DUE to its position close to the Firth of Forth, its sandy sub-soil and what appears to be its own micro-climate, the Scottish racecourse at Musselburgh is often able to provide mid-winter racing conditions far better than inland tracks further south. Last weekend was a case in point.
On Saturday, all three meetings at Ffos Las, Sandown Park and Wetherby got the go-ahead after inspections but in every case the going was near bottomless.
The following day, for its Cheltenham Trials fixture, Musselburgh was able to race on ground described as ‘soft, good to soft in places’.
This, together with good prize money, with a total fund on offer of £137,000, attracted runners from major southern trainers, Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, David Pipe, Venetia Williams and Donald McCain, while Ryedale hopes rested on Malcolm Jefferson, John Quinn, Brian Ellison and Peter Niven.
Quinn, in particular, appeared to have an outstanding chance of success with his five-year-old novice hurdler, Racing Pulse.
Ridden by champion jockey A P McCoy in the Albert Bartlett Scottish Trial, Racing Pulse went off at 11-4 on to beat his four rivals, but was never able to get to blows with the Ryan Mania-ridden pacemaker, Seeyouatmidnight, and had to make do with the runner-up spot.
In fact it was left to one of Ryedale’s smaller yards, Peter Niven’s Barton-le-Street-based Clovafield stables, to win the day’s feature contest – the John Smith’s Scottish County Hurdle, with Clever Cookie. When retiring from the saddle in 2001, Peter joined an elite band; he was only the sixth National Hunt jockey to have ridden 1,000 winners and the only Scot ever to achieve this feat.
He has worked hard at his Barton-le-Street base and now trains about 20 horses there. Before Clever Cookie, his best winner was certainly the staying mare Posh Bird, winner of the North Yorkshire Grand National at Catterick and a close runner-up in Newcastle’s valuable Eider Chase.
After Wilson Renwick brought Clever Cookie home by eight lengths from Local Hero, Niven said: “He likes this track – this is his third win here. After two novice wins the handicapper gave him a handy mark so we thought we’d take this route. My mother bred him so that’s an added bonus.
“We’ll put him in the Imperial Cup at Sandown Park and the County Hurdle at Cheltenham and see how the ground shapes up. There’s also a race at Kelso, the Premier Novice Hurdle. We’ll just see how things go.
“I’ve always thought the world of him and hopefully there’s more to come.”