SUE SMITH and Danny Cook’s rich run of form continued when Straidnahanna jumped his rivals into submission to land the North Yorkshire Grand National, the feature race of the year at Catterick.
It was the trainer and jockey’s second successive victory in the three and three-quarter mile marathon following Lackamon’s incredible last to first triumph 12 months ago, a landmark 1,000th triumph for the much-respected Smith stable. And it continues the High Eldwick yard’s eyecatching start to 2017 – novice steeplechaser Hainan successfully made all at Wetherby seven days ago under an inspired Cook front-running ride before I Just Know, another young horse of promise, prevailed at Doncaster on Monday.
Like I Just Know, Straidnahanna runs in the colours of longstanding owner and South Yorkshire farmer Ray Scholey, whose Truckers Tavern was second to Best Mate in the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Slightly outpaced in the early stages of the Catterick race, Cook then took up the running safe in the knowledge that the horse’s jumping and fitness would put his rivals under pressure.
So it proved, Straidnahanna having more than a length in hand over Gonalston Cloud and Itstimeforapint. Next month’s four-mile Eider Chase at Newcastle could be a target, but Cook is keen to see the horse recovers from this stamina test.
“There’s no immediate plan. Let’s enjoy today first, this was the plan,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “It was easier than last year, but he still took a bit of pushing. He’s a big horse, but for some reason he seems to enjoy Catterick which is a tight track.
“He’s always been a nice horse. He was going to win at Haydock last season when we tipped up late on and it took a while to get his confidence back.
“He was back down to his last winning mark and I was confident he’d go well today, but he hadn’t jumped well at Doncaster last time out.
“Basically I knew if I got him into a rhythm earlier he had a chance. He likes it here, it tends to be better ground. He was aimed at this race and it’s nice when it comes off.”
The in-form Cook is hoping the stable’s form continues following a deliberately low-key start to the 2016-17 season by its own high standards.
“Last year we started off well and then the wheels came off towards the end,” he said. “This time, we’re building it up slowly and hoping to stay strong for the rest of the season. I hope we can maintain it to March and April when there are big, and important, meetings at the likes of Ayr and Aintree.”
CHARBEL could warm up for his return to the Cheltenham Festival with a run at Musselburgh next month.
The six-year-old was fifth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last March and has made a fine start to his career over fences this season.
After making a successful chasing debut in the Kalahari King Chase at Uttoxeter, Charbel finished a clear second behind star novice Altior in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown.
Kim Bailey has since given his youngster a short break and is keen to have one more run before returning to Cheltenham, with Musselburgh’s Scottish Future Champions Novices’ Chase on February 5 a possible option.
“He’s fine and we’re just waiting on the better ground,” said the trainer. “He had a few entries over the New Year, but conditions weren’t suitable so we decided to sit tight. Cheltenham is the main aim and hopefully he’ll have one more run beforehand, possibly at Musselburgh.”
Meanwhile Doncaster’s Grimthorpe Chase on March 4 is the target for Grand National runner-up The Last Samuri.
Bailey’s stable star won this race last year before finishing a gallant second to Rule The World at Aintree after leading over the final fence.
“The plan is to go for the Grimthorpe and then back to the National, “ said Bailey. “He’s going to have a lot more weight, but he does seem to like it there, so we’ll see.”