Flame tipped for Champion Hurdle

Darlington and Stockton Times: LOCAL HERO: Countrywide Flame ridden by Dennis O'Regan goes on to win the StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle Racecourse LOCAL HERO: Countrywide Flame ridden by Dennis O'Regan goes on to win the StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle Racecourse

A TOP-CLASS northern prize went to a top-class Yorkshire horse last Saturday when Countrywide Flame landed the Stan James Fighting Fifth Hurdle in very easy style.

Trained in Malton by John Quinn, Dennis O’Regan picked up the winning ride as regular jockey Dougie Costello was in action down at Newbury.

The four-year-old is now a real contender for the Champion Hurdle following this easy victory, beating the odds-on favourite Cinders And Ashes by 12 lengths having jumped well throughout.

Formerly trained on the flat by Kevin Ryan, he has always been renowned for his stamina following his victory in last season’s Triumph Hurdle and his second in the Cesarewitch on the Flat, but he didn’t need any extra reserves here as he barely came off the bridle.

“I’m very pleased,” said Quinn. “He improved a stone on the Flat this year and had to improve a stone to be a Champion Hurdle horse. Looking at that you’d say he has improved and he’s still only four.

“They were good horses he beat and he did it well. I’ll put him in the Christmas Hurdle, but the Istabraq Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29 looks the way we’ll go. He’s a versatile horse. He’s gone on every ground and looked good on every ground.”

All eyes pre-race were on Cinders And Ashes, but he was well and truly put in his place by Countrywide Flame, who looks to have improved from last season.

The winner has always been renowned for his toughness rather than his hurdling, but he winged every flight in the heavy ground, and once the long-time leaders Bothy and the bitterly disappointing Trifolium had given way, he simply cruised up the straight. Jason Maguire was in his slipstream on Cinders And Ashes, but when he started to shake up the Supreme Novices’ victor the writing was on the wall.

It didn’t seem like Donald Mc- Cain’s favourite had under performed, either, so this has to go down as a top-class performance from Countrywide Flame. Not many four-year-olds win this event; the few that have include Night Nurse, who picked up this race before going on to win the Champion as a five-year-old, and like that great hurdler, Countrywide Flame is ultra-tough and very progressive.

Catterick staged a seven race card on Wednesday and the most impressive winner came in the extended two mile chase when Brave Spartacus galloped his rivals silly.

Afterwards the winning trainer Keith Reveley said: “He is a very excitable horse. He is so uptight. We tried to drop him in at Sedgefield last time and he took off, James couldn’t hold him and he made mistakes at nearly every fence. We thought if we made the running with him he might settle better in front and he did. Fortunately he got a nice easy lead and he is a brilliant jumper. He will go to Sedgefield next week, if it is on.”

Although the jumpers are in full flow a special mention is richly deserved to Graham Lee, who earlier this week rode his 100th winner on the flat, only eight months after switching codes.

The former Grand National winning jockey, who lives outside Bedale, is a credit to his profession and after riding Prophets Pride to victory at Wolverhampton for Newmarket trainer Jeremy Noseda on Tuesday, the Irishman said: “I was lucky enough to ride a couple of centuries over jumps but to do it on the flat in a short space of time is very pleasing.”

There’s another busy weekend in store, the highlight coming up at Sandown Park with the Tingle Creek Chase promising to be a cracker.

There is a also a quality card at Aintree, including two races over the famous Grand National fences. Closer to home there is a seven-race card at Wetherby, due to get under way at 12.10pm.

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