IT SAYS it all about the champion mare Lady Buttons, and what the Yorkshire racehorse has achieved in the past year, that owner Jayne Sivills is now asked for updates in her local supermarket.
“I was in Asda recently and saw a lady that I knew. The next thing is she’s introducing me to her friend who is a big fan of Buttons and is asking all sorts of questions,” she tells The Yorkshire Post.
And there’s much to talk about as the nine-year-old, voted National Hunt Mare of the year by the Racehorse Owners’ Association on general election night, prepares for tomorrow’s Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase at Doncaster.
This is the two-and-a-half mile steeplechase that Catterick trainer Phil Kirby’s stable star won 12 months ago under Adam Nicol before beginning a year that Sivills, and her husband Keith, will never forget.
The horse that the North Yorkshire pub owners bred as a hobby returned to Town Moor this January to win a Grade Two Mares’ Hurdle under Tommy Dowson, replacing the injury-sidelined Nicol, before being placed at the prestigious Cheltenham and Aintree festivals.
Now, in what could be the racehorse’s final season before a breeding career of her own, she made a winning return in Wetherby’s Mares’ Hurdle on Charlie Hall Chase day before finishing fourth in the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle – a race notable for Henry Brooke making all on the victorious Cornerstone Lad.
And Sivills says this “special” horse will have to be at her best this weekend to beat rivals of the calibre of the Warren Greatrex-trained La Bague Au Roi, a dual Grade One winner last season, and Nicky Henderson’s Casablanca Mix.
“I think it will be her toughest Mares’ Chase to date – but she is one of the tough ones in the race,” ventured Sivills. “She is going to have to be on her A-game and hopefully there is still plenty to come from her.
“She’s as fit as ever. Adam (Nicol) and Jennie Durrans, who looks after her, say she is in better condition than she was last year.
“Her coat. Her complexion. Her weight.
“They say she is spot on with everything.
“I would say, though nothing has been decided and we are taking it race by race, that this is her last season and we are hoping to end it on a high.
“Keith and I are still quite keen on the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, while Phil is keen on the Aintree race where she was second in April.”
Though Sivills and her husband, a successful North East businessman, never stand together when Lady Buttons lines up, they are now familiar figures on the country’s racecourses.
So, too, are the distinctive purple and white colours carried by Lady Buttons and the couple’s six other horses. Fifty replica scarves were sold last year and another 30 in the run-up to Christmas – one was even a raffle prize at The Tiger Inn hostelry in Easington which the Sivills family also run.
“I put a scarf in the Christmas draw and everyone wanted to win,” explained Sivills whose no-nonsense renown for calling ‘last orders’ with a strong voice means she is also the loudest supporter cheering her beloved Buttons.
“She’s the talk of the pub. Everyone wants to know about her. When we first got into racing, it was something we never expected.
“We never thought we would get a horse like her to take us to the places she’s taken us.
“We cherish them all and still have to pinch ourselves that she is as good as she is. We never dreamt that we could get a horse like her and we might never get another like her. We are living the dream with her. Literally.”
The only doubt ahead of this weekend is the aforementioned Nicol who suffered a heavy fall at Sedgefield on Boxing Day – he’s hoping to be passed fit.
The Doncaster meeting is the fourth and final day of Yorkshire’s Christmas racing festival that continues at Catterick today.
Yesterday’s feature saw Marracudja land the two mile Castleford Chase at Wetherby for trainer Dan Skelton and jockey Bridget Andrews. The victorious combination had 11 lengths in hand over Hawk High, a former Cheltenham Festival winner for Great Habton trainer Tim Easterby.