HIGHLAND Lodge is on target to defend his crown in the Betfred Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree next month – with Yorkshire jockey Henry Brooke in the saddle.
Trainer Jimmy Moffatt reports the 10-year-old on course for the three-and-a-quarter-mile contest over the Grand National fences, which he won last season.
That was Highland Lodge’s first start since he was bought out of Emma Lavelle’s stable for £22,000 last November.
He was pulled up in the Scottish National at Ayr on his only other outing after narrowly missing the cut for the National.
“He’s in great form. I’m very happy with him,” said Cumbria-based Moffatt.
“We believe he’s a horse that runs well fresh and the Scottish National didn’t suit him at all.
“He goes straight back to the Becher Chase. He’s been in training a fair while now, since the middle of July, and he’s bouncing. He’s in great nick.”
Moffatt revealed Brooke, who won the Becher last year on Highland Lodge, will have returned from injury in time to take the mount.
Brooke sustained eight broken ribs, a collapsed lung and shoulder damage in a fall from Old Storm at Hexham four weeks ago, but continues to make a remarkable recovery at Jack Berry House, the Injured Jockeys Fund centre in Malton.
The jockey hopes to resume riding on November 20 and Moffatt said: “I saw him at Doncaster Sales on Tuesday. He must be made of iron. I hope the prospect of him riding Highland Lodge at Aintree again is a small incentive.”
Meanwhile, The Giant Bolster, placed in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cups, has been retired.
David Bridgwater’s 11-year-old stable star bows out having won just under £373,000 in prize-money in a 40-race career.
The Giant Bolster, who ran at seven consecutive Cheltenham Festivals, was a 50-1 runner-up to Synchronised in the 2012 Gold Cup – Tom Scudamore’s mount led over the last – and was beaten three-quarters of a length when third to Lord Windermere two years later. He also finished fourth to Bobs Worth in the 2013 renewal.
“He was probably a ‘nearly’ horse to everyone else, but to us he wasn’t,” said the trainer.
“With luck in running, he could have won two Gold Cups. Had he done that, I suppose he would have been considered as one of the greats.”
Former Grand National-winning jockey Graham Lee’s victory under NH rules aboard Senatus at Musselburgh was statistically significant in more ways than one.
It was widely reported that he recorded his landmark 1,000th win at Catterick in January 2012 on Posh Bird before another horrific injury prompted the North Yorkshire rider to switch to the Flat.
However, Lee maintained that he had only won 999 National Hunt races in Britain. This win leaves no doubt. “Like AP McCoy said to me years ago ‘1,000 is a 1,000 no matter where you ride them,” said the jockey who won last year’s Ascot Gold Cup on Trip To Paris. “In saying that, it would be nice to be on the list of the ‘1,000 club’.”
Yorkshire trainer David O’Meara and his team have been dealt a blow in being forced to rule Suedois out of tomorrow’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in California.
However, the French import, a Group Three winner in his homeland, hurt a foot in routine exercise. O’Meara tweeted: “He has a stress fracture in his near fore foot. Will be back for next year.”