With a purse of more than £120,000, including the feature £40,000 Totepool Mobile Hogmaneigh Hurdle, Musselburgh rivals the Cheltenham New Year’s Day fixture in terms of quality and prize money.
Nicholls’ big hope is top weight Sametegal, a course winner at Musselburgh this year in the Scottish Triumph Hurdle before going on to run a very good third in the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and placing third last week in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Festive sporting fans can also take in the world’s oldest athletics race with the finals of the 145th New Year Sprint – a handicap race over 110 metres and with a £4000 prize – taking place in between the six horse races.
Musselburgh’s general manager Bill Farnsworth said he was delighted with the quality of entries, and with pre-sale admissions up by 100 per cent on last year the East Lothian course could welcome a 4,000-plus crowd.
He said: “The weather forecast for New Year’s Day is frost and snow free so it is all systems go and, with a bit of luck, Musselburgh will avoid the worst of the current unsettled weather. If the rain eases off and the going is not too soft we can expect a strong team to be sent up by Paul Nicholls to add to a sizeable Irish contingent.
“Prize money has increased by £30,000 on last year and pre-sales indicate that our New Year meeting is gaining momentum and building a following, so it will be great to kick off 2014 on a high.”
Meanwhile, Down Ace continued her superb winning run by securing listed honours at Taunton yesterday.
The Fergal O’Brien-trained bargain buy has now won six races on the spin, and relished the step up in trip for the Season’s Greetings From totepool Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
As I Am typically made all of the running, but she was overtaken by Blue Buttons and Down Ace approaching the final flight. An exciting tussle ensued, but the Dougie Costello-ridden winner had a little more to give and held on by a neck.
O’Brien said of the 7-2 chance: “She’s a very tough mare. She surprised us when she won at Cheltenham first time out – that showed us what a good mare she is. She’s got such a good attitude and takes her race very well. She’s been a great flagship for the yard. We’ll have a chat and see where we go with her now.”
Costello said: “Even though she wouldn’t overly enjoy this ground, she is tough.”
Horizontal Speed (11-10 favourite) made a richly deserved return to the winner’s enclosure after the totequadpot Four Places In Four Races Novices’ Hurdle. Philip Hobbs’ inmate has not yet finished outside the first two in five starts over hurdles and did well from the head of affairs to readily fend off Foggy’s Wall by four and a half lengths.
Jockey Richard Johnson said: “In every run over hurdles he’s been in the first two. No-one wanted to make it (the running) so we thought we’d let him enjoy himself. It’s nice to get his head in front.”
Horizontal Speed was the second leg of a double for Hobbs, whose Milosam brought up the hat-trick in the totepool Mobile Novices’ Handicap Chase.