HENRIETTA Knight believes Somersby is becoming a better horse as he gets older ahead of his assignment in the BetVictor Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday.
The nine-year-old illustrated the point at Exeter last month when he won the Haldon Gold Cup by a head on his seasonal bow, with subsequent Betfair Chase winner Cue Card back in third.
Somersby, the regular mount of Guiseley-born jockey Dominic Elsworth, is now trained by Mick Channon following the retirement of Knight who still plays a big part in the upkeep of the former footballer’s jumps string.
It is almost 10 years since Knight and her husband Terry Biddlecombe, synonymous with three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Best Mate, won an unlikely King George with the veteran Edredon Bleu, a former winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Though it would be one of the greatest racing shocks of all time if Somersby was to lower the colours of the steeplechasing superstar Sprinter Sacre in Saturday’s two-mile test, provided Nicky Henderson’s stable star is declared, Knight still believes that her former charge can win a major prize to rival his win in Ascot’s Grade One Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot in January 2012.
“I think steeplechasers get better as they get older,” said Knight yesterday. “Take Edredon Bleu – he was 12 when he won the King George. I think there is plenty more ahead of Somersby.
“We just decided to miss Ascot to give him more time between his races. That is what he needs. He will have an extra two weeks since Exeter.
“He is not an easy horse to train because he is quite delicate and a bit neurotic. He does not take too many races, but Mick says he is in very good form again so hopefully he will put up another good performance.”
Sprinter Sacre’s participation depends on a satisfactory scope this morning after Henderson expressed minor concerns at the weekend about his horse’s wellbeing.
There was a significant win at Ludlow yesterday for Malton-born jockey Andrew Tinkler when Pickamus prevailed in the Boyne Cup for Shropshire trainer Henry Daly.
This is the combination that won the season-ending bet365 Gold Cup with Quentin Collonges and Pickamus rolled back the years with an impressive piece of front-running.
The horse had been sidelined for over a year-and-a-half before running creditably at Cheltenham in October.
Tinkler’s mount jumped accurately and battled tenaciously to hold off the sustained challenge of Cootehill by a head.
“He’s a horse I’ve always liked as he’s great fun to train. He’s a bit of a playboy at home and is always mucking about, but he’s a nice horse to have around,” said Daly.
“I’ve never had 20 winners before Christmas, but for some reason we have this year.
“We haven’t changed anything. The horses seem very fit, well and healthy and they are proving it on the track.”
In contrast, 18-time champion jockey AP McCoy suffered a rare blank day at Catterick yesterday – three of his four mounts finished second.
A disappointing day began badly when Holywell, a former Cheltenham Festival winner, was beaten by a head in the beginners chase by Hi George for the in-form team of Malton trainer Malcolm Jefferson and North Yorkshire jockey Brian Hughes.
Earlier there had been a stirring victory for Grand National-winning jockey Ryan Mania in the juvenile hurdle when Most Honourable prevailed by a short-head.
It provided Mania with swift consolation after he lost the preceding race by a similarly close margin to the Harry Haynes-ridden Milan Royale.
NEWMARKET trainer Gerard Butler will be disqualified from the sport for five years after the British Horseracing Authority accused the trainer of an “appalling” dereliction of his duties.
The results of a BHA disciplinary panel held last month were released yesterday, and it emerged that Butler had admitted to all seven charges against him relating to samples of an anabolic steroid found in horses in his care.
Nine horses produced positive samples, five cases of which were identified as the joint treatment Sungate, which contains the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol.
More serious was Butler’s admission of administering another substance, Rexogin, to four horses himself.
Rexogin is designed for use in humans, often for bodybuilding, and contains 10 times as much stanozolol as Sungate.
Adam Brickell, director of integrity, legal and risk for the BHA, said “the most serious charges” related to “Butler’s gross failure” to look after the best interests of four horses in his care which amounted to conduct that was seriously prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of the sport”.
The trainer also admitted to failing to keep a record of treatments. He is suspended until December 4, 2018, and has 48 hours to arrange the relocation of his horses.