Reveley’s return to Doncaster ideal time to impress

JAMES reveley and Night In Milan are made for Doncaster Racecourse as they put their Grand National credentials on the line in today’s Sky Bet Chase.

Champagne Rian, right, ridden by James Reveley, jumps the last fence to win the Skybet Home Of Price Boost Handicap Steeple Chase at Doncaster on Friday. Picture: Nigel French/PA.
Champagne Rian, right, ridden by James Reveley, jumps the last fence to win the Skybet Home Of Price Boost Handicap Steeple Chase at Doncaster on Friday. Picture: Nigel French/PA.

The renowned track’s test of stamina and steeplechasing continues to bring out the best in the Yorkshire horse and rider, who thrive on Town Moor.

Two high-profile successes at Doncaster last season, including a spectacular William Hill Grimthorpe Chase win when Night In Milan prevailed courtesy of many exuberant jumps, were followed by a pleasing reappearance last month when the pair were narrowly denied by Charlie Longsdon’s Grandads Horse who reopposes today.

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Yet the Sky Bet race takes on added significance because it is one of the last significant trials before the weights are published next month for the Crabbie’s Grand National – Night In Milan’s ultimate target.

It is why it has attracted horses of the calibre of Alan King’s 2013 Scottish National winner Godsmejudge and the lightly-raced Easter Day from the all-conquering stable of champion trainer Paul Nicholls.

However, they will have to bring their A-game if they are to have any chance of passing Night In Milan who is trained on the moors above Saltburn by the jockey’s father Keith.

The one concern is the ground – the only time that the Richard Collins-owned nine-year-old disappointed was in the corresponding race last year when conditions were soft – but the younger Reveley will be buoyed by his winning ‘spare’ ride at Doncaster yesterday aboard 20-1 outsider Champagne Rian for Welsh trainer Rebecca Curtis.

“The ground is drier at Doncaster than any other place,” 25-year-old Reveley told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview.

“You also need to jump well round there and get into a rhythm. Night In Milan, he’s a much better chaser than hurdler. He gets into a good rhythm and is very quick in the air. He wasn’t quite as good without blinkers.

“Good ground. Doncaster. Blinkers. They all seem to work.”

If only it was always that simple.

In many respects, Night In Milan’s rise to prominence – the horse only missed the 40-runner cut for last year’s National because his Grimthorpe came after publication of the Aintree weights – mirrors Reveley’s own accession through the riding ranks.

The grandson of trailblazing trainer Mary Reveley, he has become an established name in his own right thanks to his summer sojourns to France for the past eight years to ride for the likes of multiple champion trainer Guillaume Macaire and rides like Scotswell’s pillar-to-post victory in the recent North Yorkshire National at Catterick for Harriet Graham.

And this experience, and the confidence accrued from the quiet accumulation of winners, has seen Reveley become more perceptive as he ponders whether Night In Milan could be a better National proposition after Rambling Minster, who did not take to Aintree in 2009 and was pulled up.

“Night In Milan, he started off quite steady away and it took our time to get to know him well. He didn’t come good until his second season chasing. He won a couple of lower grade races along the way, but we never dreamed that he would be this good,” said the rider.

“Making the running with blinkers on...that was a big move. He had run round Doncaster before and ended up in a bad position. He doesn’t like getting behind horses.

“Because he was quite buzzy, we used to drop him in but it was the owner, Richard Collins, who came up with his idea. On his last run, he would have to have a decent chance today.”

Reveley is far from dismissive about Night In Milan handling Aintree’s unique test in April.

“The only problem is his running style and whether he can stay four-and-a-half miles from the front,” pondered the jockey with typical thoughtfulness. “It is a big ask but the track is spaced out and you can get some room, but we need to get today’s race out of the way first.

“The National is the target, and I would love to ride in it again, but the Doncaster races are big races in their own right.”

They’re even more important to yards like the family-run Reveley stable as the future of National Hunt racing comes under the spotlight.

The jockey’s view is that the trainers are more than good enough and the challenge has been brought about by the top yards in the south having the financial muscle to buy the best horses and not be afraid to send them to Doncaster, Wetherby and Catterick to compete.

It saw Venetia Williams, the trainer whose 100-1 outsider Mon Mome won the 2009 National, send two luckless horses from her Ross-on-Wye stables to Catterick on Wednesday – entries that would have been unthinkable five years ago.

It also helps to explain why AP McCoy and Richard Johnson, the two winning-most riders in history, will be at Doncaster rather than at Cheltenham’s Festival Trials Day. They will be joined by Ruby Walsh, arguably the best big race rider of his generation.

“Hopefully, it will change,” says Reveley, whose parents Keith and Fiona combine their training duties with breeding young stock and the stewardship of the family farm. “There are plenty of good trainers up North. Thankfully my agent Bruce Jeffrey is doing a good job and getting me plenty of rides, including outside ones like Champagne Rian.”

Now on the 32-winner mark for the campaign, Reveley’s statistics need to be seen in the context of the five months that he spends in France each year where he won 40 races in 2014 – up 10 on the previous year.

Taken together with the enhanced prize money on the continent, the Yorkshire jockey is in an enviable position compared to many of his weighing room colleagues and can reap some rewards from his years of work honing his horsemanship and keeping his weight in check.

His growing contacts saw him win last Sunday’s €72,000 first prize in the Grand Prix de Pau yesterday of Vent Sombre and Reveley is particularly proud of two facts – he has memorised the aeroplane timetables between Manchester and France and the fact that he has fulfilled a personal ambition by conducting live television interviews in French.

“I’ve done quite a few of them,” he said. “That’s one box ticked. I have to think what I am saying – it doesn’t roll off the tongue.”

As for other boxes to be ticked off, today’s Sky Bet Chase is followed by the Grand National – one shared by every jockey – and then the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris, the French Gold Cup.

Reveley was travelling well in the latter last year on Saint Palois until coming to grief – the footage from his jockey-cam showed the risks riders take in races of such intensity – and he hopes that the well-regarded chaser will have a second crack at this celebrated race this May. Yet, tellingly, he downplayed his riding and its contribution to the wins accrued by the likes of Night In Milan, Scotswell and Upsilon Bleu who won Wetherby’s Castleford Chase last month.

“Scotswell had no confidence at the start of the season. I said to give him a run over hurdles to get his confidence back. If you have confidence in a horse, it makes a rider’s job a lot easier,” explained Reveley.