Clues for Cheltenham and Aintree this afternoon on a competitive seven race card as the days to the big festivals begin to get copiously smaller.
It wasn’t as cold today and unlike last months Peter Marsh meeting the rain had the afternoon off as a fairly big crowd turned out for some top quality action and unlike the previous two meetings here all the obstacles were being jumped.
This was also a chance for the crowd to see AP McCoy,the dust seems to have settled on the face that he is hanging is saddle up at the end of the season and he had some good rides to look forward to.
The feature race was the marathon Grand National trial although an oddity in the calendar meant this race was being run before the unveiling of the weights this coming Tuesday.
Seven races then,let’s see what occurred.
1.45 Betfred “Six Best Odds Races Daily” Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle,Class 2,2m,8 flights,4yo
Only four turned out for this but generally has a small field anyway.
This was an easy hack round for the £7430 winners prize for Top Notch and Daryl Jacob for trainer Nicky Henderson and made it 5/5 in races contested,a French import he has won two races at Newbury and Ascot this term and will now head off to the Triumph although he will no doubt be given a Fred Winter entry just in case,he seems to ooze class and will be a top prospect.
Runner up was Medicine Hat who made most until the winner breezed past him up the straight,he was walloped by the winner but will find life easier in handicaps.
2.20 Betfred “Still Treble Odds on Lucky 15’s Hurdle,Grade 2,3m,12 flights,4yo+
Known as the Rendlesham Hurdle this years renewal was ok but it was missing a few of the staying divisions stars.
All eyes were on At Fishers Cross as he tried to win his first race since the 2013 Albert Bartlett and Sefton Novices’ hurdles at both Cheltenham and Aintree.
However the race was to pan out differently as previous dual course and distance winner Closing Ceremony bellied his 12-1 outsider odds and despite being 19lb away from At Fishers Cross on official ratings did what he always does at Haydock which is to jump out and make all the running and shaking off the fight from the challenge of Seeyouatmidnight who was making his seasonal reappearance before heading off to the World Hurdle.
On paper this looked a shock but Closing Ceremony has done nothing but improve since stepping back up to three miles this season,he doesn’t hold a World Hurdle entry but is qualified for the Pertemps Series,Emma Lavelle has done well with her staying hurdlers in the North West this season so maybe the Liverpool Hurdle on National day will be an ideal race, next season he could go chasing depending if he eeks out more improvement over hurdlers.
As for At Fishers Cross he remains a tricky horse to follow,He obviously is a classy horse but seems to have serious issues with the game,he jumped badly at a few hurdles so it may now be worth sending him over fences or maybe a change of stable to try and reinvigorate him.
2.55 Betfred Grand National Trial (Hcap) Grade 3,3m5f,22 fences,5yo+
A good quality renewal of this stamina sapping contest which came despite the weights not being unveiled till Tuesday.
For the third time since 2010 the race was taken over the border into Scotland as the ever popular 11yo Lie Forrit just got the verdict from the judge is a real pulsating battle probably not seen since the 2012 National as he and Harry The Viking gave everything that a staying Chase should do.
The pace was pretty generous from the tape with plenty of chopping and changing as the race progressed,going down the farside on the final lap we had the only faller as Tommy Whittle winner Broadway Buffalo fell at the 16th fence when making headway.
Turning for home the field were being led in by Gas Line Boy,he had Lie Forrit and Mountainous behind him,over the third last fence Lie Forrit took over the lead as Gas Line Boy began to feel the pinch and Harry The Viking began to come with a wet sail and was the only danger baring down on him over the last fence, after the last Harry The Viking took over the lead under Derek Fox (3) but Peter Buchannan drove Lie Forrit upto the line and just got the nod after the thick end of three and a half miles.
Lie Forrit will now be aimed towards the Scottish National at Ayr in April,he was pulled up last year but Lucinda Russell has done a grand job with him this term and he remains in excellent heart.
Harry The Viking has Aintree as his target but a more realistic target could be the Midlands at Uttoxeter or possibly the Irish National.
Monbeg Dude was third here of 144 and this will have done his credentials no harm at all, Gas Line Boy on fourth looks held by the handicapper,Trustan Times back in fifth spot plugged on but isn’t a natural over fences any Tim Easterby may be better asking the BHA to introduce 4m hurdle races for him!
Below, Lie Forrit
3.25 Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle,Class 2,3m,12 flights,5yo+
Another qualifier for the series and unlike the previous race this one was all one way traffic as last weekends Newbury winner Bygonnes Sovereign under conditional Michael Heard (7) adopted the same tactics of bowling out in front and didn’t see another horse until they finished the race.
The winner was up 13lb from last weekends win but he looks a horse still ahead of his new mark of 130, he will go the final but may not have things his own way out in front.
Run Ructions Run was three lengths back in second place,she looked to stay this extra distance and could have a crack at the Mares Hurdle, Favourite Aqalim under AP for John Ferguson is an improving stayer with more to offer. Kelvingrove ran an eye catching race on his first start over this trip and will do better in time.
4.00 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle,Grade 2,3m,12 flights,5yo+
Some useful staying types on show here but it was only two who mattered from the start.
Fletchers Flyer who was sent off favourite made the running and was still leading when second fav Definitly Red under Richard Johnson took over after the last flight and hung on by half a length, the pair were over twenty two lengths clear from last months Leamington Hurdle runner up Ballagh.
The top two were clearly the best horses on show, the winner may go for the Albert Bartlett unless connection decide the Sefton at Aintree would be a better choice, Fletches Flyer was giving the winner 3lbs and remains full of potential.
Ballagh probably didn’t stay this far,an easy maiden over 2m4f would be an ideal confidence booster for him.
Below,Horses leaving for the stables.
4.30 Betfred “Home Of Goals Galore” Novices’ Handicap Chase,Class 3,2m5f,15 fences.
A very good looking contest with plenty of horses coming into the race on top form.
It was a first chasing success for the Jonjo O’Neill trained Oscar Fortune under Dougie Costello with the application of first time blinkers, he beat the well fancied Algernon Pazham who began to hang left after two out, the trip was a little bit on the short side for him and will be happier back over further.
Chasing debutant Wuff ran a respectable race on debut and will come on plenty for the run,Runswick Royal was behind in fourth place and has better form over 2m than this longer trip.
5.05 Betfred “Keep It Fun” Walrus Open Hunters’ Chase,Class 3,3m1f,18 fences,5yo+
A good renewal of this popular contest and it went the way of 12yo Pearlysteps under the command of Oliver Greenall, making all the running despite a mistake at two from home he had this in the bag easily, Temple Grandin having only his second start in a Hunters came here after a post Christmas win between the flags at Chaddesley Corbett and ran a good race in second spot, Cottage Oak was third.
Pearlysteps was fourth in last years Foxhunters at Cheltenham and will have a good a chance as any next month,should he go three places better he will be in line for a £10,000 bonus should he win that race.
All eyes were on Teaforthree in this race,Coming into this race after last weeks win at Bangor many thought it was a formality he would take this to qualify him for Cheltenham but he struggled to pick up when needed and faces a race against time to get in the race as part of his preparation for the National.
A top afternoon of jumps action then and some excellent finishes for the crowd which were greatly appreciated.
Without doubt the win of Lie Forrit was the highlight of the day, he really had to battle the attentions of Harry The Viking and it gave for me the finish of the day.
Next weekend we shall be swapping the turf for the track as I’m off to the Indoor Athletics in Birmingham with Mo Farah in the Men’s Two Miles being the main highlight.
Until then goodbye and keep reading.