By Graham Clark
Minella Drama is likely to form part of trainer Donald McCain’s team for the Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree after running out a decisive winner of the Ballymore Sidney Banks Novices’ Hurdle at Market Rasen.
Having just been denied a hat-trick of wins for the season when filling the runner-up spot in the Grade Two Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock Park last month, the six-year-old gelding returned to winning ways in the re-arranged Listed prize.
Sporting a first time hood the 13-8 favourite tracked the early pace set by eventual third Optimise Prime, before pressing on between the final two flights of the extended two and a half mile prize under champion jockey Brian Hughes.
Although not foot perfect at the last Minella Drama continued to find plenty to defeat the four timer seeking Stoner’s Choice by three lengths, with Optimise Prime a further eight lengths adrift in third.
Watch how Minella Drama scored at Market Rasen
McCain, speaking away from the track, said: “We wanted to step him up in trip as we didn’t see him as a true two miler. We put the hood on today as he can be a bit of a boy and it seemed to do him no harm. I’m really pleased and Brian didn’t have to work hard on him.
“He is a smashing horse and that win has helped us to know that he gets two and a half miles. I think it is highly likely he will go to Aintree now though I’ve got to speak to his owners.
“I think two and half for the Mersey (Grade One Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle on Saturday, 10th April) would be plenty at Aintree especially on a big day when they are going to go a better gallop and it could be a nice place to finish his season.”
As for winning jockey Hughes he was equally impressed by the manner in which Minella Drama saw out his new trip.
He said: “He has always been a nice horse and his form has been solid. Every run has stacked up well. Horses he has beaten, and horses that have beaten him have all come out and won and have got good ratings. He is progressing with every run.
“It was suiting us to run him over two miles as the right races were there but, as you can see, he will stay this trip and I dare say he will stay three miles in time. We will take one step at a time and this was a nice stepping stone.”
Brian Hughes tells us more about Minella Drama's success
Ajero moved a step closer to earning a late call up to trainer Kim Bailey’s team for the Cheltenham Festival after completing a hat-trick of wins for the season at Market Rasen.
Although the six-year-old has a long way to go to emulate the achievements of his now retired Grade Two winning half-brother Charbel, the son of Red Jazz continued his own progression with victory in the MansionBet’s Faller Insurance Handicap Hurdle.
Making his first start since undergoing a wind operation in December the 7-2 co-favourite found plenty when called on for his maximum effort in the extended two mile event by David Bass to hold last time out Warwick scorer Miss Heritage at bay by two lengths.
Bailey, speaking away from the track, said: “He is an improving horse and he has had a wind op since his last run. He is much happier going right handed than left handed and we were slightly concerned that the ground might be a struggle but he has done that well.
“I loved the way he travelled and he jumped well bar the mistake at the last and he did well to pick up from that.
“It doesn’t help with both Cheltenham and Aintree that he prefers to go right handed and we haven’t given him any Cheltenham entries but we might shove him in the County Hurdle. It is great to see him doing this for his owners as they have been very supportive.”
Entries for the Grade Three County Hurdle and all the other handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival will be revealed on Wednesday, 24th February.
Oliver Greenall has not ruled out giving Homme Public an outing in the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival™ after the four-year-old went one better than his three previous starts when taking the MansionBet At Market Rasen Juvenile Maiden Hurdle by six and a half lengths.
Greenall said: “I think he probably just needed it slightly (last time) and inexperience probably got him beat at Catterick. He is probably one of those horses that only just does enough.
“He has done it nice enough today, what he has beat I’m not sure. It’s a possibility (Cheltenham Festival).
“I think Cheltenham could suit him but he would need to travel better and I don’t know whether he is hardened enough for Cheltenham. We’ve got the option though.”
Blarney Bateleur ensured the five-hour drive to the Lincolnshire track was worth it for trainer Andy Irvine, who tasted his first course victory following the surprise two and a half-length success secured by the 28-1 shot in the MansionBet’s Watch And Bet Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.
West Sussex-based Irvine, who was the partner of trainer Zoe Davison, who passed away last month, said: “The ground was slow at Newbury the last day and she didn’t really fancy the kickback. I thought today the grade might be slightly too high but off 10st 1lbs it was worth having a go in a mares only and the ground would suit her.
“It’s tough and each day is different when I wake up and my wife is not there but we are keeping the show on the road as they keep saying.
“We left at 5.45am this morning and it took us nearly five hours to get up but just that is worth it.”
Victory was also a first from his inaugural visit to the course for triumphant rider Niall Houlihan, who added: “She won a point-to-point over three miles so two miles four here was always going to suit. She jumped well and picked up the pieces.”
Martello Sky gained her first success away from Fakenham when getting the better of a late battle with Marada by a length and a quarter in the MansionBet’s Best Odds Guaranteed EBF Mares’ “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle.
Aidan Coleman, winning jockey, said of the Lucy Wadham-trained 6-4 favourite: “The size and scope of her you wouldn’t think Fakenham would suit her. She would go anywhere you could run her left, right, up or down it doesn’t matter.
“It did turn into a sprint and she has won well and we are 18 lengths clear of the third. She is a nice filly so I’m happy with her, 100 per cent she could get a bit of black type.”Fancy winning a 50" television, a 12-month Racing TV subscription, a Reclining Armchair plus much more? Click here to enter our Ultimate Cheltenham At Home competition!
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