BRIAN HUGHES showed why he is regarded by many as the North’s top jump jockey after a confident front-running display to claim Cheltenham’s top novice chase on the progressive Seeyouatmidnight.
Hughes, who recorded his first career century of winners in the 2014-15 campaign, galvanised several spectacular leaps out of Sandy Thomson’s stable star in the Dipper Chase. It will head to Wetherby’s Towton Novices’ Chase next month before a return to Cheltenham in March.
For a moment Blaklion looked like making a real race of it, but North Yorkshire-based Hughes asked his mount for a quick jump at the final fence and Seeyouatmidnight galloped all the way to the line.
The manner of this victory suggests this is a horse which could be a standard-bearer for the North at the National Hunt Festival in March.
“It was a bold shout by Sandy coming here, but he loves that ground,” said a visibly elated Hughes.
“He was probably getting a bit lonely in front, but it’s a fair performance on his third run over fences. He’s an out-and-out three-miler.”
Paddy Power trimmed Seeyouatmidnight to 20-1 for the RSA Chase in March.
Seeyouatmidnight is trained in the Scottish Borders by Thomson and owned by the handler’s wife.
“It was brilliant. When I heard the ground had gone heavy I was delighted. You saw probably the two horses that stayed best fight out the finish,” said Thomson.
“From the first time he jumped at Hexham he has always jumped brilliantly and even in the World Hurdle for a horse with little experience he was very good.
“It’s absolutely great for us and the North. The situation isn’t as bleak as some make out, but we need good horses. They’ve all gone South because the owners have gone South. We need racecourses to put on better races so we can invigorate the North.”
He added: “We’re so lucky to have him. He’s an absolute star. I said before dreams could be shattered, but our dream’s still alive.
“He’ll go to Wetherby for the Towton and obviously the RSA is the race I’d love to win.”
The season’s leading rider Richard Johnson said a fit-again Village Vic could be a horse to follow after the gelding’s success in Wetherby’s Bobby Renton Chase at October and his judgment has been more than vindicated.
The horse’s front-running success at Cheltenham yesterday was a fourth win in four starts this season in colours made famous by trainer Philip Hobbs and owner Alan Peterson’s much-missed Fair Along.
Meanwhile, Robert Walford’s Camping Ground was a runaway winner of the Relkeel Hurdle, beating a host of more fancied runners, including World Hurdle hero Cole Harden back in third.
However, Cole Harden fans should not be too disheartened – trainer Warren Greatrex and jockey Gavin Sheehan both said the shorter-than-ideal trip and heavy ground put their champion at a significant disadvantage.
“He hated the ground, but he jumped better than ever and was still there turning for home,” said Greatrex.
“Of all the fancied runners, he’s run the best and has given weight to the first and second who both loved the ground. I’ve got 10 weeks to get him right and I’ll make sure he’s better than last season. It’s all about the World Hurdle.”
Danny Cook was in double form at Catterick when partnering Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red to victory before prevailing on Sue Smith’s Delusionofgrandeur for the McGoldrick Racing Syndicates. It means the High Eldwick handler needs three more wins to record her 1,000th success under NH rules.