MALCOLM JEFFERSON, who bagged a significant scalp at Doncaster a fortnight ago when Urban Hymn won the Grade 2 River Don Hurdle, goes in search of further glory at Haydock on Saturday.
The Norton trainer will cross the Pennines with Oscar Rock, who will step up to three miles for the first time in the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Hurdle.
The outcome of the race is likely to go a long way to helping Jefferson decide on future plans for the exciting gelding, including a possible tilt at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
One of last season’s leading bumper horses when he was trained by Harry Fry in Dorset, Oscar Rock was transferred during the summer – along with Urban Hymn – to Jefferson’s Norton stable by owners Graham and Jan Calder, who live in Manchester but who spend a lot of time in Ryedale, where they have a holiday home.
An impressive Wetherby winner on his hurdles debut on his first run for Jefferson, Oscar Rock went down narrowly to the high-class Ballyalton at Newcastle next time before finishing third in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury at the end of December.
It was after that race that Jefferson decided that he was prepared to tweak the gelding’s training regime by backing off him and freshening him up. It appears that Oscar Rock has responded positively to having more edge put on him.
“Changing his routine a bit seems to have suited him,” confirmed the trainer. “He’s in great form. He’s absolutely blossomed.”
Jefferson believes the step up to three miles will suit Oscar Rock. “He wouldn’t be as fast a horse as Urban Hymn. I think he’s a galloper who wants three miles. He’s a very athletic horse and when he won at Wetherby he just galloped them into the ground.”
Any National Hunt trainer with smart horses tends to have an eye on Cheltenham’s prestigious Festival meeting – now just four weeks away – at this time of the year. Jefferson is no exception, but he is not losing any sleep about it.
“It’s not certain that either Oscar Rock or Urban Hymn will be aimed at Cheltenham,” he said. “We’ll have to see what happens, and see what happens on Saturday.”
Urban Hymn has emerged from his Doncaster exertions without a blemish. “He’s come out of the race extremely well,” said Jefferson. “I couldn’t be happier with him.”
It promises to be a big week for the Newstead handler. At Kelso on Thursday, he has options of running progressive chaser Firth Of The Clyde, winner of his last two races, the exciting Secrete Stream, a Wetherby winner over Christmas, and The Panama Kid, a seasoned campaigner, who has been in great heart of late and who will be bidding for a hat-trick of wins.
He will be ridden for the first time in public by Jefferson’s promising amateur rider Jack Teal.
As for Cape Tribulation, he is currently on the ‘easy’ list, having pulled a muscle between his hind legs. The Grade 2 chase winner is, however, entered in the Grand National in April and, although owner David Abell has still to decide whether that unique race is an option for the gelding, Jefferson is keen on the idea.
“I’d like him to go for it. I think he jumps well enough for those fences and Brian Hughes (stable jockey) feels he’s jump round Aintree without any problems.”
In the meantime, Jefferson has other horses to represent him as he prepares to bid to resume winning ways at Haydock this weekend.
“I just hope the meeting is on,” smiled the trainer, ever mindful that the never-ending rainfall could well cause problems at the Lancashire course.
JOHN QUINN has some important decisions to make in the next few days.
The Norton trainer, assembling his team of hurdlers in readiness for next month’s Cheltenham extravaganza, has any number of options for three of his squad during the remainder of this week.
Rutherglen, unbeaten in three outings over hurdles, has races open to him at Kelso, Kempton and Sandown, while Aurore D’Estruval, Quinn’s exciting French recruit, is entered at Sandown, Haydock and Market Rasen.
As for Forced Family Fun, who could well be aimed at Cheltenham’s Fred Winter Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, he is even more spoilt for choice with his Highfield trainer having entered him at Kelso, Musselburgh, Sandown, Haydock and Market Rasen.
Ground conditions, likely opposition, riding arrangements and half a dozen other factors are set to come into the equation. Some midnight oil is likely to be burned in the Quinn household this week.
FOUR previous winners of the Lincoln Handicap, all of which are trained in Ryedale, are among the entries for this year’s William Hill-sponsored showpiece, the traditional launchpad to the new Flat Turf season, at Doncaster next month.
Levitate, trained by John Quinn and successful in last year’s race, has the £100,000 contest in his sights once more, as indeed does the Richard Fahey-trained Brae Hill, second in 2011, successful in 2012 and a close-up third last year.
Penitent, trained by David O’Meara, is also in the possible line-up. He was successful in the 2010 Lincoln when trained at Newmarket by William Haggas before elevating himself to a multiple Group and Listed-race winner for O’Meara with a host of successes including the Doncaster Mile.
O’Meara also has another previous winner of the race now under his care in Sweet Lightning, who was trained by Michael Dods when he beat Brae Hill into second in 2011.
Last year’s Lincoln proved a whitewash domination for Ryedale horses, who filled the first four places. Global Village, who divided Levitate and Brae Hill in a finish where the first three home were separated by only a short neck and a nose, has been entered again by Norton trainer Brian Ellison, while Justfortheroad, fourth last season, is one of six entries in the one-mile cavalry charge for Fahey.
Other Ryedale trainers with horses entered for the big race – the weights will be published this weekend – are Tim Easterby, with Off Art and Laffan, Mick Easterby (Nameitwhatyoulike, Kalk Bay and Barren Brook), Declan Carroll (Invincible Hero) and Alan Brown (Lazarus Bell).
DAVID O’MEARA has become the second Ryedale trainer to saddle a winner at the Dubai Carnival.
Following hot on the heels of Richard Fahey, who was successful at the fabulous Meydan racecourse with Gabrial, Nawton-based O’Meara struck with Mont Ras, who responded to the urgings of jockey William Buick to win a one-mile handicap last Thursday by half a length and bag a first prize of more than £43,000.
Mont Ras was O’Meara’s third successive winner from as many runners, though his other two victories were achieved in the rather less salubrious surroundings of Wolverhampton, where he was successful with the Danny Tudhope-ridden Helmsley Flyer and Dansili Dutch, the mount of Jack Garritty.
ALYSON DENIEL has proved a double-hit by riding a winner on her first-ever visit to Australia, and when representing Great Britain for the first time.
The vastly experienced Malton amateur rider was invited to take part in the Arabian World Ladies Championship at the famous Caulfied racecourse in Melbourne and made all the running to win on Conderosa Millenium.
Deniel, who is attached to Richard Fahey’s Musley Bank yard, was understandably delighted by her achievement.
“It’s a special championship and the organisation was amazing,” she said.
“This was my first appearance for Great Britain and to have a winner was unbelievable.”