Last call for entries in top-class Kelso race

Saphir Du Rheu, winner of Ivan Straker Memorial Chase, is due back at Kelso (picture by Alan Raeburn).
Saphir Du Rheu, winner of Ivan Straker Memorial Chase, is due back at Kelso (picture by Alan Raeburn).

Entries for one of Kelso’s most prestigious races, the Timeform Morebattle Hurdle – to be staged on Thursday, February 15 – will close tomorrow (Friday).

The £25,000 feature race is one of three races on the valuable programme regularly used as stepping stones towards next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

A recognised trial for the Champion Hurdle, the Timeform Morebattle Hurdle is run over a distance of two miles and two furlongs, often attracting a small but very high quality field of runners.

The roll of honour includes some of the sport’s most popular performers, including Large Action, Direct Route, Peddlers Cross and Simonsig, not to mention the Gordon Richards’ trained Jinxy Jack, who scored four times between 1990 and 1993.

Last year’s renewal was won by Cyrus Darius, saddled by Malcolm Jefferson, who sadly passed away earlier this month. The Norton-based trainer will be greatly missed by everyone associated with the sport of horse racing and his passing will add a poignancy to proceedings at this year’s meeting.

Nicky Richards, who has won the race twice in the last five years, hopes to run Better Getalong, a highly regarded young hurdler who has been placed at Cheltenham in Grade 2 company already this season.

He carries the colours of David Wesley Yates, an owner best known for his association with spring-heeled grey Monet’s Garden, who happened to win a bumper at Kelso during his formative years.

The main supporting race, also with a prize fund of £25,000, is the Ivan Straker Memorial Steeple Chase, run over a distance just short of three miles.

Last year’s winner, Saphir Du Rheu, went on to finish a very creditable fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and is due to make his seasonal reappearance at Kelso before heading back to Cheltenham once more.

The Paul Nicholls-trained chaser could be joined by Tea For Two, the horse that gave Lizzie Kelly her first Grade 1 winner as a jockey. Tea For Two has been placed in the last two renewals of the King George VI Chase and is another seeking glory at the Festival.

Lucinda Russell intends to run Big River, a real course specialist with his five previous course trips yielding four wins and a second. He’s owned by Two Black Labs – so look out for his distinctive colours featuring the silhouette of a dog on the front and paw prints on the sleeves and cap.

The John Wade Group Hunterchase, the sixth of seven races on the card, usually features at least one or two horses seeking to qualify for the Foxhunter’s Steeplechase at Cheltenham. Last year’s race was won by Charles Levinson’s Premier Portrait, who upset the 1/8 favourite Black Thunder by a short head.

Potential entries include Winged Crusader, runner-up to impressive Festival-bound Wonderful Charm at Musselburgh last Sunday, and the Nicky Richards-trained Cultram Abbey.

Gates are due to open at 11.25am, with the first of seven races getting under way at 1.25pm.