Grand National winner Ballabriggs made a satisfactory return to the racetrack at Kelso, despite finishing only fourth in the totepool Premier Chase.
Run over two miles six-and-a-half furlongs, almost two miles short of the National distance, Ballabriggs was always up with the pace set by Abbeybraney, and despite one dreadful error at the ditch on the side of the course at the start of the second circuit, his jumping was sound on Saturday.
Always going well, however, was the favourite, Master Of The Hall, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by AP McCoy.
In the final straight, Ballabriggs briefly threatened as he drew up close to long-time leaders Abbeybraney and According to Pete, but Master Of The Hall was lurking in behind and as soon as McCoy said go, the favourite rushed by to win cosily. According to Pete was brave in second, Abbeybraney stayed on in third and Ballabriggs was unable to quicken under jockey Jason Maguire in fourth.
The Trevor Hemmings-owned Ballabriggs came second in the same race last year before going on to win the big one at Aintree, and his trainer was as pleased with him as he was a year ago at Kelso. Donald McCain said: “I’m very happy with him. I did try to warn people he would just need the run, he’s had a good healthy blow and Jason was very happy with him. We will get a gallop into him before Aintree, it’s not about today, it’s all about April 14.”
In case you didn’t know, that is the date of the National, and this year there’s an extra week between Kelso and Aintree for Ballabriggs to be prepared. His many fans should in no way worry about the horse who will come into his own over the big fences and the longer distance.
Maquire added: “Last year when he got beat at Kelso I was a bit disappointed, but Donald said don’t be worried about it.
“This year I felt he probably travelled longer and he ran just as good if not better. He travelled really well and jumped well, apart from the ditch. He’s quickened up well and going to the elbow it looked as though he would go and win, but he’s just got tired and I haven’t knocked him about.”
The 6-4 winner was given a vintage ride by perennial champion jockey Tony McCoy who was making his first visit to Kelso for five years. McCoy had come to Kelso mainly to ride Nicky Richards’ classy hurdler Sundown Trail, who duly won the closing Bet totepool Text tote to 89660 Handicap Hurdle at the cramped odds of 4-6.
A couple of other horses on display at Kelso will be going to Cheltenham for the National Hunt Festival rather than Ainrtree.
Bruce Mactaggart, trainer of Red Tanber, winner of the Bedmax handicap chase under rising Scottish star Lucy Alexander, said the 7-4 favourite would go to Cheltenham “as you don’t get many chances”.
Degas Art won the Cyril Alexander Memorial Novices Chase over 2m 1f for Lucinda Russell and Peter Buchanan, and he may go to Cheltenham as his owners fancy a crack at the Festival. The trainer and jockey brought up a double with Tap Night in the totepool Premier Kelso Hurdle race, Buchanan timing his run to perfection to get up inside the final furlong and beat 7-4 favourite Captain Conan – not often you see Tony McCoy beaten in a close finish on a favourite.
Makbullet won the opening Terry Frame Joiner Novice Hurdle for trainer Mike Smith and Scottish jockey Campbell Gillies, while Inverlochy Lad stayed on dourly to win the Canal Challenge Hunters’ Chase at 20-1. He beat well-backed 85-40 favourite Harmony Brig, in the process giving trainer Ian Duncan his first winner since his move from Northern Ireland to Ayrshire.