SANDY THOMSON hopes to strike a blow for the North after declaring Seeyouatmidnight for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
The horse, which came to prominence last season under the now-retired Ryan Mania, is one of 36 entries for this Grade One race for staying hurdlers which was won last March by Jonjo O’Neill’s More Of That, which will bid to defend his title.
Purchased at Doncaster Sales, Seeyouatmidnight recorded three successive victories, culminating in Haydock’s Rendlesham Hurdle, before finishing third in a Grade One contest at the Crabbie’s Grand National meeting at Aintree.
The horse has not raced this season following a slight setback, but Thomson, who trains at Duns in Berwickshire, is unperturbed.
“Seeyouatmidnight has obviously had a few hold-ups but none of them were anything major,” he said yesterday.
“The most recent one was a splint problem, but we have given him plenty of time and we should be able to get him to the track in good order.
“The plan at the moment is to go to the Morebattle Hurdle (at Kelso on February 12) or the Rendlesham Hurdle (February 14) and then go on to the World Hurdle.
“He is not a flashy work horse. He just works away, albeit quite nicely, and we knew when he won at Hexham that we might have something quite good.
“But, obviously, we didn’t think he would go on to achieve what he did.
“The staying division looks quite open this year and it looks worth having a go at.”
Thomson revealed that North Yorkshire-based Brian Hughes will ride the horse now following the retirement of the aforementioned Mania last November.
Other notable entries include Cole Harden, an impressive winner of the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby under Gavin Sheehan, and 2014 runner-up Annie Power.
She is one of eight entries from the all-conquering Willie Mullins yard, though she is also entered in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle which has been elevated to Grade One status after the now retired Quevega made Festival history by winning the race on six successive occasions.
Home hopes rest with Malton-trained Aurore D’Estruval, who won a Listed event at Wetherby in November before finishing second to Irving in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
She returned to winning ways last time out with a comfortable two-length victory over fellow Cheltenham hopeful Dark Spirit in a Listed event at Sandown on January 3, when stepping up to two and a half miles for the first time.
Trainer John Quinn said of Aurore D’Estruval: “She is in good fettle and won’t run again before Cheltenham. I was very happy at Sandown. The ground was barely raceable but she proved she gets the trip and we know she is better on nice ground. She is a good mare, who is young and going forward. She will go to Cheltenham with a decent chance.”
The extent to which the North is being marginalised by the powerful yards in the South, and Ireland, is evidenced by the Grade One entries for Cheltenham’s championship races.
Unlike the golden era when the likes of Michael Dickinson, Peter Beaumont and the late Jimmy Fitzgerald monopolosied the National Hunt Festival, there are no runners from Yorkshire or the North in the provisional entries for the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle.
The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase does feature Upsilon Bleu, a winner of Wetherby’s Castleford Chase for Northumberland trainer Pauline Robson and Saltburn jockey James Reveley, while Simply Ned is also in the line-up for Penrith-based Nicky Richards.
The resurgent Richards has also entered Eduard in the Ryanair Chase.