Trainer sets an ambitious aim for star
IT may only be mid-October but Simon Hodgson has an ambitious spring-time target in mind for Neston Grace, flag-waver for his Queen Camel yard near Yeovil.
The Kayf Tara five-year-old has done the stable proud with three wins from six career outings (two bumpers, one novices' hurdle) and after finishing third in a novices' event at Newton Abbot three weeks ago she is due to continue her campaign at Wincanton this afternoon.
Provided the ground has eased from the good/firm forecast earlier this week she will make her handicap debut in the opener over 2m4f off what her trainer describes as "a decent mark" of 104.
Hodgson said: "After that there is a novices' handicap hurdle at Ascot over 2m3f on November 2 but long-term if she keeps progressing we'd like to aim her at the European Breeders' Fund mares' listed novices hurdle final at Newbury at the end of March.
"She had four months off during the summer and she has definitely strengthened up – the core of her is much stronger. There is no reason why she shouldn't win again and any juice in the ground will help."
Hodgson has hurdling on the agenda for this season – though owner/breeder Dr Nigel Knott has dropped chasing into the equation.
The Newton Abbot pipe-opener did not quite go according to plan. Hodgson said: "There was no pace and she ended up doing too much in front and didn't settle like everything else did behind her. She ran with the choke out, was a little too fresh but if James (Davies) could have dropped her in, she could have won.
"But she has come out of the race bouncing, in great form and will come on for the run."
Mick Duggan is returning to the Flat – he runs in a 1m5f handicap at Bath on Sunday – after an unsuccessful hurdling debut at Fontwell Park a fortnight ago.
The strapping chestnut son of Pivotal had schooled impressively over hurdles for Nick Scholfield but on ground softer than he likes the three-year-old was not fluent at the first and pecked so badly at the second that he came back with a tooth hanging out, probably as a result of him kneeing himself in the mouth. Scholfield pulled him up.
Hodgson said: "The going at Fontwell was classed as 'good' but my heel went in four inches and horses will go in deeper. Mick Duggan wouldn't stride out on that surface – he's never liked soft ground.
"He seems fine and in good form and he'll continue on the Flat. We wouldn't put him back over hurdles until there is better ground in the spring."
Mick Duggan was bought by Hodgson out of Rae Guest's Newmarket yard after winning a 7f all-weather claimer for two-year-olds at Kempton Park on his first public appearance in September last year. He has since run two further good races at the Sunbury track finishing third in handicaps over 7f and 12f.
He has the size and scope for longer trips and showed he has staying ability with a close fourth over 1m6f at Salisbury in late August.
Though Mick Duggan will be competing on the all-weather this winter one Hodgson inmate who won't be going anywhere near a synthetic surface is Ponte Di Rosa.
This five-year-old daughter of Avonbridge won a 1m7f turf handicap on the Flat and a selling hurdle for Nottinghamshire trainer Michael Appleby in 2012 but disappointed in a 2m all-weather handicap on the level for Hodgson last month.
"Afterwards one of the owners said she had never run well on the all-weather, so now we will wait for soft ground on turf and that will probably be over hurdles," said Hodgson who explained that in her first run for him at Warwick in August she did not act on going which had dried out too much for her.
Trakeur – fourth on two occasions over hurdles – made his chasing bow at Worcester finishing sixth of eight over 2m4f in a novices' handicap last Thursday. "The ground was far too quick for him and he was nearly brought down at the fourth but Peter Carberry looked after him.
"He needs 3m and some cut but he has an appetite for it as Peter said he couldn't pull him up after the line."
By David Briers
KELTUS – one of eight juvenile hurdlers purchased by Paul Nicholls during his annual French buying spree last month – made a winning debut for the Ditcheat yard at Chepstow on Saturday.
The grey led the 2m contest throughout giving stable jockey Daryl Jacob his first win since returning to the saddle late last month following surgery on a shoulder injury in July.
Nicholls was one of the first to tweet congratulations to Dan Skelton after his former assistant saddled his first winner as a trainer when Mister Grez captured the 2m5f handicap chase under brother Harry Skelton at Ffos Las on Sunday.
Castle Cary jockey Nick Scholfield landed the first Irish win of his career when steering Mrs Mac Veale home in the mares' handicap hurdle at Limerick on Monday. He was in the Emerald Isle for the Britain v Ireland Riders' Challenge event.