HAWK HIGH, who provided Tim Easterby with an unforgettable triumph at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, heads to Aintree this week in a bid to post his first success at Grade 1 level.
The Great Habton gelding will be reunited with Brian Hughes, who will be wearing the same colours of owner Trevor Hemmings in Saturday’s Crabbie’s Grand National aboard a horse who has been practising over the National fences on the Langton Wold gallops, just as Auroras Encore did before triumphing at 66-1 in last year’s race. Furthermore, Ryedale is also set to have a Grand National runner with Rose Of The Moon, trained by David O’Meara, sneaking into the field at the bottom of the handicap, a prospect which looked remote a month ago.
Hawk High ran out an impressive winner of the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham to provide Easterby with his first Festival success since the mighty Barton 15 years earlier. His odds may have been 33-1, but it was far from a surprise to Easterby to see Hawk High win handsomely to gain his third success of the campaign.
The four-year-old now takes a step up in class on Merseyside. The Injured Jockeys’ Fund 50th Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle, which kicks-off Aintree’s three-day meeting on Thursday, is the target.
“He won his first race over hurdles at Aintree, so we know he goes around there,” says Easterby. “It’s the obvious race to go for and, as everyone knows, Mr Hemmings loves having runners there.”
Hawk High has never given Easterby a moment of anxiety since his Cheltenham exertions. “You couldn’t have wished a horse to come out of a race any better than he did,” said the trainer. “He’s been bouncing since.”
Brian Hughes, who gave Hawk High such a peach of a ride last month, will hope he’s not bouncing once the first-ever £1m Grand National gets underway.
On the back of his success aboard Hawk High for Hemmings, the jockey has been booked to partner the owner’s Vintage Star on Saturday. The gelding will be one of two runners in the world’s greatest steeplechasing spectacle for Bingley trainer Sue Smith, who will also be represented by Mr Moonshine as she aims to follow-up her memorable success 12 months ago with Auroras Encore.
It is part of Aintree’s meticulous horse welfare that the course installs replica Grand National fences at five centres throughout the country to provide horses with the chance of jumping them before they tackle the same obstacles in any of the three races run over the National fences at the meeting.
Malton is one of the selected centres and Smith brought Auroras Encore from her remote base on Bingley Moor last year to school over the two fences on Langton Wold gallops. And she has done the same with Vintage Star and Mr Moonshine.
Hughes, who rides as principal jockey for Malcolm Jefferson and who has strong connections with several other Ryedale trainers, said; “Vintage Star schooled well at Malton. I’ve also been over to Sue’s to ride him in a gallop, so I’ve got to know him a bit before the National.”
Hughes has yet to complete the course in three previous Grand National attempts. But he has an impressive record over the course having won the Topham Chase and the Grand Sefton Chase over the same unique fences.
“I’ve had some good spins around there and I am hoping Vintage Star is another,” says Hughes. “I’m looking forward to riding him.”
As for Rose Of The Moon, he already has experience over the Grand National fences after finishing tenth in the Becher Chase on the course in December under Jake Greenall.
The nine-year-old, who has since won at Wetherby in the hands of Tony McCoy, will be David O’Meara’s first Grand National runner. O’Meara does, though, have fond memories of Aintree. In 2000, when attached to the Philip Hobbs stable as an amateur rider, he won the Foxhunters’ Chase on Bells Life. A similar outcome for Rose Of The Moon on Saturday afternoon would do just nicely!
• MEGAN CARBERRY, who has joined the Brian Ellison stable this season, chalked-up her first winner on British turf when Memory Cloth won the concluding apprentice race on Doncaster’s opening day.
“She rides well,” said Ellison of the Irish-born teenager, who was a shining light on the pony-racing circuit in Ireland before riding five winners in her homeland as an apprentice. It was her second winner for Ellison after getting off the mark on Wolverhampton’s Polytrack on her first ride for the Norton trainer in late-February.
The other division of the apprentice race also had a strong local flavour. Norton trainer Kristin Stubbs saddled Magnolia Ridge to score under Jake Butterfield, who is attached to Ollie Pears’s neighbouring yard. Stubbs and Butterfield teamed-up last season to accumulate an impressive seven winners. They could hardly have started the new term in better form.
• DAVID O'MEARA, who sent out Robert The Painter and Sweet Lightning to finish third and fourth in Saturday’s Lincoln Handicap, not to mention Stand My Ground, who just failed to claw back Brae Hill in the Spring Mile, got his just reward the following day.
The Nawton trainer chalked-up a deserved winner with That Is The Spirit, who made an impressive debut in the maiden. The gelding failed to see a racecourse last year as a juvenile, but jockey Danny Tudhope said; “He’s a horse we have always liked and his home work has been very good.” He looks an exciting prospect.
• JOHN QUINN may have been denied a second successive Lincoln win with Levitate, who finished in the rear on Saturday, but the Highfield trainer did not leave Doncaster empty-handed. He waited until the last race on the second day to strike with Arthurs Secret, who responded gamely to the urgings of the accomplished Simon Walker to justify favouritism in the amateur riders’ handicap.
“He lost his way last year, but he’s a horse we’ve always liked,” said Quinn, who added, “It’s just great to have a winner at the opening meeting.”