Coko Beach dominates Becher landscape

By Sports Desk December 04, 2023

Coko Beach heads 17 confirmations for the BoyleSports Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree on Saturday.

Gordon Elliott’s grey has been a fine servant to owners Gigginstown House Stud, winning a Thyestes Chase, the Grade Two Ten Up Novice Chase, Punchestown’s Grand National Trial and the Troytown Chase on his most recent appearance at Navan last month.

The eight-year-old was pulled up in the Grand National last season, having finished eighth in 2022, and could bid to make it third time lucky over the famous fences on Merseyside this weekend.

If Coko Beach does line up, his lofty rating of 162 means he will have to concede upwards of 15lb to each of his rivals.

Leading contenders include last year’s winner Ashtown Lad (Dan Skelton) and last year’s third Percussion (Laura Morgan), who again showed his liking for the track when runner-up in the Grand Sefton four weeks ago.

Nicky Henderson has left in Fantastic Lady and Mister Coffey, while Nicky Richards views the race as an ideal target for Houston Texas, who was last seen winning the Cumberland Handicap Chase at Carlisle for the second year in succession.

However, the Greystoke handler admits the possible presence of Coko Beach gives him a headache as it means Houston Texas is currently 8lb out of the handicap.

Richards, who won the 1999 Becher Chase with Feels Like Gold, said: “It will all depend what Gordon’s going to do as if his horse runs it will just spoil it for me – I’m not running from that far out of the handicap. It wouldn’t the brightest thing in the world to do, would it?

“I’d be very hopeful that he’d enjoy it round there. He’s a good, bold jumping lad and very sensible with it as well.

“I just thought it would be ideal for him and was hoping I would sneak in at the bottom and have a right chance, but you don’t want to be that far out of the handicap – you’ve got to be realistic with it.”

Fergal O’Brien’s Highland Hunter, Stuart Crawford’s Now Where Or When and the Venetia Williams-trained Chambard also feature among the acceptors.

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  • Henderson will do ‘everything possible’ with Constitution Hill Henderson will do ‘everything possible’ with Constitution Hill

    Nicky Henderson is not giving up hope of Constitution Hill being able to defend his Unibet Champion Hurdle crown and will have his unbeaten superstar “rescoped” again on Friday, after a below-par workout at Kempton Park on Tuesday put his participation in doubt.

    As has become tradition, Henderson took several of his Festival contenders for a spin at the Sunbury circuit, including Constitution Hill, whose only start this season was in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.

    Bookmakers were quick to suspend the betting markets in the wake of the work, and the Seven Barrows trainer told the PA news agency his superstar had scoped badly following it.

    “Unfortunately, in a routine gallop this morning, Constitution Hill was very disappointing and it transpires, after the vet has scoped him, that there is evidence of mucus,” said Henderson.

    “We’re taking a sample of it to a laboratory to analyse it, which will tell us about the significance of it and we should know more after that.

    “Last week, he worked brilliantly and he was scoped 10 days ago, but these things happen, just like it did with him earlier in the year (having to miss Cheltenham on Trials day in January).

    “Horses are like humans, look how many people had the awful cough around Christmas that took ages to get rid of.”

    He went on: “The vets still think it could clear up in a week and all his serious work has been done already, whether he makes it (to Cheltenham) will depend on the severity of it.

    “He was disappointing this morning working with Sir Gino (Triumph Hurdle favourite), who he has worked with in the past. He would normally go easily with him, but this morning he couldn’t, so Nico (de Boinville) realised all was not well and wasn’t hard on him.

    “Obviously, the mucus was affecting him. He’s not coughing, he’s just got a dirty picture, as we say.

    “I’m not saying definitely either way (about Cheltenham) and I’ll keep hoping. As you can imagine, it has come as a bit of a shock.”

    Giving an update later on his X (formerly Twitter) account, Henderson said: “Following up on this morning’s situation with Constitution Hill, the sample from his tracheal wash has shown a small increase in the number of neutrophils which indicates a respiratory infection, which is significant but far from drastic.

    “He will start a course of antibiotics immediately and we plan to rescope him on Friday in order to monitor which way this is going. He would only be having light exercise this week following this morning’s racecourse gallop.

    “Both our own vet and the racecourse veterinary surgeon who scoped him feel we definitely have a chance of correcting this in time and we will be doing everything possible to do so. We have a fortnight to work him and it is possible, so we will keep everybody notified accordingly.

    “He is absolutely fine within himself and we have simply got to get on top of this issue as quickly as possible.”

    Having been the 1-4 favourite for the Champion Hurdle at the start of the day, by the afternoon Constitution Hill was significantly bigger at 5-4 with the sponsors, who make the Willie Mullins-trained State Man their 4-5 favourite. In their non-runner, money back betting market, Coral make State Man 4-7 and Constitution Hill 4-6.

  • Q&A: How worried should we be about Constitution Hill? Q&A: How worried should we be about Constitution Hill?

    The shock news of Constitution Hill’s disappointing workout and subsequent poor scope caused reverberations around the racing world just two weeks ahead of this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

    Here, we look at some of the key questions raised by the dramatic development:

    What problems arise from mucus in a horse’s trachea (windpipe)?

    Mucus is continually being produced by all horses and cleared from the lungs – if it is healthy and clear. However, bacterial or fungal infections lead to excess mucus secretion and any change in colour to yellow, green or even brown makes it thicker and harder to move. This mucopurulent discharge contains a combination of mucus and pus, which can cause difficulty in breathing and reduced exercise performance.

    Is this a regular occurrence?

    “Horses are like humans, look how many people had the awful cough around Christmas that took ages to get rid of,” commented trainer Nicky Henderson. Constitution Hill himself has been affected by a similar setback already this season, when forced to miss the Unibet Hurdle on Cheltenham’s Trials day. On that occasion, Henderson reported back in mid-January: “A routine scope last week wasn’t entirely satisfactory and a follow up this morning shows the issue hasn’t resolved and therefore there would not be time to get him ready for next week. In the meantime, he will continue with light exercise, be rescoped in a fortnight’s time and then start his preparation for March.”

    How long does it take to clear up?

    Obviously, much will depend on how severe the infection is, but an immediate course of antibiotics will be administered and aid any recovery. Henderson said: “Both our own vet and the racecourse veterinary surgeon who scoped him feel we definitely have a chance of correcting this in time and we will be doing everything possible to do so. We have a fortnight to work him and it is possible, so we will keep everybody notified accordingly. He is absolutely fine within himself and we have simply got to get on top of this issue as quickly as possible.”

    Just how big is Constitution Hill for Cheltenham?

    Every sport needs its superstars, and in the shape of Constitution Hill the world of National Hunt racing certainly has one. He is a perfect eight from eight over hurdles and the idea of defeat when he is at his best is more or less unthinkable. Think Frankel, but over jumps.

    How has the Champion Hurdle betting been affected?

    Constitution Hill was as short as 1-4 to retain his crown, while Coral even made him favourite to record the biggest winning distance at this year’s Festival. However, he was eased out to as big as 6-4 at one point with Champion Hurdle sponsors Unibet, who then trimmed him back into 5-4 after a more encouraging update, with State Man their 4-5 favourite. That firm is one of only a few not now offering odds on a non-runner, no bet basis. With that concession, Constitution Hill is 4-6 at best with Coral, Ladbrokes and William Hill – and still as short as 2-5 in places. William Hill spokesperson Lee Phelps said: “We might be non-runner, money back on the race, but we believe there is significant doubt now about Constitution Hill’s participation and even if he does run there have to be concerns, so we’re prepared to take him on.”

    Will any other connections now be tempted to run their horses?

    Bookmakers are taking no chances with the odds of Lossiemouth, but Willie Mullins may still prefer to keep his exciting mare separate from stablemate State Man, especially as last year’s Triumph Hurdle star is such a short-priced favourite for the Mares’ Hurdle. Owner Rich Ricci said after Lossiemouth’s latest Cheltenham success on Trials day: “We’ll go for the Mares’ Hurdle I think, and I think we learned last year that these four-year-olds turning five, it is very hard to run in open company.” Gordon Elliott could consider dropping Irish Point back from the Stayers’ Hurdle, with the Cullentra handler and owners Robcour also having Teahupoo at the head of the betting for that Thursday feature.

  • BHA ‘encouraged’ by parliamentary debate into affordability checks BHA ‘encouraged’ by parliamentary debate into affordability checks

    The British Horseracing Authority has welcomed the “valuable contributions” made by several ministers in Monday’s parliamentary debate into affordability checks.

    It was the first chance for MPs to properly interrogate proposals of the implementation of the supposedly “frictionless” checks after 100,000 people signed an e-petition to trigger the debate.

    Matt Hancock, who has Newmarket within his constituency, Connor McGinn, whose St Helens North constituency includes Haydock, and Philip Davies were among MPs to lay out arguments against the checks during the debate at Westminster Hall, and the BHA’s chief executive Julie Harrington was encouraged by the discussions.

    In a statement issued on Tuesday, Harrington said: “Yesterday’s debate on the impact of affordability checks on British racing has shone a light on a hugely important issue for our sport.

    “It was vital that MPs were given proper parliamentary time to thoroughly interrogate the government’s proposals and we were encouraged by the high turnout for a Westminster Hall debate.

    “Many MPs made valuable contributions to the debate, and we are sure that Sports Minister Stuart Andrew will have listened with interest to the views expressed.

    “From MPs of all parties and all sides of the debate, there was a clear recognition of the need for the government to protect and support British racing when reviewing gambling legislation.

    “If our sport is to remain a healthy industry, supporting jobs in the rural economy and remaining competitive with our international rivals, we hope that government will heed this advice.

    “We were encouraged by Minister Andrew ruling out the use of job titles and postcodes in the implementation of enhanced spending checks and confirming that these changes will at least be subject to a genuine pilot.

    “We will continue to make the case into the heart of government that the impact of these checks both on our industry and racing bettors needs to be carefully considered and look forward to further discussions on this important issue for British racing with the Gambling Commission and DCMS.”

    In Monday’s debate, Andrew said both the government and Gambling Commission had listened to the points raised, although the proposals will proceed, with a pilot of enhanced checks running for “a minimum of four months, during which time the commission will consider all issues that arise”.

    Andrew also underlined the concerns about the possible impact of the checks on racing are being taken “extremely seriously”.

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