapes and sizes of horse, Betameche looked certain to be one of the more speedier sorts.

Well regarded by his trainer, and with the valuable experience of a racecourse visit (to Haydock in the Spring), this 4yo Kapgarde newcomer comfortably saw off his more experienced rivals (Puddle Jumper and Bambys Boy) by five lengths and more.

Held up, he made smooth progress on the home turn widest of all for Brian Harding before only being needed to be pushed out from the two furlong pole. High up in the pecking order at Greystoke, it’ll be fascinating to see where he heads next. 

The overall strength of this form will be tested with time. Although Bambys Boy was a previous winner, it was a weak race that he plundered at Kelso. Nevertheless, this shouldn’t detract in any way from a most striking debut from the abundantly talented Betameche.

Elsewhere on the card, Mahler and Me provided trainer Alastair Whillans with a first winner for Paul and Clare Rooney, whilst the ultra tough Marlee Massie (Nick Alexander) quickly followed up his Kelso success in the 2m4f Handicap Hurdle.

Doncaster – Fr/Sat 11/12th December 2015

Doncaster staged a two day weekend fixture. The going on Friday (Good to Soft) was far less testing than on Saturday when incessant rain throughout the day turned conditions Heavy.

Dimple (Pauline Robson) was the eye-catcher on Friday. He is a horse that I’ve kept an eye upon since his early bumper days. After his run at Newcastle, I stated; “This 4yo grey by Montmarte a nice sort to the eye possibly bogged down on deep ground at the tender age of four on only his second career start.”

He left the care of Chris Grant over the summer to move to Pauline Robson, and has raced twice over hurdles (at Hexham and Newcastle) prior to today. His hurdles debut coming in a decent Hexham event that featured Nuts Well, Waiting Patiently, Cloudy Dream & Away For Slates. All four of these rivals have run with immense credit subsequently.

However, it was the manner of his finishing effort here down the home straight (from two out) which marks Dimple out as a future hurdles winner. Beaten five lengths by Unbuckled and Aldeburgh, Dimple was fast cutting into this winning margin by the line.

A younger horse than these two rivals (still only four), Dimple now qualifies for a Handicap mark after three starts over hurdles. Whilst an initial slot of 114 could have ideally been lower, he’s a horse to have on your side for the remainder of the campaign granted a decent racing surface.

Saturday’s card was stronger in terms of overall quality, featuring the 2m Grade 2 Summit Juvenile Hurdle and the 3m Grade 2 December Novices Chase.

The former event was taken by the Alan King trained Who Dares Wins who followed up a debut hurdles success at Ludlow.

Driven clear from the second last by Wayne Hutchinson the 3yo Jeremy gelding saw off a visibly tiring but well supported Robertstown. 

An 85 rated Flat performer, it’s fair to say that Who Dares Wins has improved since Ludlow (again beating Fouburg). However, his old rival was clearly below par here, so exactly how much overall improvement Who Dares Wins has mustered in following up is ultimately difficult to gauge. 

Southfield Royale (Neil Mulholland) remains a Novice Chaser firmly on the upgrade. 

Following his victory on Charlie Hall Chase Day at Wetherby, I stated; “A test of stamina appears to be the making of Southfield Royale and he’ll continue to progress over the winter for Neil Mulholland with the (ex) Feltham Chase at Kempton in December a most likely target.” 

By following up here in Grade 2 company, a trip to Kempton surely remains an alluring option for connections. That said, he admittedly would need to prove his ability going right handed over fences.

Whilst his task was made considerably easier by the early departures of Smooth Stepper and Its a Close Call, his strength and stamina at the business end of the race (when others are beginning to struggle) means that Southfield Royale will be a tough nut to crack whatever the level of race in which he competes.

Carlisle – Sunday 13th December 2015

2014 Grand National winner Pineau De Re made the headlines for being the first Grand National winner since Bindaree (2002) to subsequently win another race.

He took the 3m1f Pertemps Hurdle qualifier by four lengths from Quel Elite and Donna’s Diamond. The latter named a shade outpaced at a crucial stage around Carlisle’s tricky inner hurdles course.

It was an afternoon for the old-timers as the 13yo Tullamore Dew took the final qualifier for the 2015 Veterans Chase Series for Micky Hammond by twelve lengths from the Colin Tizzard trained Golden Chieftain. 

Hammond notched a double as Verko completed the hat-trick. Having previously appeared difficult to win with, he’s been placed well by his excellent trainer for a new owner and clearly enjoys the combination of fences and cut.

Western Rules (Nicky Richards) bounced back from his debut hurdles defeat at Kelso to take the 2m3f Novices Hurdle. The 5yo dual bumper scorer saw off his only serious rival Bronco Billy in workmanlike fashion.

Western Rules remains a horse with masses of potential as discussed after his hurdles debut at Kelso. In fact, he only narrowly failed to make my Northern ten-to-follow list for the 2015/16 National Hunt season. 

Furthermore, it should be noted that Jonniesofa has franked this Kelso form subsequently when chasing home Ballydine in the French Furze Novices Hurdle at Newcastle on Fighting Fifth Day.

Catterick – Tuesday 15th December 2015

Catterick staged a highly competitive midweek card which was bolstered by entries from Paul Nicholls, John Ferguson and Philip Hobbs.

The gradual ‘slow creep’ of these leading Southern stables sending runners North can hopefully only be positive for the overall well-being of Northern National Hunt racing.

However, it was left to the old Northern stalwart Nicky Richards to saddle the 7yo mare Hester Flemen to run out the most striking winner on the afternoon.

Off for almost a year since winning over hurdles at Newcastle (for Donald McCain), Hester Flemen defied a market drift to gallop her four rivals into the ground in the 3m1f Beginners Chase.

This success marked her out as a circa 135/140 rated horse and she’s almost certain to improve markedly for this reappearance run. Owners Paul and Clare Rooney can hold lofty ambitions for her for the remainder of the season.

Whilst this race looked a strong one on paper beforehand, if you were at all seeking to question the merits of the form, it could be argued that at least two (possibly three) of Hester Flemen’s rivals were below par. 

Central Flame turned in a dismal effort whilst Seldom Inn has regressed since a fine start to the season at Kelso. Furthermore, favourite Warriors Tale tired notably late on before being pulled up over this extended 3m trip. However, this shouldn’t detract in any shape or form from a most visibly alluring performance from the striking Hester Flemen.

John Ferguson and Aidan Coleman registered North Yorkshire doubles with Berland and High Bridge.

The former was off the mark with relative ease at the first attempt over timber in the Juvenile Hurdle. He proved much too classy for his thirteen rivals. Whilst the runner up Miss Ranger (Brian Ellison) was flattered to be so close to Berland, she made good late progress without being knocked about and is very much a horse for the future. A winner at Chelmsford City recently, she’s sure to collect a similar Northern Juvenile Hurdle sooner rather than later.

High Bridge took the closing bumper with by far his best career effort in four starts to date. A horse held in the highest regard by connections, High Bridge has gradually overcome the disappointment of being a beaten favourite at the Cheltenham Open Meeting with a pair of fluent subsequent bumper victories at Huntingdon and Catterick. The 4yo will go hurdling after a short break.

Sixteen year old Abbie McCain recorded her first career success in the saddle when Danceintothelight took the opening 2m3f Handicap Hurdle. Daughter of trainer Donald (& Sian), McCain steered the ex Micky Hammond trained grey (& Catterick regular) to an emphatic 27 length success.

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