Horse racing: Runners and riders saddle up for Morebattle Hurdle Day

Llast years Ivan Straker Memorial Winner Holywell ridden by Sir AP McCoy.
Llast years Ivan Straker Memorial Winner Holywell ridden by Sir AP McCoy.
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Kelso racecourse stages arguably the richest and best National Hunt mid-week race day in Northern England & Scotland, with over £78,000 prize money on the Morebattle Hurdle Day card tomorrow (Thursday).

Under orders at 1.20pm, with gates open at 11.20am, the fixture should provide useful pointers for Cheltenham’s prestigious National Hunt Festival in March.

Course racecard printers Timeform sponsor for the fifth year, backing the Champion Hurdle trial for the third time. Nicky Henderson views this as a prep-race for his Champion Hurdle entry Top Notch, beaten just a neck in the 2015 Triumph Hurdle. He also has Barry Geraghty booked to ride Hargam. The Seven Barrows trainer has saddled six winners from just nine runners in the past five seasons at Kelso which returns a handsome strike-rate of 67%. Southern trainers are strongly represented with Paul Nicholls holding two entries, Oxfordshire based Ben Case has entered Croco Bay for Lady Jane Grosvenor, and the in-form Dan Skelton is represented by Pain Au Chocolat.

Ivan Straker, instrumental in saving the Grand National, has the three-mile handicap chase run in his memory, sponsored by his wife, Tizzy. Highlights of the race include 2013 when Gold Cup winning Long Run was chased up the Kelso straight by Knockara Beau in a nail biting finish. It was won last year by Jonjo O’Neill’s Holywell, who went on to finish fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Nicky Henderson has entered Triolo D’Alene who holds entries in this year’s Gold Cup and Crabbie’s Grand National. Other trainers eyeing the race include Greenlaw’s Sandy Thomson for two-time Borders National hero Neptune Equester, Paul Nicholls has three entries and David Pipe and Jonjo O’Neill each have one.

A new sponsor to Kelso Races is Scott Hume who runs the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm - South East Scotland Pub of the Year for a third year - who generously sponsor the handicap chase.

The racecourse’s top class catererers Peter and Gillian Allan sponsor the open hunter chase. Galashiels-based Katie Scott won this last year with Douglas Julian and it could be an option for Damien’s Dilemma, trained at Selkirk by Lesley Coltherd. Wind Of Hope, normally ridden by Selkirk jockey Rachael McDonald, is another possible.

Kelso’s annual members provide the funding for two races on the card.

The first of the Annual Members’ races is the novice hurdle. Nick Alexander has entered Road To Gold who won on Kelso’s Scottish Borders National day card in December and the Kinneston raider has since finished a decent second at Wetherby. Another one to keep an eye on is the Gordon Elliott trained Water Sprite - the Irish trainer’s only entry, with Champion Jockey elect Richard Johnson down to ride.

The second of the Annual Member’ races is a Handicap Hurdle which sees two David Pipe prospects, Mount Haven and Pilgrims Bay, and Michael Scudamore’s Dan Emmett amongst the 18 entries.