Following a chilly December, the team at Kelso Racecourse is raring to go.
Declarations for the seven-race programme scheduled for this Sunday, Kelso’s first fixture of 2018, will be drawn from a bumper entry of more than 150 potential runners.
Local trainers – including Harriet Graham, James Ewart, Stuart Coltherd, Alison Hamilton and Pauline Robson – are likely to be well represented following the loss of several National Hunt fixtures during the recent cold snap.
Prize money exceeding £87,000 is likely to draw a number of travellers from southern stables, including Tom George, Warren Greatrex and Paul Nicholls, while northern stalwarts such as Nicky Richards and Donald McCain are also expected to be highly competitive.
The first race on the card is the Persimmon Homes EBF National Hunt Novices Hurdle and trainer Rose Dobbin will be keen to win the race for her father, Duncan Davison.
Coole Hall, one of several entries made by Dobbin, was a winner at Newcastle last time and at Kelso back in the autumn.
Meanwhile, winning point-to-pointer and bumper horse Truckers Lodge would be an interesting jumps debutant for Gloucestershire trainer Tom George, who has a 50 per cent strike-rate at Kelso.
Last year, the bookmakers cleaned up in the second race, the D.G. Pryde Developments Novices Hurdle, when the prize was scooped by an unfancied 66/1 outsider – Seemorelights, trained by Sandy Thomson.
Aye Right, trained at Harriet Graham and owned by Kelso director Geoff Adam, has winning bumper form and may make his hurdles bow in this race.
The Kristoffersen Carpets and Flooring Handicap Hurdle is the first of two races on the card with a purse of £25,000. A correspondingly strong field of entries will result in a competitive race but the better ground is likely to suit the Pauline Robson-trained Martila, a winner at Ayr in November who recently by-passed a valuable opportunity at Musselburgh.
Morning With Ivan, a mare trained in Northumberland by Susan Corbett, is a fascinating entry – since returning from time off to have a foal, she has won both starts at Newcastle and Market Rasen.
Bernardelli won the feature race last year, the Children’s Immunology Trust Handicap Steeplechase, for Nicky Richards and the bang-in-form Greystoke trainer is keen to keep hold of the prize as he has also pencilled in recent Doncaster runner-up Takingrisks.
Nick Alexander is triple-handed in the fifth race on the card, with popular horses such Gold Opera, Jet Master and Lake View Lad.
The Kinneston trainer will face stiff opposition from Donald McCain, whose horses have been in flying form.
McCain’s recent Bangor scorer Tailor Tom would be an interesting runner.
McCain could also hold the key to the sixth race, the Celebrating Jimmy Logan’s 100th Birthday Handicap Steeplechase.
Lough Derg Jewel is locally owned, so Donald McCain may be tempted to let him take his chance in a hat-trick attempt. James Ewart’s Ueueteotl also has plenty of placed form at Kelso.
The final race on the card is the first hunter chase of the new season at Kelso.
A high-class collection of entries includes Al Co, the 2014 Scottish National hero and the Paul Nicholls pair, Unioniste and Vivaldi Collonges.
Both Nicholls entries are previous course winners at the Borders venue and are likely to use this race as a springboard to the festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree, later in the spring.
According to the racecourse website, the gates open at 10.40am on Sunday and the first race is off at 12.40pm, while the last race is due at 3.45pm.
Management at Kelso has advised that timings may alter slightly in run-up to the race meeting.