THE central focus for racing fans will likely be on Scottish track Kelso today, which is a rare occurrence, but organisers of today’s card deserve lots of credit for evolving it into an engaging spectacle, at a challenge time in the calendar.
Prior to last year, for four years in a row, just four runners lined up for the Morebattle Hurdle (3.15), but the race was changed to a handicap, moved to today’s card which also features a Grade 2 chase, and had its prize money upped to £75,000.
That saw a field of 14 go to post and a captivating race won by The Shunter 12 months ago became even more significant when Emmet Mullins’s horse went on to win at the Cheltenham Festival, scooping a £100,000 bonus in the process.
The race is now worth £100,000 and has attracted another good renewal, headlined by the inclusion of dual champion hurdler Buveur D’Air. The inclusion of top-class horses trying to give weight away in handicaps is always intriguing and while Nicky Henderson’s 11-year-old may be past his best, he has been given a real break from the handicapper by virtue of a mark downgraded to 153 today.
Nico de Boinville travels up to ride him and writing in his Unibet blog yesterday, the rider said: “This is his first run back since Aintree last April, so of course you would expect him to improve appreciably for the run, but we have been happy with at home.
“He is an 11-year-old now, giving plenty of weight away, but we know what an outstanding talent he was. I see there is a bit more rain forecast for Kelso, but hopefully we get at the lowest end of what is expected, as very deep ground probably wouldn’t be ideal.”
Buveur D’Air ran just twice last season and after a disappointing comeback on heavy ground at Haydock, he wasn’t far away from Abacadabras in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle, which is his ultimate target again this term.
Two Irish horses have been attracted over to take him on, Autumn Evening for Jessica Harrington and Saint D’Oroux for Stuart Crawford, with the latter forced to race off a 7lbs higher mark in Britain.
Down at Newbury, Paul Nicholls goes for a 10th win the BetVictor Greatwood Gold Cup (1.50) in 16 years with Tamorac Du Mathan and Amour De Nuit. After a well-documented lapse in stable form, the Ditcheat team are in much better order now, with nine wins in the last two weeks.
Both horses have had this race as their aim from a long way out but Nicholls is a little concerned about soft ground for both.
He wrote in his Betfair blog: “The Greatwood has always been the plan for Tamorac Du Mathan since he ran well for a long way behind Dolos at Sandown a month ago. That was his first outing since a tie forward operation to tidy up his breathing and he has improved plenty.
“Although the ground on the Chase track at Newbury is never too deep I’d be fancying Tamaroc Du Mathan more if the going was not soft.
Amour De Nuit could do with the ground drying up but he is reliable, at his best on a flat track and deserves a shot at a race we have won nine times.”
Navan in another one-two
FRESH off the back of a one-two at the last meeting at Navan, local trainer Eddie Cawley is hopeful of further success at the track today where he saddles four runners.
Cawley, who trains in Batterstown, Co Meath, has most of his success at Fairyhouse, which is even closer to him but he got a good kick out of seeing his Waittilitellyou and Native Gold lead their rivals home in a two-mile–five-furlong handicap in Proudstown two weeks back.
“It was nice to get that for those two horses - I had them ready to run for months but they kept getting balloted out. When they both got in, I just said them roll and it ended up being a great result.
“The horse I’d be most looking forward today is Chosen Diamond (2.48). He had a good run there when he was third at Fairyhouse the last day and I was very happy with him.
“I am just wondering about the ground, they’re calling it yielding to soft but the sun is glaring down as we speak. Hopefully it stays soft for him.
“We also have West Is Awake in there. He’s a tough little horse and could run well but I’d say Chosen Diamond has the edge on him, he’s probably a bit more advanced at this stage.”
Cawley will also saddle the old boy Nobody Home for his 58th start in the veterans handicap chase (4.32) on the card.
“He’s in there and he’s in good form but he’s never won on a left handed track,” the trainer said.
“Why have I got him in there? Because it’s the only veterans chase that suits him for a couple of months. I still think he ran very well the last day and I just thought we’ll put him in here.”
The feature contest on the card is the Flying Bolt Novice Chase (3.58), a Grade 3 event over two miles. Likely hot favourite is Willie Mullins’s Gentleman Du Mee after his impressive 34-length win at Thurles last time. He has no entries at Cheltenham but is very much help up as a strong form link to Arkle contender Haut En Couleurs, his stablemate who beat him comfortably in a beginners’ chase at Leopardstown.