HAWK HIGH is heading to Aintree’s Grand National meeting in a couple of weeks, following his stunning victory at the Cheltenham Festival which put the Easterby family name back on the roll of honour so famously associated with jump racing.
It is 15 years since Tim Easterby had first tasted triumph at the most prestigious of all National Hunt gatherings, the mighty Barton having won the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle under Lorcan Wyer.
Long before that it was Peter Easterby, Tim’s legendary father, who seared an indelible mark at Cheltenham by winning five Champion Hurdles with Saucy Kit and dual-winners, Night Nurse and Sea Pigeon, not to mention a brace of Gold Cup triumphs with Alverton and Little Owl.
Jumpers at Great Habton these days are far outweighed by Flat horses, but Tim Easterby sent two of his small squad to Cheltenham last week and was richly rewarded with a 33-1 win from Hawk High in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and a gallant effort from Trustan Times, another 33-1 shot, who was beaten only a nose and two necks into fourth place in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle Final.
“When you’ve had a Cheltenham Festival winner like Barton, you know what it takes to win down there, so unless you’ve got horses good enough to go, you stay away. We wouldn’t have had many Festival runners since Barton. It’s all about having the right horses,” said Easterby.
“Hawk High is a decent horse. I would have run him in the Triumph Hurdle if he hadn’t got into the Fred Winter. It just didn’t happen for him in his previous race at Haydock, but he was racing wide there and it doesn’t suit him. He needs to be taking a lead, that’s the sort of horse he is.”
Brian Hughes always had Hawk High tracking rivals, covered up behind the leaders. “He needs riding with confidence and it suited him racing on better ground, but after saying that, he’s coped with heavy ground before,” said Easterby.
“You need everything to go right at Cheltenham. They are racing tight and they are racing fast and you can’t afford to make a mistake.” Hawk High asserted his superiority after the final flight to win his Grade 3 target in emphatic style to earn a first prize of almost £43,000 for his owner, Trevor Hemmings.
“It was great. To have a winner down there is special. It’s the best place,” said Easterby, who reports that Hawk High returned home in excellent form. “He’s come out of the race really well and will definitely go to Aintree next.”
A Grade 1 race awaits the four-year-old on Merseyside, which is owner Hemmings’ favourite course.
As for Trustan Times, Easterby could not have been more proud of his effort. “He ran a blinder. It might just have cost him the race coming down the hill when they quickened because he just got a bit unbalanced,” said the trainer. “But he stayed on all the way to the line.
“It was some run. I had been wanting to run him on decent ground because he’s such a good-moving horse. All he’s run on is soft and heavy ground, because that is all there’s been.”
Aintree will not figure on Trustan Times agenda. The enjoyment and satisfaction of taking two horses to Cheltenham and coming close to completing a remarkable double was not lost on Easterby. “It was great, to have a winner at the Festival and for the other horse to run so well. It was a good two days.”
• SO close, yet so far.. that was the frustrating Cheltenham Festival outcome for Malcolm Jefferson and Brian Hughes over Attaglance, who went down as one of the unluckiest losers of the four-day meeting.
Relishing the return to a sound surface, the Norton gelding, successful over hurdles at the same meeting two years ago, failed by only half-a-length. But that tells only half the story.
With only one horse ahead of him – the winner Present View - at the final fence in the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase, Attaglance was staying on strongly and responding to pressure. Hughes had to decide whether to challenge left or right of the leader and, having chosen to switch to his left, found his path blocked on the far rail when Present View hung off a straight line under Brendan Powell, who picked-up a four-day ban for careless riding. Hughes was forced to switch his mount around his rival and, although Attaglance rallied gamely and was gaining with every stride towards the finish, the post was always coming too soon for him.
“He would have won,” said Jefferson. “Brian shouldn’t have gone to that side in any case.
“You don’t get too many chances of a winner at Cheltenham and what happened was very unfortunate and disappointing, not only for us, but for Brian as well.”
Attaglance has come home in good heart. “He’s taken his race well. This is his time of year,” said Jefferson, who has no firm plans for the future.
Although Urban Hymn and Firth Of The Clyde both finished out of the money in their respective races at the Festival, Jefferson was happy with both horses.
• FUJIN DANCER may not be up to competing at the Cheltenham Festival, but the popular inmate of the Brian Ellison stable in Norton has a happy knack of winning during the week.
For the second time in three years, Fujin Dancer scooped the major honours at Fakenham during the Festival in the hands of Harriet Bethell, who was so overcome with emotion last week that she returned in tears to the unsaddling enclosure. “I can’t believe he’s done it again,” she said.
Returned at 4-1, Fujin Dancer landed the Fakenham Silver Cup by three-parts of a length, repeating his win in 2011.
Tony Coyle, meanwhile, has his horses in good form. Not only did his two runners, Son Of Flicka and Lucky Landing perform with credit at the Cheltenham Festival, but the Norton trainer had two winners last week.
Two Moons scored under Barry McHugh on the Flat at Southwell, while at Uttoxeter, Silver Dragon gained a 9-2 success over hurdles when prevailing by a neck at Saturday’s Midlands Grand National meeting.
•AS work continues in the building of Jack Berry House in Old Malton, fund raising for the new injured jockeys’ rehabilitation centre remains an important factor.
A date should be ringed in diaries for Saturday, May 10 when ‘Boogie Night’ is being staged at Malton & Norton Rugby Union Club, next to the site of Jack Berry House.
Leila Fahey and Jeannie Brown are organising the event, which will feature a champagne reception, Yorkshire tapas and a cocktail bar with dancing to the Retrofits. Tickets are priced at £60 and are available from Leila on 07801 150619 and Jeannie on 07778 316637.