RACING returns to the Borders track on Saturday, when the feature race of another exciting Kelso card is the prestigious Totepool Premier Hurdle, writes Hilary Mactaggart.
Gates open at noon, with the first race of a quality field off at 1.55pm.
The Totepool.com Premier Kelso Hurdle is a Class 1 Grade 2 Novice Hurdle with a total prize fund of £30,000.
The feature race – in its 12th year under the Tote banner - has previously produced some high-class winners, including Tap Night, Bold Sir Brian and Knockara Beau.
Last year, Tap Night, trained by Lucinda Russell, beat the Nicky Henderson-trained Captain Conan – both horses now leading novice chasers. Captain Conan won the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novice Chase and the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novice Chase en route to the Cheltenham Festival.
This year’s renewal of the Grade 2 totepool Premier hurdle, off at 3.40pm, sees Nicky Richards with a strong hand.
His two smart Aintree-bound hurdlers Eduard and Duke Of Navan are exciting prospects, and Duke of Navan bids to follow up an impressive win in the BetVictor Morebattle Hurdle. A cracking entry also includes Valco De Touzaine (Paul Nicholls), Ubaldo Des Menhies (Oliver Sherwood), Brick Red (Venetia Williams) and Lord Wishes, described by Langholm-based James Ewart as the best horse he has ever trained.
On a BHA mark of 155, Lucinda Russell’s talented chaser Bold Sir Brian is the top-rated horse in the totepool Premier Chase at 4.15pm.
Kim Bailey’s Harry Topper is an interesting contender as he bids to extend his unbeaten record over fences to four. Donald McCain’s 2011 Grand National hero Ballabriggs, who finished fourth last year, is expected to make his third consecutive appearance in the contest.
Eddie Melville, chairman of Kingdom Taverns, is a new sponsor to Kelso and has a chance of landing the big race with the Nicky Richards-trained Eduard in the Premier Hurdle.
Kingdom Taverns sponsors the 2m 6½ furlong Handicap Hurdle. Alistair Findlay has already been booked for the ride on Jane Walton’s Northumberland raider and likely-top-weight Master Murphy.
Recent Newcastle winner Grey Area could bid to follow up a first training success under Rules for Cumbrian milkman and Northern Area point-to-point champion Tristan Davidson.
The Alexander family has a long association with Kelso Racecourse, with the £10,000 Cyril Alexander Memorial Novices Chase run in memory of the late businessman and farmer.
Gris Lord, trained in Ireland by Roy Wilson, was fourth to impressive Tap Night at Ayr recently. King Kalium, a well-backed winner of a handicap hurdle at Ayr’s New Year meeting, could make his debut over fences for Hawick trainer Donald Whillans.
The opening novice hurdle race, at 1.55pm, is sponsored by local Kelso joiner Terry Frame.
There are 36 entries, including Patrick Griffin’s Irish raider Maggio. Lucinda Russell has pencilled in four possibles, including Rymers Stone owned by Melrose businessman and Kelso Racecourse director Geoff Adam.
The Rutherford Handicap Chase is run for the Hamilton Memorial Trophy, one of Kelso’s most sought after prizes, won last year by the Bruce Mactaggart-trained Red Tanber.
Kayfton Pete could be a rare Kelso runner for Cheltenham trainer Fergal O’Brien. Nearer to home, Selkirk’s Stuart Coltherd is double-handed with Surprise Vendor and Overlaw, who was pipped by a short head at Sedgefield recently.
A competitive hunter chase, sponsored by the Country Gentleman’s Association who also support the Foxhunters at Cheltenham, concludes the card.
Rory Stormonth-Darling is travelling up from Warminister to make the presentations to winning connections.
Harmony Brig bids to go one better for Vikki Dobbin, having been second in this race 12 months ago. Red Kingdom could be a first runner under rules for Penrith-based Emma Sayer, who also rides the nine-year-old.