Irish Roe '˜stronger' as she gets set for tilt at Wetherby's Mares Hurdle

LUCINDA and Peter Atkinson are unlikely racehorse owners and trainers. She is a leading three-day event rider and coach while he is a pig farmer.

Irish Roe, pictured being ridden by Henry Brooke ahead of the Scottish Champion Hurdle at the  Coral Scottish Grand National meeting this year, has won seven of her 13 races so far (Picture: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire).
Irish Roe, pictured being ridden by Henry Brooke ahead of the Scottish Champion Hurdle at the Coral Scottish Grand National meeting this year, has won seven of her 13 races so far (Picture: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire).

They only have two horses in training at their Northallerton farm, yet their success with £2,000 bargain buy Irish Roe has captivated racing.

The winner of seven out of 13 races, and over £55,000 in prize money, is due to line up in tomorrow’s Mares’ Hurdle at Wetherby.

Her presence alone in the line-up reaffirms jump racing’s relationship with its rural roots in an era dominated by multi-millionaire owners.

Tom Scudamore's mount Thistlecrack is out of tomorrow's Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.

They believe the seven-year-old is race ready and are relying on their instincts to assess the horse’s fitness.

Training involves cantering Irish Roe – and mud-loving stablemate Reverant Crust – around fields on the farm. When time permits they are taken to Middleham’s gallops for extended work.

The dry weather has seen Colin Tizzard’s multiple Grade One-winning Thistlecrack withdrawn from this weekend’s feature bet365 Charlie Hall Chase, but the Atkinsons hope the rain stays away for a competitive mares’ race that could also feature last year’s runner-up Lady Buttons for Catterick trainer Phil Kirby.

“We hope she runs a good race,” Lucinda Atkinson told The Yorkshire Post. “She’s well in herself. She’s a stronger mare this year, which is expected. You can never trust a weather forecast in this day and age – but we hope they’re right. At the moment the going is good so we can’t complain ground-wise.”

Wetherby's feature Charlie Hall Chase meeting begins today.

As she spoke, Atkinson was trying to saddle Irish Roe before a final piece of work, with the mare showing her wellbeing – and impatience – by trying to walk over her owner.

“She’s in fine form,” reported Atkinson. “She’s definitely ready for the race – and we’ll see where we are. With only two horses, it is hard for us – we’re not like a big trainer. We think we have them right, but we have nothing to guide us until we get them out there on the track.”

This has not stopped the couple exceeding expectations so far. Irish Roe made a winning debut for them at Perth in August 2016 and spent last summer competing over hurdles after failing to settle in a field.

She then enjoyed two notable successes at Doncaster in December last year before just failing to overhaul the highly-rated Maria’s Benefit in a Grade Two Mares’ Hurdle on Town Moor in late January.

After being totally unsuited by bottomless ground in Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle, she rounded off the 2017-18 season with a creditable sixth-place finish behind Midnight Shadow in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr.

Those behind Irish Roe at the Scottish track include champion trainer Nicky Henderson’s Verdana Blue, who heads the betting for tomorrow’s race.

“If our horse was at a bigger yard she would probably be favourite,” said Atkinson who says major races, like Cheltenham’s Greatwood Hurdle, will have to be on the agenda because of Irish Roe’s elevated handicap mark.

“She’s been out in a field with a load of horses enjoying life. It’s the first break she’s had since she’s been here.

“We tried it last summer and she wouldn’t settle. She was pacing and galloping around so we raced her.

“Hopefully, if she’s more settled, she may stay further in time, which will open up options.”

Atkinson says they are guided by regular rider Henry Brooke, who will once again be in the saddle. She says the Middleham rider helps out where possible and “it’s important to do the right thing” by jockeys.

“He’s helped us massively,” said Atkinson, who describes the attention as “surreal”.

“You never expected a £2,000 horse to achieve what she has achieved.”

Wetherby’s two-day Charlie Hall meeting begins today with the Nicky Richards-trained Guitar Pete looking to win the £30,000 Listed bet365 Handicap Chase for the second successive year.

Former Grand National-winning trainer Sue Smith, who won the 2015 renewal with Wakanda, saddles both Cracking Find and Delusionofgrandeur in the two-and-a-half mile race.

Leading Irish trainer Gordon Elliott and champion jockey Richard Johnson team up with Chief Justice in the £25,000 Listed Weatherbys Hamilton Wensleydale Juvenile Hurdle.

Owned by Cheveley Park Stud, Chief Justice is two from two over hurdles since joining Elliott from Malton’s Richard Fahey, posting decisive five-length victories at Listowel and Gowran Park.