BLOOD is rarely spilt in the Towton Novices’ Chase. Unlike the event after which it is named, the 1461 Battle of Towton, the clash of racing titans at Wetherby Racecourse is, by comparison, somewhat more sedate.
A major conflict in the War of the Roses, 50,000 soldiers from the Houses of York and Lancaster fought in a snowstorm on March 29 as Edward IV displaced Henry VI as the King of England.
By the end of the battle, reports said 28,000 men were slain on the field. It is remembered as one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on English soil.
Its namesake, thankfully, does not share those characteristics.
But if sport is society’s attempt at replacing war, then the Yorkshire track’s showpiece is most certainly competitive.
Being staged for only the 18th time tomorrow, the Grade 2 stayers’ contest has an illustrious roll of honour.
It began with the very first victor – Mr Mulligan.
Then a seven-year-old, he was a huge horse being stepped up in class for the first time when, trained by Noel Chance, he arrived at Wetherby for the inaugural running of its three-mile and one-furlong contest.
He was matched against Call It A Day, saddled by David Nicholson, and was the underdog but overturned his rival in some style – taking an early lead and drawing away to win by 15 lengths.
It was an auspicious start for the event, and it only gained more prestige when, the following year, Mr Mulligan followed up his Wetherby win by taking National Hunt’s Blue Riband race, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The roll-call of winners has been impressive ever since.
Escartifugue was a high-class staying hurdler who adapted to the bigger obstacles when winning 12 months later under Richard Johnson.
Soft ground, and the longer trip, was clearly to his liking as he bounced back from finishing runner-up to Northern Starlight at Cheltenham on his previous outing.
Ollie Magern would become a Wetherby legend – twice winning the track’s flagship Charlie Hall Chase in 2007 and 2010.
But first, in 2005, came the Towton, where the son of Alderbrook would make all to beat King Harald by four lengths as an 8-15 favourite.
Weird Al would also use the race as a stepping stone to Charlie Hall glory, beating Knockara Beau by two and a half lengths in 2010 before coming back the following year for more glory on the West Yorkshire track.
And Wayward Prince helped give former Crambeck jockey Dougie Costello a day to remember in 2012.
The 5-6 favourite was part of the first treble of Costello’s career when beating the classy Cape Tribulation by two lengths.
He had been the first off the bridle in the back straight but, against a horse who would win the Argento Chase at Cheltenham and would often save his best performances for Wetherby, Wayward Prince prevailed.
With the likes of Green Flag among the select group going for glory this time around, it seems assured that the future of the Towton Novices’ Chase is bright.
Let battle commence.
It’s Green Flag for go at Wetherby
GREEN Flag is set to tackle the £30,500 Grade 2 Totepool Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby tomorrow.
Lucinda Russell’s seven-year-old has been a revelation over fences this season, completing a three-timer at Newcastle in November before a creditable second to Annacotty in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Russell said: “I have been really pleased with Green Flag and the Totepool Towton Novices’ Chase has been the aim since his run at Kempton.
“I thought he ran very, very well, and I was really pleased with how he jumped, but I don’t think the tracked suited him that well – it’s quite sharp around there.
“Wetherby should suit him much better and he seems to be progressing nicely.
“He’s in the RSA Chase (at the Cheltenham Festival), but it would depend on how he runs. He will also be entered in some of the handicaps at Cheltenham as well.”
Also among the entries is Shutthefrontdoor (Jonjo O’Neill), who scored over fences at Aintree in October, Leicester winner Ely Brown (Charlie Longsdon) and Grade 2 runner-up Coverholder (Sue Smith).
Uttoxeter winner Milborough, Garde Fou and Strike Fast also run.