Cracking result for Ewan Whillans in Morebattle Hurdle

By Sports Desk March 02, 2024

Just a week on from seeing an £80,000 prize snatched from his grasp in the Eider Chase, Ewan Whillans was celebrating winning the £120,000 bet365 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso with Cracking Rhapsody.

When Prince Des Fichaux was reeled in by Anglers Crag after the last at Newcastle, Whillans could have been forgiving for thinking his best chance of winning a major handicap had slipped through his fingers.

However, in Cracking Rhapsody he had an unexposed novice on his hands with course form up his sleeve and the 9-1 chance turned what looked a competitive race into something of a procession.

With Nicky Henderson’s morning favourite Under Control a non-runner, it opened the race up and it was 7-2 the field.

But Cracking Rhapsody pulled away with Ginger Mail, another trained locally, early in the straight and by the time he jumped the last the race was won, pulling four and a half lengths clear.

Whillans said: “That was unbelievable and I’m over the moon. Even though he’s still a novice he’s always been a good jumper.

“I thought they’d have gone really quick, but Craig (Nichol) had him in a lovely position and he travelled really well.

“Having been second in the Eider last week I thought that was our chance for a big race gone. We don’t have many good horses and it’s usually a case of getting in good races.

“Since last week there’s been a buzz about the yard, we’ve got about 25 horses in being ridden, we’re down a bit, but those we’ve got seem quite capable.

“There’s a novice handicap final at Sandown on the last day of the season worth £100,000 and if the ground is decent I’d say we’ll go there. He might stay over hurdles next year.”

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    Lucinda Russell’s Corach Rambler is none the worse after his Randox Grand National title defence ended at the first fence.

    The 10-year-old won the race for owners The Ramblers last season, prevailing by two and a quarter lengths to give the Kinross trainer her second success after One For Arthur in 2017.

    This season Corach Rambler aimed to emulate great horses such as Red Rum and Tiger Roll in returning to Aintree to retain his title, but first he was a contender at the very top level in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

    There he ran an admirable race when finishing third behind Galopin Des Champs, a run that made his handicap allocation for the Grand National look rather generous.

    As such he was well-backed on return to Liverpool and started at 15-2 under Derek Fox having been the favourite for much of the ante-post phase.

    Sadly his race ended only moments after it began, with Corach Rambler stumbling on landing after the first fence and unseating Fox.

    He then ran loose to the next fence and fell when meeting the ground on the other side, though connections were spared the ordeal of seeing him run riderless for the rest of the race as was he corralled ahead of the third fence and caught.

    Russell reported him to be unscathed following the experience and will now call it a day for the season and allow him to enjoy a summer break.

    “He’s had a good sleep in his stable and is perfect,” she said.

    “We’re very pleased and relieved to have him home in one piece and he’ll now go on a nice holiday and then we’ll decide what happens next.

    “He just seemed to stumble and it’s one of the those things, but luck was on our side still as he’s absolutely fine.

    “He went into one of the corrals, it’s very good how they work, he was caught quite quickly and that was a relief.”

  • Henderson just delighted to see old friends grab National glory Henderson just delighted to see old friends grab National glory

    He could have been forgiven for thinking ‘what if’ when former pupil I Am Maximus sauntered his way to Randox Grand National glory – but Nicky Henderson was simply thrilled for all concerned and three days at Aintree he feels the sport can look back on with pride.

    It still seems remarkable Henderson has not trained a National winner during what continues to be a hugely distinguished career, and it is perhaps indicative of his luck in the world’s most famous steeplechase that I Am Maximus was housed at his Lambourn base before switching to Willie Mullins in Ireland.

    The future National hero won both a Cheltenham bumper and a Newbury novice hurdle while in the care of Henderson, who admits he was the one runner he was keeping a close eye on during Saturday’s main event.

    “I’ve let one slip through the net,” quipped Henderson. “It’s ironic, you spend 45 years trying to win the Grand National and you finally get your mitts on one and we let it get away.

    “He was here and spent his first two seasons here – he was a lovely horse – and he was the one horse I wanted to win yesterday.

    “I suppose the only thing I might have done to contribute to his success was probably the way we minded him quite a bit when he was young, because he was big and backwards and raw.

    “He was a lovely horse with a great temperament, but he wasn’t really ready for big battles in those days and just needed to be treated with respect – and I think that’s what we did.”

    He was owned at the time by Michael Grech, who was to switch all his horses to Ireland in the summer of 2022, with I Am Maximus joining Mullins’ swelling Closutton ranks to embark on a novice chasing campaign which culminated in Irish Grand National success in April 2023.

    Grech sold I Am Maximus to JP McManus before that Fairyhouse triumph and sadly did not get to see his former charge’s finest hour at Aintree, having died in September last year. But Henderson believes the horse’s big-race victory will be a lasting tribute to his good friend.

    He continued: “I’m thrilled, he belongs to JP, who is one of my biggest supporters here and Willie is a great mate – I told him he needed to go get that horse. I’m genuinely thrilled for them.

    “Sadly, he had to move on (from ourselves) and Michael Grech was lovely, we had some tremendous days together and it was great fun. The horses then had to go over to Ireland and sadly Michael died and it’s very sad because he was a lovely man.

    “All his family were there yesterday, Maxine (his wife) and his children and it was a sad day for them, but he won in Mike’s memory.”

    Henderson did not have a runner in this year’s National, but was keen to heap praise on officials at Aintree for not just the successful alterations they made to the race itself, but for the three days in Liverpool overall.

    The 73-year-old roared back to form himself on Merseyside after a testing Cheltenham Festival, with star performers Sir Gino and Jonbon both scooping Grade One honours.

    He described the action on Merseyside as the “best three days racing you could wish to see anywhere”, with racing deserving of a massive pat on the back after a thrilling three days of action in the north west.

    “I thought it was a fantastic race and it was a brilliant three days, you won’t see better racing anywhere,” said Henderson.

    “Aintree need huge credit for it and after Cheltenham everyone was so down and out, it was all so gloomy and everything was wrong, so after all that, we need to say this was brilliant.

    “I wasn’t going round Cheltenham doom and gloom because I couldn’t play, but I was back playing the game again this week which was good fun and the horses ran well throughout the week.

    “It was a fabulous Grand National, with lots of horses getting round and everyone safe and sound, which is always a paramount – and I just thought it was the best three days racing you could wish to see anywhere and it wants to be celebrated and paraded and everyone saying well done to everyone.

    “The sport did very well for three days and I know we are all under the cosh at Cheltenham and under pressure and maybe things get a bit heated or overtried, but up at Aintree everyone was there to have a good time and enjoy it and they did – and I thought it was first class all the way through.”

  • Chasing could be an option next year for Brighterdaysahead Chasing could be an option next year for Brighterdaysahead

    Gordon Elliott has hinted exciting mare Brighterdaysahead could be sent novice chasing next season.

    The Cullentra House handler has made no secret of how highly he rates the half-sister to star performers such as Mighty Potter and Caldwell Potter.

    She was a beaten favourite when second to Golden Ace in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival but bounced back to claim Grade One glory at Aintree on Saturday.

    Brighterdaysahead was subsequently promoted to second-favourite for next year’s Mares’ Hurdle behind Lossiemouth, but the Gigginstown House Stud-owned five-year-old may now be put over fences instead.

    “I’ll have to speak to Michael and Eddie (O’Leary) about whether we’ll go chasing or whether she’ll stay hurdling, that’s yet to be confirmed,” said Elliott.

    “But knowing Michael, he loves chasers and it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world if she goes chasing next year.”

    Elliott was understandably delighted with the Turners Mersey Novices’ Hurdle success, with Brighterdaysahead coming home seven and a half lengths clear of stablemate Staffordshire Knot.

    The trainer told Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday programme: “I was gutted when she got beat at Cheltenham, because I’d said how much I thought of her, but what she did yesterday, I thought she looked special. I got a big kick out of that, to be honest.

    “She’s going the right way and I think she’s going to be stronger with a summer’s grass – we’re really looking forward to next year with her.

    “She’s just got a great attitude, she’s very classy and I loved the way she jumped, she was very quick from A to B, very fast away from the hurdles.”

    Elliott just missed out in his bid for a fourth Grand National triumph but hailed the efforts of runner-up Delta Work and fourth-placed Galvin, who are set to have another crack at Aintree glory next year.

    He said: “You’d like to think with the way they ran that would be the road for them. They’re not getting any younger, so it’s not going to be easy for them, but we’ll work our way back from the Grand National again.”

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