NED Stark may have earned himself a place among Alan King’s Cheltenham Festival squad after toughing it out in the totepool Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby.
The seven-year-old was successful on his first two starts over fences in novice handicaps at Huntingdon and Newbury, but failed to get competitive when fourth behind the exciting Ptit Zig in the “Dipper” at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
An 11-4 chance for another Grade Two event in West Yorkshire, Ned Stark was being pushed along leaving the back straight, but responded to Denis O’Regan’s urgings to chase down the bold-jumping pacesetter Straidnahanna.
As the latter began to falter, 9-4 favourite Kaki De La Pree emerged as the main threat to King’s charge, but he was unable to get past as Ned Stark clung on by a neck. The seven-year-old holds an entry in the RSA Chase at Prestbury Park in March, but connections could also consider handicap options, depending on the assessor’s verdict.
King was at Sandown, from where he said: “I thought we were in a bit of trouble leaving the back, but he’s seen it out really well and I’m delighted with him. It’s great to win a Towton again.
“I haven’t spoken to any of the guys on track yet, so we’ll get him home and see how he is and then make a plan.
“We’ll see what the handicapper does. I don’t think he can hammer him as he didn’t win by far and I think they were all much of a muchness.
“The three-mile handicap (at Cheltenham) might be a possible, but we’ll see.
“It’s just nice to get this out of the way.”
O’Regan believes it could be next season before Ned Stark realises his full potential.
“He’s a really nice young horse, he’s progressing well,” said the jockey.
“I think the experience of Cheltenham last time stood him well today, especially in the heat of the battle.
“I went looking for the better ground and he’s a horse that needs a bit of time.”
Another horse with Festival aspirations is the Richard Lee-trained Kylemore Lough after he readily completed a hat-trick as the 1-4 favourite for the Millionaire Maker Novices’ Hurdle.
Charlie Poste’s mount came home with 25 lengths in hand over River Bollin, and Lee believes the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle is a realistic target.
“We have entered him at Cheltenham. He’s in the two-and-a-half-miler (Neptune) and the three-miler (Albert Bartlett). After that performance, I think the three-mile race is probably more likely,” said Lee. “Whether he’s good enough for that, I don’t know, but he’s three from three and you’ve got to think about Cheltenham.”
Meanwhile, Musselburgh Racecourse is optimistic that its £152,000 showpiece John Smith’s Scottish Cheltenham Trials meeting will go ahead today.
The East Lothian course will hold a precautionary 8am inspection but with a forecast of bright clear weather with temperatures of four degrees, boss Bill Farnsworth is hopeful racing won’t fall to the weather.