ALL eyes in the racing world are focussed this week on the big event in the national hunt calendar, the Cheltenham Festival.
In comparison it was inevitable that small but competitive fields would be the order of the day on Sunday’s card at Market Rasen.
The shirt sleeved crowd were able to bask in glorious sunshine however as the unseasonal conditions continued.
It was to the credit of head groundsman Steve Bakin and his staff that the going was officially declared on the chase course good to soft (good in places) and on the hurdle course – good.
Highlights of the afternoon were a double for jockey Jason Maguire and also for trainer Kim Bailey.
The opening Conditional’s Hurdle, the Mama J´s Italian Kitchen Now Open Handicap Hurdle, saw Market Rasen trainer Michael Chapman saddle Galley Slave, who won twice over the course a year ago.
The seven–year–old was sent to post a 17-2 shot. After previous success the Woodlands handler and Grimsby Town Director’s horse struggled for form, but showed encouraging signs at Catterick last month.
Here his form from that effort continued, and clearly liking the better ground, he chased home winner 10-1 shot Endeavour. Chapman’s horse was ridden by 5lb claimer Gavin Sheehan.
Scamblesby trainer Steve Gollings had his six–year–old, the promising Bar De Ligne, on the card but he was a non runner in the second race, the M W Entertainments Novices´ Hurdle.
For Noel Fehily on winner, Victor Leudorum, it proved a matter of steering the evens favourite round for trainer Charlie Mann, as he led for much of the second circuit before easing home.
Warming up for Cheltenham at the Market Rasen meeting, champion jockey Tony McCoy had two rides. McCoy has been out of the saddle recently following injury after a nasty fall. In the third race of the afternoon, a handicap chase, he was on board the Jonjo O’Neill trained nine–year–old Babysitter.
O’Neill’s horses have been out of sorts recently and Babysitter was always struggling. It was left to 7-2 shot Sycho Fred to lead them home. With something of an erratic jumping reputation going before him ‘Fred’, with Brian Hughes on board, manged to see off his rivals including McCoys mount.
McCoy fared slightly better in the sixth race, the Calverts Carpets York “National Hunt” Novices´ Hurdle. Riding again for O’Neill he got into the frame on board The Mad Robertson, who was third behind Rowlestone Lad (15-8F), another favourite to win on the afternoon.
The fourth race was the Golf Society Novices´ Handicap Chase and another win for a favourite in the shape of Top Benefit with Jason Maguire up, who followed up a promising effort at Ludlow last time with his first win under rules. Chapman saddled The Mighty Mod who faded after promising better rewards earlier in the race.
There is barely a Market Rasen meeting that pases without Yorkshire trainer Sue Smith delivering a winner.
Here she saddled 15-2 favourite Vintage Star in the HF Handicap Hurdle. The 15-2 shot is progressing nicely in handicap company over hurdles after places in bumpers.
The final race had a Barnetby flavour as the village pub sponsored the Whistle And Flute Tribute Night Handicap Chase, in which 11-10 favourite North Stack completed a double for both trainer Kim Bailey and jockey Maguire.
All eyes now turn to Cheltenham where in Friday’s Gold Cup, if passed fit, Kuato Star will be hoping to repeat the same invincible form he showed in the King George Chase on Boxing Day.
Jockey Ruby Walsh will be looking to again get one up on Long Run, last year’s winner.
Market Rasen’s next meeting is on Tuesday March 27. On this day anyone living in Lincolnshire and providing their address can purchase Tattersalls admission for just £5-details from the ticket hotline on 0844 5793009.