Spring is well and truly in the air with the run up to the Grand National meeting at Aintree underway, it also signifies the start of the Flat turf season at Doncaster with the traditional curtain raiser that is the Lincoln handicap.
The race comes before the All-Weather Championships finals day at Lingfield Park in 2021, only by a week, with the shift of winter horses heading out into the paddocks and turf horses back out onto the track.
In this article, I have pinpointed a couple of horses for Aintree, a summer jumper to follow, a dual-purpose horse, a promising Flat horse and two young riders to keep an eye on too.
Cameron Noble has been around for a few years now and has plenty of experience, which includes winning the 2018 Ayr Gold Cup in a dramatic dead-heat aboard Baron Bolt. Based with Roger Varian, a yard with whom he has been attached to for a few years now, only had twelve rides in the UK last year, but that was due to a stint in Australia which he believes has helped his riding massively.
He still claims three pounds and has previously made his intentions clear about having a go at the apprentice title, a crown well up for grabs now that Cieran Fallon has left that scene.
The next rider I want to pinpoint is Saffie Osborne, daughter of trainer and former top jump jockey Jamie. She received an awful fall at Windsor last summer, stopping her in her tracks and causing a long spell on the side lines. Still claiming seven pounds, she is now equipped with an agent which should allow her to have greater exposure where last year her rides were being booked for her by her dad.
She has all the attributes to have a fruitful campaign and to be used in Saturday handicaps off low weights too as she’s able to do featherweights. It is great to see a clutch of good female riders on the Flat at present, with Hollie Doyle obviously leading the pack ahead of the likes of Josie Gordon, Hayley Turner, Jo Mason, Laura Pearson and the much improved Grace McEntee.
Speaking of the Osborne’s, Jamie rode well over 100 horses for John Jenkins in his riding career. Jenkins, who has been training for many years, had a very tough 2019 into the first third of 2020, but things have picked up since and he has been sending out winners from his Royston base ever since.
He is better known for his Flat horses these days however my eye was drawn to Granny Frankham, one of his few jumpers on her fourth hurdle start at Southwell in early March.
Late to the game, this eight year old looked a touch wayward in her first two hurdles start, both at Huntingdon before being pitched in very deep waters at Newbury. However, after a freshen up, she went to Southwell for a mares’ novice hurdle where after pulling hard, she made good headway turning out of the back straight before ultimately fading late on.
There are a few factors to keep you interested in handicaps, such as better ground and a mark of 91, which could actually be a touch on the high side. However, the most interesting part for me is the jockey bookings as three of the four jockeys who have ridden her are conditional jockeys, in particular Eddie Edge who rode her at Southwell. Harry Bannister may be used again in the future as he was at Newbury.
Over the course of the jumps season so far, I have been baffled as to how the Jedd O’Keeffe trained Jedhi has not managed to win a race, over hurdles.
He went hurdling at Hexham in October, and after three runs in which he pulled hard on each occasion, he was given a very generous handicap mark of 98 to go to war with. He went to Leicester at the start of December and settled much better and made most of the early running, but there was a problem. When it is wet at Leicester, the golden rule is not to race around the inside rail down both the back straight and up the home straight, as it rides deeper, and the ground is cut up and not pleasant to watch let alone gallop through. Jockey Joe Colliver, who rarely rides at Leicester, decided to go on the inside throughout and ultimately paid the price, stopping as if shot after the third last before being pulled up before the last.
The trainer couldn’t offer any explanation afterwards, but he did undergo a wind operation prior to a reappearance on Newcastle’s Tapeta on 2nd March in a very useful handicap on the level over 1m4f and settled well in rear before staying on nicely under tender handling from Graham Lee.
It is worth mentioning he is rated in the 80’s on the Flat and now only 95 over hurdles. He has won off 85 on the Flat and with the scope to win off his current Flat mark, plus the possibility of racking up a sequence over jumps at some stage when they choose to explore that option again. He is one for the trackers.
The birth of the All-Weather Championships eight years ago, changed the scenery of UK racing, with new tracks at Chelmsford City and Newcastle, allowing the level of racing to improve. Big name trainers use the synthetics as a breeding ground for their youngsters before facing top notch horses later in their career, with Enable, Stradivarius, Toast Of New York, Pinatubo and Jack Hobbs all having won their maidens in the winter.
In the past year or so, the maiden stakes have been replaced in the main with novice races, allowing one time winners to face maidens, in the process giving them 7lbs in weight. One such novice race at Wolverhampton on 26th February really caught my eye for a number of reasons, with many noteworthy performances.
The 7.15 race was won by the James Tate trained Raise The Roof, cosily beating Greystoke, who is the equine barometer in the field, consistently running to his mark all winter long.
Raise The Roof came into the race off the back of a good debut third and duly went two places better, but it was a few of the runners in behind that are well worth keeping on side.
The race wasn’t run at a strong pace at all, therefore leaving a huge advantage for front runners, and one horse in particular, Thomas Cochrane, was left to thunder home late on. (Thomas Cochrane won at 16/5 as we were going to press)
Making his debut for Tom Clover’s yard, he was supported beforehand and was held up in the rear through the early stages. When he came off the home turn though he took off and was a fast finishing third under Jack Mitchell.
Back in fourth place was Flyin’ Solo, a previous winner at Dunstall Park for David Menuisier.
Being a four year old and previous winner, Flyin’ Solo was conceding a stone to the second and third and a huge 19lbs to the winner, and this comes after Rhys Clutterbuck’s seven pound claim. There were still distinct signs of greenness when hanging out to the right off the home turn but once straightened up, finished strongly, with similar comments applying to Nazwa in fifth.
Maketh Believeth even further back was supported as though better was expected, a rarity for that yard in novice company. I certainly think the race has plenty of scope to throw up a fair few winners.
A quick mention for a couple of runners at the Aintree Grand National meeting to close and I have a selection for both the Topham Chase and Foxhunters over the National fences.
Senior Citizen has been targeted at the race for some time and ran a lovely race at Newbury in the Greatwood Gold Cup behind Umbrigado. Adrian Heskin, rider of Senior Citizen, has spoken in glowing terms about this particular runner and was delighted with the performance in the Grand Sefton over the big fences in the Autumn, despite the fact he wasn’t aboard that day due to injury, jumping well throughout until getting tired in the ground up the run-in.
Alan King is yet to train the winner of the Topham Chase but given that Senior Citizen has previous experience of jumping the big fences, that will certainly come in handy on the day itself.
As for the Foxhunters, the one horse who has the most eye catching background leading into the race will be Cat Tiger, who made a winning start in hunter chase company at Leicester, beating the very game and talented Tango De Juilley, pulling well clear of the others.
For a seven year old, he has plenty of experience over fences in France, including winning in Grade Three company. He was even deemed good enough to take his place in the 2020 Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham against Monkfish, where he pulled up.
After a year off and a wind operation he reappeared at Leicester and now all roads lead to Aintree where he will be ridden by his enthusiastic owner David Maxwell.
So, there we go, the month with the best of the jumps festivals and the Flat season beginning, a pure feast for all of us racing fans to get stuck into.
Featured Image: (CC BY 4.0) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephoto27
Will Bowler is a freelance writer, together with being one of the busiest Point To Point commentators. Will also commentates on harness and pony racing, with a long list of different venues including Haydock, Wolverhampton, Southwell and a personal favourite in Beverley. He worked at Southwell Racecourse for six years as raceday presenter and marketing executive, helping at Doncaster and Uttoxeter on occasion. He has shares in two horses, one with Laura Morgan and one with John Mackie.