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Flame burns for John Quinn to renew Past Glories
IT WAS in 1990 that Past Glories ventured from Norton’s historic Highfield complex with the Champion Hurdle on his agenda and finished third at 150-1. Next Tuesday, Countrywide Flame, generally quoted at 16-1, bids to step up on that performance and bring a famous race back to Ryedale.
The common denominator between the two horses, separated by 23 years, is John Quinn. The trainer of Countrywide Flame was the jockey of Past Glories, who ran such a cracking race to fill the minor placing behind Kribensis, ridden by Richard Dunwoody and trained by Sir Michael Stoute. Nomadic Way occupied the runner-up spot.
Quinn remembers it well. “James Hetherton did a good job with him,” he says of the tough and talented Past Glories, who had previously scaled fairly lofty heights for Bill Elsey. “He went in there at a big price, but ran a tremendous race. He still had every chance at the last.”
If Countrywide Flame is in a similarly prominent position come the final flight next week, Quinn will be a happy man, satisfied by the knowledge that his terrier-like five-year-old will come up the Cheltenham hill in storming fashion – just as he did 12 months ago when he ran out a 33-1 winner of the Triumph Hurdle.
It was Quinn’s second Festival success – Character Building was the first in the 2009 Kim Muir Chase – and the victory confirmed what the trainer had known for some time; that Countrywide Flame was no ordinary hurdler.
He has since progressed again. A Flat winner at Chester in late-summer, he was narrowly beaten in the Cesarewitch before running out a wide-margin winner of the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
His two subsequent efforts were both in defeat – a slightly subdued third-placed performance in an admittedly messy race for the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, run on bad ground, and a staying-on second to last year’s Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby at Doncaster.
Quinn has been delighted with Countrywide Flame in recent weeks.
“I was pleased with his run at Doncaster,” he said. “He was forced to make his own running into a strong headwind and led two very good horses for one mile and five furlongs.
“When Rock On Ruby came past him, it looked like he’d go away and win by ten lengths, but our lad is all heart. He kept sticking on all the way and it was only three lengths at the line.”
If there was one thing Quinn could change about the Champion Hurdle, it would be that it was run on the other of Cheltenham’s two courses. When Countrywide Flame won last year’s Triumph, it was on the New Course over two miles and one furlong. The Champion is run over two miles and half a furlong on the Old Course. “I would have preferred the New Course for him,” admits Quinn, acknowledging Countrywide Flame’s proven stamina.
Hopes, though, remain high. “He’s a horse who seems to thrive in the spring of the year, and he’s very tough,” says the trainer. “If he gets a strong pace and gets into a good rhythm on decent ground, he could run a big race.”
The last Ryedale winner of the Champion Hurdle was the late great Sea Pigeon, trained by Peter Easterby and ridden by John Francome in 1981. It was his second success in the race and he therefore emulated his stablemate Night Nurse, who had secured a brace of wins in the mid-1970s.
Countrywide Flame has a lot to live up to. But he’s heading to Cheltenham in top form as he bids to revive Past Glories in more ways than one.
• THE form of the Quinn yard as bags are prepared to be packed for Cheltenham could hardly be better.
The Highfield trainer had winners on both days of last weekend’s Doncaster meeting. Cockney Sparrow scored on Friday and Massini Lotto did likewise 24 hours later.
“A real chaser in the making,” is Quinn’s description of Massini Lotto, who won over hurdles under Dougie Costello. As for Cockney Sparrow, a cosy winner under the stable’s accomplished claimer Dean Pratt, she has the option of going to Cheltenham next week as part of Quinn’s Festival squad.
Entered in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, she will not, however, be making the journey to Gloucestershire. “She won’t go to the Festival,” says Quinn. “She’s a big raw filly and there’s a lot more to come from her on the Flat and over hurdles.” A return to Doncaster for a Flat race in a couple of weeks and, or, a Grade 3 juvenile hurdle at Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting, figure on her most immediate agenda.
• ATTAGLANCE, who provided Malcolm Jefferson and Harry Haynes with a celebratory moment at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, is aiming for an encore on Tuesday in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase – provided he beats the cut.
It will be touch and go right up until the final declaration deadline whether the Norton gelding gets the green light as he is currently lurking among those horses below the safety limit of runners in this two and a half mile Listed contest.
Jefferson, who scored at Sedgefield on Sunday with the Haynes-ridden Milan Royale, has said all along that Attaglance would only turn up at Cheltenham if underfoot conditions were suitable.
“He just can’t go on the soft,” says the Norton trainer. Ironically, while it now looks as though the ground could be in his favour, there is the added frustration of not being guaranteed a starting place.
Haynes is keeping his fingers crossed. Twelve months ago, Attaglance provided the young jockey with his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival when narrowly landing the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. For Jefferson, remarkably, it was his second win of the meeting, after Cape Tribulation in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle Final under Denis O’Regan. And to think, he’d previously gone 17 years without a Festival success.
“It was a dream come true for me,” says Haynes. “Just to have a ride at the Festival was a huge thrill but to have a winner was something else, unbelievable.”
That was hurdles, fences now loom large for Attaglance. The larger obstacles hold no fears, provided the ground is satisfactory. “The only time this season he’s had something like his ground was at Musselburgh when he just got beaten. It makes a huge difference to him,” says Jefferson.
Later in the week, of course, stable-mate Cape Tribulation is set to make his own return to the Festival. A course winner in the Argento Chase in January, the Newstead gelding is poised to take on the cream of England’s and Ireland’s staying chasers in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It will be a sight worth seeing.
•PAUL HANAGAN enjoyed a lucrative Thursday at the Dubai Carnival for the third successive week, writes Tom O’Ryan.
A win in the UAE 2,000 Guineas was followed by a Grade 2 success and, last week, the former Malton jockey rattled up a double which included a notable triumph for Godolphin in the UAE Oaks on Shuruq.
Hanagan, pictured below, is eagerly looking forward to World Cup night in Dubai in a couple of weeks’ time, a meeting, incidentally, which has been pencilled-in by Nawton trainer David O’Meara for his stable star Penitent, twice a Group 2 winner last season, who is poised to begin his 2013 campaign with a tilt at a richly-endowed prize at the fabulous Meydan racecourse.
• JACK TEAL, nominated by his Norton-based boss Malcolm Jefferson, finished joint runner-up at the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards, held in London on Monday.
The teenager, who was on the shortlist for the David Nicholson Newcomer Award, did tremendously well to finish in the frame. First prize went to Laura Hamilton-Smith from Andrew Black’s Chasemore Farm.
• JAMIE HAMILTON is continuing to make a big name for himself as an amateur.
Attached to Richard Fahey’s Malton yard, the teenager, who has been riding plenty of winners in point-to-points, struck again under Rules when Tartan Snow won the hunters’ chase at Kelso in front of his home crowd.
• LUCY EGERTON, another of Ryedale’s amateurs, enjoyed a day to remember on her first mount under National Hunt Rules at Catterick last week – she rode a winner at 66-1, which paid a bumper 118-1 win dividend on the Tote.
Cara Court, trained by Joanne Foster, belied his vast odds by winning the amateur riders’ hurdle for Egerton, who has been going well this season with her small team of point-to-pointers based near Birdsall.
Cara Court, incidentally, proved his Catterick win was no fluke. He turned out again at Sedgefield on Sunday under Samantha Drake and won a handicap chase by no less than 42 lengths.