HIGHLIGHT of Saturday’s Kelso card is the £30,000 Grade 2 Totepool Premier Hurdle race, writes Hilary Mactaggart.
A valuable and influential event, where previous winners include the George Charlton-trained Knockara Beau and Bygones of Brid, runner-up to Peddlers Cross at the last meeting, it again promises a top-class contest.
The Alistair Whillans-trained Storm Brig, who has only tasted defeat once in five appearances on a racecourse, would be a popular local winner, while James Ewart’s Vosges has already won twice at Musselburgh this winter, including the Scottish Triumph Hurdle.
Jim Goldie’s Wyse Hill Teabags is another with recent winning form at the East Lothian venue. Former Royal Ascot winner Drill Sergeant and Dorabelle look the pick of Donald McCain’s yard.
The opening chase on the card, run for the Hamilton Memorial Trophy, is the Bedmax Handicap Steeple Chase.
The two-mile mile opener has attracted a big Borders contingent including Also Jo (Willie Amos), Flighty Mist (Sandy Forster), Guns And Butter (Rose Dobbin), Open de L’Isle and Super Baby (James Ewart) and Tartan Snow (Stuart Coltherd). The likely top-weight is Malcolm Jefferson’s veteran Polar Gunner.
The Cyril Alexander Memorial Novice Chase is run in memory of the keen Kelso supporter and National Hunt enthusiast.
The race has attracted a small yet quality field.
Ferdy Murphy took this 12 months ago with Bedlam Boy and the Irishman relies on Catch Bob to keep the trophy at his West Witton yard.
Jim Goldie is getting geared up for another flat campaign, but his useful dual-purpose performer Wind Shuffle has adapted well to steeple chasing.
Kelso joiners Terry Frame back the novice hurdle race, which has attracted a large entry.
The Howard Johnson-trained King O’ The Gypsies was successful in this last year and the in-form yard has entered recent Musselburgh scorer Little Hercules and Gin Cobbler. Another interesting contender is well-regarded Freddie Brown, trained by George Charlton for Kelso chairman Johnny Jeffreys.
The second race, sponsored by the Tote, is the Totesport Premier Chase, won last year by the James Ewart-trained Sa Suffit.
Donald McCain’s BallaBriggs, unbeaten in his last five starts and 14-1 ante-post favourite for the John Smith’s Grand National, catches the eye in a quality entry.
Last year’s Cheltenham Festival winner Chief Dan George represents Jimmy Moffatt while improvers Always Right (John Wade) and Quotica De Poyens (Simon Shirley-Beavan), who is also pencilled in for the hunters’ chase, add interest to what should be a good race.
The final handicap hurdle of the day commemorates the “Voice of Rugby” Bill McLaren, who is fondly remembered by family and friends.
Hawick handler Donald Whillans has entered Leith Walk and Bollin Fiona while Sue Bradburne is also doubly represented by Bertie Milan and Izzy Bella. Sue’s near neighbour Lucinda Russell could run Lord Leigh’s Golfer’s Crossing in his first handicap over hurdles.
The Royal Caledonian Hunter Chase was first run at Kelso in 1779 and is now being run for the 176th time, each year being run at a different Scottish course.
Some familiar faces in this race include Val Renwick’s Doc Row, who was runner-up last year, while with the late Peter Monteith.
Ex-Nicky Henderson and Nicky Richards-trained Viking Rebel is now with former jockey Tim Reed while Hawick’s Gavin Hamilton now has Aggie’s Lad, a useful chaser and hurdler when trained by Tom Taaffe and Tony Martin.
Gates open at noon, with the first race off at 2.05pm.