Musselburgh Racecourse has attracted entries from the UK’s leading trainers for its Scottish Cheltenham Trials fixture this weekend.
With more than £260,000 in prize money on offer over the Saturday and Sunday racedays, champion trainer Paul Nicholls, Alan King, Charlie Longsdon and Donald McCain are all represented, while top Scottish trainer Lucinda Russell leads the homegrown challenge.
On Saturday, a new race, the £40,000 Bet365 Edinburgh National Handicap Chase, a four-mile prep race for the Grand National has caught the eye of the leading yards.
Musselburgh chief executive Bill Farnsworth said: “We like to try new things and the Edinburgh National will be the longest race ever staged at Musselburgh. We usually have good ground, even in the winter, so this gives trainers a chance to run horses over four miles without the extra burden of facing soft or even heavy ground. With 20 entries it has been well supported by owners and trainers.”
Top weight is the Paul Nicholls trained Just A Par which concedes up to 11lbs to his rivals and this class horse is partnered with young conditional jockey Harry Cobden, who makes his first visit to the East Lothian course.
Cheltenham-based Fergal O’Brien plans to send Alvarado, a horse with a real Grand National pedigree, which was runner-up in last year’s Scottish Grand National at Ayr and fourth in the 2014 and 2015 Aintree Grand Nationals.
In the day’s most valuable race, the £50,000 Bet365 Scottish County Hurdle (3:15pm), top weight is claimed by the Dan Skelton trained Optimus Prime.
Somerset trainer Jeremy Scott could make a rare appearance at Musselburgh with form horse Unison, while shrewd punters could fancy Traditional Dancer and the partnership of trainer Iain Jardine and jockey Shane Shortall – the same combination which won this race last year with Shrewd.
In the Bet365 Scottish Triumph Juvenile Hurdle, Paul Nicholls has entered Cliffs of Dover, which has won six out of his last seven starts over hurdles and which already holds an entry for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. Royal trainer Charlie Longsdon also sends The Queen’s horse, Forth Bridge, back to Musselburgh following its win over course and distance in December.
Nicky Henderson’s highly rated Charli Parcs, a strong winner at Kempton over Christmas, will be looking to make it three wins on the trot with the Lambourn trainer preferring Musselburgh because “they always get decent ground there”.
Farnsworth added: “We are competing against Sandown on Saturday but we like to give the bigger tracks a run for their money and the new weekend format is something we can build on in the years ahead.”
On Sunday Cheltenham trainer Neil Mulholland will fancy Peter The Mayo Man, the highest rated horse in the Sky Bet Supreme Scottish Trial Novices’ Hurdle, and which has won its last three races, while Nicky Henderson’s River Wylde won both its last outings at Ludlow.
In the Pertemps Qualifier (4:10pm) Nicky Henderson has Barry Geraghty booked for the ride on Cup Final, which won the same race last year under the same jockey before going on to win at the Punchestown Festival.
Gates open at 11am on Saturday and 11.30am on Sunday. The first races are 12.25pm and 1.40pm respectively. Visit www.musselburgh-racecourse.co.uk for more information.
Meanwhile, Lingfield gives apprentices a chance to shine in an £11,500 heat this afternoon and Lucy Barry can take full advantage by steering Blaze Of Glory to victory for her boss Jamie Osborne.
Third on his debut at the track at the beginning of January, Blaze Of Glory turned out again just 10 days later to beat Fashion Business by a length and a quarter with a bit to spare.
Blaze Of Glory could have been called the victor from some way out and, given that the runner-up then went on to score himself last week, the form has a pleasing look about it.
The Excelebration gelding begins life on a perch of 87 and Barry’s 3lb claim is another useful factor in what already appears to be a strong case.