There are relatively few marquee Fridays in a National Hunt season concentric around quality races on Saturdays, especially toward the end of March, when much of the top flight has either run at Cheltenham or is held back for Aintree. Yet today turned into a red letter day for Stow-on-the-Wold trainer Graeme McPherson, with a cross card double earning his owners over £25,000.
Musselburgh's reputation for staging high class jumping in the far north is growing with each season, and new management by the Chester Race Company may accelerate that process. Today's culmination of the Northern Lights Series, with qualifiers from September across courses from Yorkshire northward only, culminates in two days at Musselburgh and Carlisle tomorrow, with each of 7 races valued at £35,000 for juvenile hurdlers, hurdling mares and hurdlers over 2 and 3m, whilst ther steepelchases are over 2m, 2m 4f and 3m.
Given the paucity of good quality horses in the north compared to the heyday of the eighties, this is a worthwhile self-help by the tracks to inject some energy into their race programmes.
One can hadly blame trainers from the rest of the UK tilting at good midweek prizes however. Of today's four events, one fell to Seven Barrows, one to Ireland, one to Diane Sayer in Cumbria (hoorah) and the styaing hurdle final to Graeme with Ratfacemcdougal, who always had something in hand to win by an easy 9l from 3 northern-trained rivals filling the places.
Graham had by then already enjoyed the first leg of his distant double, when Irish Point-to-Point graduate Dublin Four coasted handsomely to victory in a 0-125 handicap chase at Newbury. It's been a good month so far for the Bledington handler, who doubles up as a lawyer, this rasing the monthly tally to 3, and 23 for the term.
Also successful at Newbury was Fergal O'Brien, who, by his standards, had hit a flat spot. Written firmly tongue in cheek, as his last winner was on March 15, but this season the Ravenswell maestro has been banging in winners right, left and centre every day of the week. Welcome back to the normal resumption of service.
Also welcome back to Point-to-Point racing in the Three Counties. Maisemore starts the second part of the season on Tuesday, where a staggering 187 entries will ensure some excellent fields and competitive racing on the banks of the Severn. Sadly of course, we can't watch, so please don't turn up, but the event is streamed live for armchair viewers.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)