EVEN though Seeyouatmidnight does not have a date at next month’s Cheltenham Festival, his rise to prominence epitomises the spirit of National Hunt racing – and how champions can emerge from unlikely beginnings.
Still unbeaten from three starts over hurdles after providing Grand National-winning jockey Ryan Mania with the first Grade Two victory of his career at Haydock on Saturday, this is the rapidly improving horse who was overlooked at Doncaster’s bloodstock sales last May.
“We went to Doncaster because someone had asked us to buy her horse,” trainer Sandy Thomson told the Yorkshire Post. “That didn’t work out and we were just looking at the sales.
“My wife Quona liked the look of a horse that was coming into the ring. He was unsold and it all became quite fortuitous. She was on crutches because she had an ankle in plaster, and she went scuttling off. I could hardly keep up with her.
“We got to the horse’s box and liked what we saw. We looked at the video of winning his point-to-point and we did the deal. That’s the way it goes at the sales. You never quite know what you’re buying but there was something about this horse’s presence...”
Even though the ‘deal’ cost less than Seeyouatmidnight’s reserve price of £20,000, the six-year-old – sired by Midnight Legend – has already recouped this sum, and more, for the Thomson family after taking his career winnings to £36,000.
Seeyouatmidnight’s hurdling debut last December saw the gelding cause a 66-1 upset at Hexham when beating the AP McCoy-ridden 1-4 odds-on favourite Regal Encore who holds entries in two Grade One races at Cheltenham for owner JP McManus.
To prove this victory on Hexham’s stiff uphill finish was not a fluke, horse and rider then set a course record at Musselburgh when beating Malton trainer John Quinn’s highly-regarded Racing Pulse when Musselburgh staged its prestigious Cheltenham trials day a fortnight ago.
And then Seeyouatmidnight virtually made all to win the prestigious Betfred Mobile Hurdle – formerly the Rendlesham – at Haydock. The vanquished included the classy Celestial Halo back in third; the Paul Nicholls horse was runner-up in last season’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
In hindsight, it was probably fortunate that the race was the second on the card at the Merseyside track – conditions deteriorated visibly as the afternoon progressed and were some of the worst ever encountered by veteran jockeys.
It was also fortunate that the in-form Mania managed to convince Thomson and his wife to run their horse in this Grade Two rather than a subsequent race – his retainer to Sue and Harvey Smith meant he would have ridden the well-regarded Straidnahanna, who was pulled up, rather than Seeyouatmidnight.
“He’s very gutsy and stayed on superbly,” said Mania who is now on the 41-winner mark for the season thanks, in part, to the confidence that he gained after winning last year’s Grand National on the now retired Auroras Encore.
“We weren’t sure if he was in the right race but he’s proved he was. He was relentless today – he’s stayed so well and jumped brilliantly. He won his first race at Hexham at 66-1 but should never have been that price that day. He keeps improving and is a delightful horse to ride.”
As for Thomson, who trains at a small family-run yard near Kelso, the victory was made even more poignant – his father David won the inaugural running of the Greenall Whitley Trophy, now the Betfred Grand National Trial, on the corresponding day in 1969.
“We’ve always had horses through my grandfather and father,” said Thomson. “My father was also chairman of Kelso for a number of years. I’ve always been involved in horses, but I played rugby at school and then point-to-point I hunted with the Berwickshire Hunt. We’re just trying to build our stable up and we have some nice young horses like Seeyouatmidnight and Blue Kascade who won at Musselburgh in the week.
“We went to Hexham with Seeyouatmidnight just for a run round because it’s a nice track to start horses. We couldn’t have been more wrong! We’ve had one offer for him after Musselburgh that was embarrassing. It was so low. If it comes, it would have to be discussed, but I would hope to keep the horse.
“Everybody, and especially in the jumping game, wonders ‘could this be the one?’ On the Flat, they have to be bred in the pink but jumpers can be less fashionably bred and still be top class.
“This is unbelievable – it’s a real fairy story. When you think of all the people in racing and all the nice horses, it’s amazing. We’ve got a nice one now though.
“He’s just kept surprising me. He’s a lovely horse but you could never have expected him to do what he’s done. He’s not in at Cheltenham but he’s a chaser in the making. In a way, it has made the decision easier as I’m sure we’d have been tempted to go to the Festival but that’s not a bad thing as I think plenty leave their careers behind there as young horses. He’ll probably go to Aintree now and then chasing next year.”
Thomson was also full of praise for the role played by Mania. “He’s probably never ridden better,” he added. “We’ve had him riding for us for a number of years and kept in touch when he took a break from the sport.”
It is ironic that this Grade Two contest has more prestige than a Grand National which is, in fact, a Grade Three handicap – despite being the most famous race in the hurdle.
As for Mania, the 24-year-old’s next ambition is winning a Grade One contest and his hopes could rest with the Smith-trained Blakemount in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at Cheltenham.
It remains to be seen whether his opponents will include Malcolm Jefferson’s Oscar Rock who was very disappointing when beaten 37 lengths by Toubeera for the in-form team of Venetia Williams and jockey Aidan Coleman in Haydock’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle.
This victory capped another memorable day for Williams whose horses always come to prominence when conditions are at their most demanding. She also enjoyed a one-two in the National trial with her second string Rigadin De Beauchene, the mount of Robbie Dunne, pulling well clear of the aforementioned Coleman on Emperor’s Cross.
Second to Well Refreshed in the race 12 months ago, Rigadin De Beauchene pulled up on his final two starts last season and was having his first run of this campaign which went some way to explaining his generous starting price of 16-1.
Neither horse holds an entry in the Crabbie’s Grand National, and Williams indicated that the winner will go for the Scottish equivalent at Ayr if conditions are soft.
Meanwhile, the former Ferdy Murphy-trained Ockey De Neulliac just held on in the CGA Foxhunter Trial Walrus Open Hunters’ Chase under Catherine Walton, a popular figure on the Yorkshire point-to-point circuit.