All eyes this week are on the Cheltenham Festival and one trainer whose expectations might just have gone up after Sunday is Charlie Longsdon.
The inform handler saddled winners in the first three races on the afternoon’s card at Market Rasen with jockey Noel Fehily also claiming a treble.
Winning the opening novices hurdle over 2 miles and 1 furlong was 1/2 favourite Kilcooley. It was the five-year-old’s second win over hurdles at the track having powered over course and distance a month ago, and he won here despite a penalty for that earlier effort. Longsdon trains at Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds and it will not be far to Cheltenham from his stables.
“Cheltenham is always impossibly tough and I have never had a festival winner. I have eight runners this year,”Longsdon told the crowd around the winner’s enclosure on Sunday.
Kilcooley had clearly liked the faster ground at Market Rasen with many of the tracks around the country serving up mud, mud and more mud over the past two months. Longsdon and Fehily’s second winner came with No No Mac in the Class 4 Novices Hurdle. The horse was returning from a short break after an impressive win at Southwell and should have more to offer.
The front running Orange Nassau (11/4) won the first chase of the afternoon to complete the Longsdon/Fehily hat trick. Here was another to benefit from faster ground having made a mistake two out in the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen on Boxing Day.
Scamblesby trainer Steve Gollings saddled Honest John in the race and Nick Kent brought Around a Pound from his Newstead yard near Brigg, and although both had some following in the market the local duo failed to make any impression and were tailed off on the second lap of the 3 mile race.
The fourth race was a handicap chase, a qualifier for the Grassroots Jumps Series and won by bottom weight Highbury High who had Tom O’Brian up.
The Irish Bred seven-year-old challenged two out and held on to make up for a final fence error in November at Wincanton, his last time out. His jumping has been a bit erratic, but this was a better effort and there could be more to come.
Top jockey Richard Johnson only had one ride on the afternoon and he steered the top weight and 10/3 joint favourite Kaysersberg to just get up on the line.
Johnson was another jockey looking forward to the Cheltenham Festival.
“It’s an amazing place to ride, fingers crossed I hope I can have a good week,” he said.
The sixth race was the Weightlifter Mare’s Handicap Hurdle where Lily Waugh (13/8) survived a blunder at the last to hold on for jockey Robert Thornton. Clearly she relished a return to quicker ground after being held at odds on in her two previous races over the smaller obstacles.
The next meeting at Market Rasen is on Sunday March 23.