HOW times change. Fifteen months ago, Local Hero was taking on hurdling’s rising stars at the Cheltenham Festival – and Rhys Flint was regarded as one of the country’s hottest riding prospects.
Now the 2011 Triumph Hurdle contender is plying his trade on the Flat – the five-year-old puts his Northumberland Plate credentials on the line in today’s Bond Tyres Handicap York against horses of the calibre of actress Dame Judi Dench’s Smokey Oakey and Mark Johnston’s very progressive Hurricane Higgins.
And 21-year-old Flint, the former champion conditional who is best known for his enduring association with Wetherby specialist Fair Along, is stepping up the transition to the training ranks by setting up his own stable – he knows he can only starve himself for so long each day before he damages his health.
Yet the ever optimistic Steve Gollings, Local Hero’s Louth-based trainer, is hopeful that his stable star – the winner of three hurdle races in 2010-11 under AP McCoy – will be more effective on the Flat as more horses look to run under both codes as racing evolves.
“My gut feeling is that he will be a better Flat horse than a jump horse,” Gollings told the Yorkshire Post ahead of York’s two-day meeting that culminates with tomorrow’s Macmillan charity day, which includes a special race for riding enthusiasts and an auction of top prizes.
“The breeding side of things has changed. On the National Hunt side, people tend not to buy store horses to wait two to three years. They buy Flat-bred horses that have the speed to do both – it cuts out the waiting aspect.
“Physically, Local Hero is not the robust horse for a National Hunt campaign. Jumping at speed, you make a couple of errors in a championship race and you are not going to win.”
Flint, who rode Local Hero at Cheltenham, concurs. “Because they were going so quick, he was struggling to keep up with better horses so that he wasn’t concentrating on his jumping,” said the jockey who hopes to continue riding while awaiting his trainers’ licence so he can run horses from a yard that he is developing next to his father John’s stables in his native South Wales.
“He was going through hurdles, but I’ll always remember the Cheltenham ride. Yes, training will be a brave new world – but I’m looking forward to it once I’m up and going. I still hope to ride a bit in the meantime.”
Gollings, who acquired Local Hero following a Catterick claimer in November, 2010, hopes everything will fall into place today for the horse and in-form Yorkshire jockey Robert Winston.
He believes Local Hero was an unfortunate second at Newmarket’s 2000 Guineas meeting – Darryl Holland has probably had finer days in the saddle – but Gollings accepts he should not have run his horse the following week at Ascot when beaten by Alan King’s Grumeti, who was third to John Quinn’s Countrywide Flame in this year’s Triumph.
“At Ascot, it was too quick and he was beaten by Grumeti,” said Gollings, who believes his Troopingthecolour has an outstanding chance in tomorrow’s Queen Mother’s Cup at York for lady amateur riders.
“He didn’t get going until the last half furlong and the extra quarter of a mile at York should help.
“I’m confident, but I can’t be too confident. The favourite Lordofthehouse – I think William Haggas has the Northumberland Plate in mind – and Hurricane Higgins is well-regarded.
“He will go hurdling again but a good result today and we’ll have to see about the Plate – I don’t think two miles at Newcastle will be a problem. Today will tell us a lot more about the future.”
Trainer Marco Botti will seek compensation for a close defeat in last season’s Bond Tyres Trophy Handicap when saddling Bartolomeu in tomorrow’s renewal of the feature sprint for three-year-olds at York.
The Newmarket-based Italian was narrowly denied 12 months ago when Acclamazing found only Lexi’s Hero too good in the £80,000 contest.
Bartolomeu looks to have a leading chance to make amends tomorrow, based on his close second to Mince in the Coral Sprint Trophy at Newmarket.
“He would not want too much rain but I’m happy with him and I think six furlongs is his best trip,” said Botti.
“He probably goes into the race with a stronger chance than Acclamazing. He is progressive and I hope he is a few pounds better than his rating.”