WETHERBY staged the final meeting before their big Boxing Day card last Saturday, and punters who braved the cold wind were warmed up with some cracking finishes.
The feature race, a 2mi handicap chase, was won in very pleasing style by De Boitron who was having his first start for Grand National winning trainer Sue Smith.
Formally trained by Ferdy Murphy, Smith has certainly found the key to him and looks the type for the Castleford back at Wetherby at the end of the month.
The 2mi handicap hurdle went the way of Zaplamation, who was following up a recent success over course and distance and, according to winning trainer John Quinn, he could be coming back for more as Quinn said: “Zaplamation settled better today. He seems to like it here so we’ll be looking for another race here, probably on Boxing Day.”
The concluding race was a juvenile bumper and it was won in very pleasing style by debutant Lady Buttons, ridden by Adam Nicol.
Lady Buttons, looks to have a very bright future on the evidence of this performance, just like her trainer Philip Kirby who has now trained more than sixty winners since relocating to Middleham at the start of the year.
The racing bandwagon moved on to Kelso on Sunday and the first race, a 2mi novices’ hurdle, proved a bit of a bookies’ benefit as Tough Trade came home in front at 80-1.
Confidently ridden by Henry Brooke, there appeared to be no fluke from the Chris Grant trained four-year-old, and hopefully time will confirm that.
It was Hexham’s turn to race on Wednesday and Malcolm Jefferson’s Sun Cloud opened his account over fences at the fourth attempt with a sure-footed display in the Farewell And Thanks John Sutherland Handicap Chase at Hexham under Brian Hughes.
The 5/1 shot came home with seven lengths in hand over The Thirsty Bricky, but Jefferson is not getting carried away.
He said: “He did it well, but I don’t think it was a very good race. Brian schooled him on Wednesday morning and I said afterwards if he jumped like that, he’d take a lot of beating. He did jump well today, so we’re pleased.
“He was a bit brave at his fences early on and probably would have won at Carlisle a couple of months ago if he hadn’t fallen.
“It seems like he’s been around forever as we bought him as a foal, but he’s still a young horse as a six-year-old and hopefully he can improve.
“He’ll get three and a half miles no problem in time and a stiff track like Hexham suits him, so we’ll just try to find something similar.”
Stamina was also the key in the final race when the elevenyear- old mare Esme Rides A Gaine gained here third success for Darlington trainer Chris Wilson under a strong ride from conditional Stephen Mulqueen.
Cheltenham are all set to race today and tomorrow and JP McManus looks set to launch a three-pronged assault on tomorrow’s feature, the Stewart Family Thank You Gold Cup, headed by anti post favourite Colour Squadron.
Cantlow and Tap Night will also carry the famous Mc- Manus silks but it’s last month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup runner-up that bookmakers fear most.
“Hopefully all three will run on Saturday and Colour Squadron has come out of the Paddy Power very well,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to McManus.
He added: “Philip Hobbs is quite happy with him and we’re hoping for a good run.”
Colour Squadron will again face his Paddy Power Gold Cup conqueror Johns Spirit on Saturday, hoping for better luck in running this time after suffering interference by Easter Meteor’s heavy fall at the second- last last month, before closing to within three-quarters of a length of the winner.
Berry added: “He was interfered with but not a lot, although these things happen in racing and he ran very well.
“I’ve no idea if Tony McCoy will be on Colour Squadron and he could opt for any of them – he’ll probably only make up his mind just before declarations time.”
Cantlow, who defeated Easter Meteor at Newbury on his last start, is rated a 10-1 shot with Power, while Tap Night is a 20-1 chance as he bids to improve on his eighth at the Open meeting.
Berry said: “Tap Night ran okay in the Paddy Power but was found wanting. He just lacks a bit of experience, but hopefully he will improve with the experience.”