Horse Racing with Jason Hall

THE Sussex National is the centrepiece of the annual calendar at Plumpton racecourse and the latest renewal is scheduled to take place this Monday afternoon with the race shaping up to provide another exciting spectacle for racegoers to enjoy.

Last year’s winner, Minella Boys, is once again amongst the early entries and, despite his recent form not appearing to be too encouraging, it is possible to make a reasoned argument suggesting a return to form could be imminent. Since his success here last season he has run a highly creditable second in the valuable Classic Chase at Warwick and has also contested two tough staying chases in the form of the Eider Chase and Kerry National.

In comparison to those events, Monday’s race represents a marked drop in class and he did show some promise when posting a decent third place finish at Ffos Las earlier this term.

He ran without his usual tongue tie then; and again on his most recent start at Chepstow, a venue he has now run twice at and failed miserably on both occasions, suggesting he is unsuited to the idiosyncratic course.

If his trainer Charlie Longsdon puts the tongue tie back on it would be no surprise to see Minella Boys making a bold bid to follow up, especially if the forecast soft ground materialises.

Longsdon has two additional entries in the shape of Rey Nacarado and Strongbows Legend, both of whom are sixyear old-geldings with a profile of gradual improvement. The Over Norton-based trainer has a strong hand and whoever he chooses to represent him should feature prominently.

Elsewhere, Jamie Moore returned to action on Boxing Day after a spell on the sidelines due to a dislocated collarbone.

On Tuesday he made all the running aboard Fruity O’Rooney to win a decent contest at Kempton for his father Gary and the Framfield-based syndicate Heart of the South Racing. Despite jumping to his left throughout, the likeable eight-year-old gelding showed his usual tenacity to win his first handicap over fences and give his group of owners another great day at the track.

“He always runs his heart out for you,” said his trainer post-race. “He is not very big so carrying weight is a problem as he goes up the handicap.

“If he has a bit up his sleeve he is better going left-handed.”

Lewes trainer Jim Best was also on the mark over the Christmas period. After cancelling his intended trip to Ffos Las, Jim went to Towcester and was pleased to see Western High stay on strongly up the punishing climb to the line and break his maiden at the third attempt in the bumper.

The gelding has plenty of stamina in his pedigree and was given a good ride by the young conditional Brendan Powell, who, of course, grabbed the headlines with his treble at Plumpton just over a week earlier.

Jim talked afterwards of the progress Western High was making: “I was surprised he drifted in the market as we fancied him. He has grown up and strengthened up. He was just a bit too keen before and he will probably go hurdling now he’s won.”

It would be remiss of me not to mention the wonderful achievement of Kauto Star in winning his fifth King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.

In the modern world, the word ‘great’ is often lavished on individuals who are clearly not worthy of such an accolade and its flagrant misuse just devalues its true meaning. However, in the case of Kauto Star there are not enough superlatives to describe a horse that has now become a true legend of the sport.