Sunday’s card at Carlisle was a valuable one on Northern Lights Finals Day, offering just under £116,000 in prize money across the eight races.
The three finals on the cards were all hotly-contested heats and with the action continuing behind closed doors while COVID-19 restrictions remain in place, we sent Nick Seddon to review the action and speak to the winners on the day …
Halcyon Days could end on a high note after Series Final success
The first of three finals on the card was the Northern Lights Two Mile Chase Series Final Handicap Chase and it provided a heart-warming story, as the 12 year old Halcyon Days, returned at 22-1, battled gamely to the line to see off the challenges of the well-fancied Miss Amelia for the Rebecca Menzies team.
It was a welcome return to form for Halcyon Days, who revelled in the soft conditions, and Menzies hinted that she was keen to call time on the veteran’s fine career, having picked up a ninth win in 36 starts over fences.
She said: “That was brilliant. It was the plan all of last year to come here before it was called off, and although this year hasn’t all been plain sailing with him he’s just dropped to a nice mark and that’s probably helped him today.
“Everything last year was all geared around this race and we were all heartbroken it was called off as he was in amazing form going into it, but we’ve got him back in the same sort of form this year.
“For this type of horse the prize money is a game changer and thankfully got the end result we were hoping for. I’m going to have a word with the owners to see what we do with him now, but he’s 12 and it would be nice for him to go out at the top of his game.”
Russell delighted to land valuable pot after a few near misses
A big supporter of Carlisle racecourse is Scottish trainer Lucinda Russell, and the Cumbria track is one of her favourite places to head to south of the border.
As you’d expect, she had a sustained presence on ‘Go North’ finals weekend, but she had been left frustrated by some near misses at the two previous finals days at Musselburgh on Friday and Kelso on Saturday.
However, everything clicked into place at Carlisle for 14-1 chance Well Above Par, who seemed to relish the testing conditions when winning the Northern Lights Middle Distance Chase Series Final Handicap Chase in really game fashion.
And Russell couldn’t hide her joy at picking up a valuable prize with her charge. Speaking away from the track, she said: “I’m delighted. Derek (Fox) gets on so well with him and the horse can sometimes have his own ideas about things, but he loved it today and when Derek made his mind up for him he’s got him jumping brilliantly.
“It’s due reward for the owners who haven’t had the best of seasons with this horse, but they’ve ended up on a good mark for the final.
“The prize money is so good. We’ve had a lot of places in the other ‘Go North’ races and I was getting a bit anxious that we weren’t going to win one! It’s great to do so and especially at Carlisle, where we love to send our chasers.”
Quinn picks a big stage for his first winner over fences
The third finals winner of the day was the Warren Greatrex-trained Another Emotion, and like the two finals winners before him he relished the ground when bounding clear to win the Northern Lights Staying Chase Series Final Handicap Chase by nine and a half lengths.
Things seem to have really clicked into place for the nine year old, who picked up his second win of the year over the bigger obstacles, and it was a momentous day for conditional jockey Caoilin Quinn - who rode his first winner over fences and lost his 10lb claim to boot.
He said of the 15-2 winner: “It was a great run. We were hoping all week that the rain would come as that’s his sort of conditions. You could see as soon as I jumped off that he was enjoying it so much that he almost ran away with me! I got him into a lovely rhythm jumping and he’s just out-galloped them.
“That’s my first winner over fences and my 10lb claim gone, so it’s a big day! Warren Greatrex has been a huge help to me and I can’t thank him enough.”
Coltherd keen to may hay while the Moon shines
Another jockey who will be celebrating tonight is Sam Coltherd, who rode out his claim when steering Silken Moonlight to success in the Scottish Racing Academy Mares' Handicap Hurdle for his father Stuart.
The seven year old was able to build on a good effort to finish second over fences at Wetherby at the beginning of the month, and her jockey was already looking to next week with the mare, who he feels has clicked into place.
He said: “She’s done it nicely. On her last run we thought she’d be bang there and we were perhaps a little bit worried back over hurdles, but she’s done it nicely in the end.
“The penny’s dropped now and she’s a lovely big mare, so she might have a nice little spring campaign now and we’ll put her away for the summer. She runs again (at Newcastle) on Tuesday and I’d fancy her to go in again.”
Thomson looking forward to going chasing with Storm Nelson
The soft conditions led to some wide margin winners across the afternoon and one of the most convincing victors on the day was Storm Nelson, who bowled away to an impressive 11-length success in the Little Orton Handicap Hurdle for trainer Sandy Thomson.
That win took the eight year old’s tally to two wins from two starts since joining his new yard, and Thomson is already looking ahead to next season with the eight year old, who he feels will be a nice prospect over fences.
He said of the winning 11/10 favourite: “He was getting a lot of weight from the second horse, and all the others had a lot of questions about them, but apart from missing the last he’s gone really nicely.
“He will probably have another run this term, but he’s going to make a lovely chaser. As long as the ground is safe, he might have a run at somewhere like Ayr, but it’ll be ground dependent as his legs have been a problem in the past.”