NICKY Richards has his string in fine form with the Cheltenham Festival edging ever closer and continued the purple patch as Gold Futures toughed it out in the Carlisle mud.
By his own high standards the master of Greystoke has endured a few lean years at the top level, but has this season assembled a formidable squad with the likes of Eduard, Glingerburn and Simply Ned being readied for big-race assignments.
Richards can also begin to consider loftier targets for Gold Futures after his battling display in the Join Us On Easter Saturday 4th April Handicap Hurdle. With a couple of Market Rasen victories sandwiching a Kelso success, the six-year-old looked an exciting prospect in the middle part of last year, but was unable to make a major impact on his first two starts back after a break at Musselburgh.
Sent off at 6-1 for his latest outing, Gold Futures appeared booked for minor honours after getting outpaced on the run to the second-last, but he roared back admirably on the run to the line to win going away by two lengths from Upswing.
Richards said: “He’s a bit of a stuffy horse and I think the step up in trip has probably helped as well. If you look at his last run at Musselburgh, he wasn’t beaten far and was staying on well in the straight. I thought he was coming back to form and he’s done it well today. Hopefully he might win another nice little handicap in the spring.”
The Donald McCain-trained Three Faces West toughed it out from the front in the Racing UK Novices’ Hurdle in the hands of Jason Maguire.
The 15-8 chance looked at the mercy of the strong-travelling Rock N Rhythm and Tony McCoy halfway up the straight, but his effort petered out while Three Faces West stuck to his task admirably. Gone Forever beat Rock N Rhythm to the runner-up spot, two and a quarter lengths behind the winner.
McCoy gave the locals what they came for as he signed off an otherwise frustrating day on a high by guiding Jonjo O’Neill’s 11-4 favourite Beg To Differ in the Handicap Hurdle.
Meanwhile, Richard Lee insists there are no plans to retire veteran chaser Victory Gunner despite him failing to finish at Lingfield yesterday.
The 17-year-old was having his 83rd outing but was pulled up by Michael Nolan after the fourth-last. “Although the ground was heavy, it was gluey ground and he can’t handle that and never has done,” said Lee.
“He is absolutely fine and there are no plans to retire him as he loves the job. It was just one of those things – they are all allowed a bad run and he has not had many in his career.”