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Countrywide Flame jockey O’Regan ablaze with confidence
JOCKEY Denis O’Regan is bullish about Countrywide Flame’s chances in today’s Champion Hurdle – the feature race of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner, pictured below, is one of the major players in the Grade 1 two mile and half furlong contest and O’Regan is confident he is “going to run a big race”.
Statistics don’t favour the northern raider, trained in Norton by John Quinn. Just one five-year-old has won the Champion Hurdle since 1985.
He must also defeat a resurgent Hurricane Fly on ground that should be favourable and reigning champion Rock On Ruby, who was three lengths better than Countrywide Flame in a Listed hurdle at Doncaster last month.
But O’Regan, who has had the ride on the talented hurdler since the pair bolted up in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in December, is happier after Countrywide Flame recovered from a lacklustre display in the Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day to run better on Town Moor.“I was so impressed with him at Newcastle. It was the first time I had ridden the horse and I am very lucky to ride him,” O’Regan said.
“He’s so good, he’s such a good jumper. He’s a good, strong traveller and he will stay. He loved the ground (in the Fighting Fifth) and he annihilated Cinders and Ashes.
“I was very disappointed at Kempton as I’d got off Cape Tribulation in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby to ride him. John Quinn wouldn’t let me make the running on him and the race didn’t play to his strengths.
“At Doncaster, it was a super run and he hurdled fantastically. He needs an out and out gallop – flat to the boards and as fast as they can go.
“There are holes in nearly all of the runners. I am very confident he is going run a big race. John’s horses are in fantastic form and I am really looking forward to it.”
While Quinn awaits the Champion Hurdle with optimism his Norton-based next door neighbour Malcolm Jefferson will have to wait for Cheltenham glory.
He was due to saddle Attaglance, the winner of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle at the Festival last year, in the Rewards4 Racing Novices’ Chase today but the seven-year-old has reportedly been pulled out because of the soft ground.
North Yorkshire is represented in the contest, however, by Tim Easterby’s Fourjacks. Jefferson has Cape Tribulation in Friday’s Gold Cup.