John Quinn's Cockney Sparrow bidding to break history-seeking Quevega’s stranglehold on Cheltenham Festival

Gazette & Herald: The John Quinn-trained Cockney Sparrow, who will be taking on the redoubtable mare Quevega at the Cheltenham Festival next Tuesday The John Quinn-trained Cockney Sparrow, who will be taking on the redoubtable mare Quevega at the Cheltenham Festival next Tuesday

COCKNEY SPARROW will lead the Ryedale assault into action at next week’s Cheltenham Festival by taking on the unassailable Quevega, who is bidding to make jumping history.

Trained by John Quinn, the fiveyear- old Cockney Sparrow is set to contest the Grade 2 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle on Tuesday’s opening day.

While Quevega, based in Ireland with the all-conquering Willie Mullins, is aiming to win it for a record sixth time in succession, Cockney Sparrow, who heads a strong team of runners at the four-day meeting for Quinn, goes into unknown territory.

She is stepping up in distance to two and a half miles, having done most of her racing over hurdles at the minimum trip, including when finishing second to My Tent Or Yours in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in December.

Quinn points out that Cockney Sparrow stays well enough on the Flat – she was a winner over one mile and five furlongs at Ayr last September – to suggest a longer trip over hurdles will not faze her.

“She settles in a race and if she does stay, she’s got a chance,” says the Highfield trainer, who has placed Cockney Sparrow to win four of her eight races over hurdles, including a competitive handicap at Aintree last April and a Listed contest at Wetherby in October.

Cockney Sparrow, a faller two out at Doncaster in January when in pursuit of the unbeaten Annie Powers, was none the worse for that jumping mistake.

An admirable performer, Cockney Sparrow will cause one of the upsets of the meeting if she can topple the mighty Quevega.


PETER NIVEN, the only Scots-born jump jockey to ride 1,000 winners, has had to wait a dozen years as a Ryedale trainer to find a good horse, but he’s finally got one in Clever Cookie, who showcased his burgeoning ability when completing a hattrick of wins at Kelso last Saturday.

Furthermore, the home-bred gelding stepped out of handicap company to record his first win in Grade 2 company when capturing the Premier Hurdle by an impressive eight lengths under Wilson Renwick.

Clever Cookie, playing a starring role as one of the Gazette & Herald ‘horses to follow’ this season, holds an entry in the County Hurdle at next week’s Cheltenham Festival, but Niven, who is based at Bartonle- Street, is reluctant to take up the opportunity.

“I don’t think he’s ready yet mentally for a race like the County Hurdle and he’ll probably go to Aintree next month instead for the better ground,” said Niven, who admitted he had been worried about underfoot conditions at Kelso. “Wilson said he was hating it but that his class pulled him through.”

Clever Cookie, who was bred by Niven’s mother, picked up a first prize on Saturday of just under £20,000 and was winning his fifth race in seven starts. The best of him may still be to come.


TONY COYLE is set to have his first-ever Cheltenham Festival runners next week.

Coyle said: “Son Of Flicka will run in the Coral Cup on Wednesday and Lucky Landing will go for the Grand Annual Chase on Friday. It’s great to have a couple of horses good enough to take down there and we’ll enjoy the craic if nothing else.”

Son Of Flicka is no stranger to the Festival. In 2012, he won the Coral Cup when trained by Donald McCain.

“He’s going for the same race again and will be running off the same mark. We’ve been protecting his hurdle rating by running him over fences,” explained Coyle, who was pleased to see the gelding finish a good fourth to the smart Tranquil Sea in a chase at Doncaster on his latest start.

Lucky Landing has spent much of the winter away from racecourse action after a busy and productive period. The eight-year-old won at Bangor and Market Rasen last August and at Wetherby in October, with a few placed efforts in between.

Coyle said: “It was always the plan after Wetherby to take his shoes off and give him a holiday and then bring him back in March.”

Lucky Landing had his comeback outing at Doncaster last Saturday and, although well beaten, his trainer was happy with the performance. “He was tanking along until the fourth-last. It was a good run back and it’ll put him right for Cheltenham,” said Coyle, who was on the mark at Catterick last week with bumper winner Landmarque, the mount of Jake Greenall.

It was the trainer’s 12th winner of the season from just 63 runners, a strike-rate of 19 per cent.


BRIAN ELLISON is to have an extra runner at next week’s Cheltenham Festival but there will no prize money at stake – only unforgettable glory for the rider.

Racing and sports broadcaster Rishi Persad is partnering the Ellisontrained Twelve Strings in the St Patrick’s Charity Day Charity Race, his first-ever ride in a race after a crash-course preparation.

Having had his application to ride rubber-stamped at the turn of the year, Barbadian-born Persad has undergone a strict fitness regime and has been receiving coaching from Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey Mick FitzGerald.

Last week, Persad had his jockey coaching assessment at the Northern Racing College at Bawtry, near Doncaster.

He had to ride on the gallops and undergo an intensive session under the eye of qualified coach and former National Hunt jockey Tim Reed on the equiciser.

“I’m pleased to say you passed,”

Reed told Pesad before joking: “Cheltenham already has AP (McCoy) and now RP is going to join him there!”

Persad has already made acquaintance with Three Strings at Ellison’s Norton yard. “He came up about 10 days and rode him on the gallops,”

said Ellison. And how did he get on?

“The horse will give him a good ride.

You can’t bustle him too much early on anyway; I just hope he doesn’t get too far behind in the first half of the race. But he’s a horse who finishes his races strongly.”

Whether Persad, who works for Channel 4 racing and Racing UK and who has also worked on sport for the BBC, can finish his race off strongly is another matter. But it’s all in a good cause, Cancer Research being the chosen charity of the dozen or so riders taking part.


MEGAN CARBERRY, who hails from one of Ireland’s most famous racing families, has been an instant hit in her new role as stable apprentice to Brian Ellison.

The teenager rode a winner on her first ride in Britain at Wolverhampton last Friday evening when Grandiloquent gained a narrow success in the mile-and-a-half apprentices’ handicap. “I couldn’t have wished for a better start,” said Carberry, who rode four winners under rules in Ireland after gaining more than 100 successes in pony races.

She is a cousin of top Irish national hunt jockey, Paul Carberry and top Irish amateur rider Nina and is bred for the job. “She shows a lot of promise,” says Ellison.

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