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Can Sine Nomine fly the flag for Yorkshire on Friday?

14-March-2024 12:53
in General
by Peter McNeile

A fascinating renewal of the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase at the Festival contains added interest for Yorkshire spectators, when Fiona Needham saddles Sine Nomine to run in the race for the first time.

12 have been declared for the biggest trophy of the week, and the chance to take home the winner's prize of £24,445, something rather more than the £400 available for weekend Point-to-Points on the circuit. But winning the Foxhunter is about far more than cash; it's a chance to make a mark on racing history in one of the most treasured races of the Festival, even among all those Grade Is.

Of course, Fiona is no stranger to success in this race, having ridden Last Option to a stirring success for father-in-law Robin Tate in 2002. In Sine Nomine, winner of the John Corbett Cup at Stratford last May, she at last has another horse ready to do her justice. The John Corbett Cup is generally established as the championship for novice hunters.

Sine Nomine (right) under John Dawson win Stratford's John Corbett Cup last May Photo: Stephen Davies

Friday's race is no easy task however. The Irish have been carrying all before them all week, and field 4 candidates, among them first and second favourites, It's On The Line from Emmet Mullins' yard, and Ferns Lock from David Christie's Ulster powerhouse. Ferns Lock has impeccable credentials, with three runs this season providing wins at Dromahane and Thurles, and a half length second at Down Royal. Christie also fields Ramillies, winner of Open races at Cragmore and Turtulla.

Master of Cheltenham, Willie Mullins, also fields a candidate in Billaway, winner of this race in 2022, beaten just a head by It's On The Line at Naas in mid February. He seems to have lost none of his appetite for the game, despite now being 12.

The other Irish challenger is Samcro, trained by Gordon Elliott, yet to get a look-in on the coveted winner's slot this week. A former winner of the 2 1/2m Grade I novice hurdle at the Festival, Samcro is a high quality entrant to the hunters' ranks with a sequence of 4 Open wins during the autumn to his record. Gigginstown horses have an excellent record at Cheltenham.

But don't rule out the home team. Last year's winner Premier Magic has been prepared with this race in mind, and is unbeaten since pulling up in this race in 2022. He comes here on the back of a schedule that has been re-worked time and again following the wet winter's impact on the fixture list, but there's nothing in his wins at Brocklesby Park and Sheriff Hutton to suggest he is not on top of the task again.

Hannah Roach saddles Time Leader, whose 28/1 price belies an excellent record. A winner four times for John O'Shea in the 2022-23 season during which he was also fifth in the Aintree Foxhunter, he has warmed up for this with a win at Hereford. He'll be ridden by Toby McCain-Mitchell.

Our champion trainer also has a penchant for this race, having won it with Pacha du Polder in 2017 and the following year. Shantou Flyer was third behind Premier Magic last year, yet another placing in a race where he has made the frame on each of three occasions, but at 14, his best may be behind him. The same cannot be said for his young rider, Olive Nicholls, whose star is in the ascendant in the riding ranks.

A case can be made for Quentin's Man, third in the Walrus Hunters Chase at Haydock in February, and D'Jango, behind Quentin's Man at Haydock but a winner at Warwick last month. Less so for From The Heart, whose runs at Dunsmore and Cocklebarrow reflect his likelihood of being in the finish.

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