STRONG ENTRY FOR WETHERBY BOXING DAY FEATURE - Truckers Tavern heads a four-strong Sue Smith entry, among 30 possibles for the skybet.com Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase
The skybet.com Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase, the feature event of Wetherby racecourse's prestigious Boxing Day card and race 20 in the BHB's Order of Merit, has attracted a quality 30-strong entry.
Among the high-class potential contenders for the three mile, one furlong Grade Three contest are several leading chasers including Grey Abbey and El Vaquero from the Howard Johnson yard and the Richard Guest-trained Our Armageddon.
The Ferdy Murphy-trained Scottish Grand National winner Joe's Edge joins four from the Sue Smith yard, including last year's victor Truckers Tavern.
The ten-year-old gelding - second to Best Mate in the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup - was trained by Ferdy Murphy when capturing the £50,000 contest last term by three quarters of a length from the Keith Reveley-trained Malek, who could reoppose on Monday, December 26.
Truckers Tavern moved across Yorkshire to join Smith for the current campaign and made his debut for the yard when an encouraging third of 15 in a three-mile handicap hurdle at Bangor earlier this month.
Smith revealed: "Truckers Tavern is in great form - we just need the ground to remain good and soft. He went home for his summer holiday and then came to us in training. We kept going with him slowly until he ran the other day and he seems to have come out of his race very well. We'll take it as it comes with him
"He's in the three-mile hurdle race as well so it all depends, but he's a strong possibility for the Rowland Meyrick. I can't say for certain because in another couple of days, if the temperature drops again, then we could be a bit snookered."
Smith intends to run the Keith Nicholson-owned St Matthew who won the Listed Weatherby's Bank Handicap Chase over two miles, four and a half furlongs at the track in October. He followed that with victory in a valuable handicap hurdle at Haydock before disappointing in the Hennessey Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury.
The High Eldwick handler commented: "We're northern people and the chaps that own these horses like to go to their local courses around Christmas time so St Matthew is in the Rowland Meyrick as well.
"He's in great form with himself. He's had a little break since the Hennessey and he's really doing well. He had a hard race the week before Newbury when winning the hurdle race at Haydock and, looking back, the Hennessey probably came a bit quick for him."
Mister McGoldrick, a winner of six from seven starts at Wetherby is also a possible, though he is more likely to bid for a second successive victory in the £50,000 skybet.com Castleford Chase at the course the following day.
Smith revealed: "Mister McGoldrick is also in the skybet.com Castleford Chase so he's by no means sure to run in the Rowland Meyrick. It depends on the weather this time of year as well and we don't have a lot of options with him if we miss the Castleford Chase day.
"I was very pleased with his last run in the Rehearsal Chase because that came on the back of a quick run at Huntingdon and I think he was feeling the effects from that, plus he was top-weight, carrying two stone more than the winner at Newcastle."
Smith continued: "We don't have a huge number of choices with him and the Castleford Chase and possibly the Rowland Meyrick are the obvious options at Wetherby - but after winning the Castleford there last year, you've got to go back for it again and the horse is in very good form."
Smith also has progressive chaser Ross Comm entered for the skybet.com Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase but his first choice engagement is the Welsh National at Chepstow.
The trainer said: "Ross Comm is in very good form with himself. He's also in the Welsh National but at this time of year the weather can go one way or the other, so at the moment he's more likely to go for the Welsh National.
"He was going extremely well in the Hennessey, he just seemed to do the splits in front on landing but other than that he seems to be fine."
The ground at Wetherby is currently GOOD TO SOFT.
Chief Executive James Sanderson reported today: "The ground is good to soft at present.
"Looking ahead, the forecast looks as if it will be kind to us over the next few days. Daytime temperatures are set to be around the 8 - 9 degrees mark while at night they should not go below around 3 or 4 degrees.
"We are also forecast a drop of rain here and there and so I would think the ground will remain good to soft for the Sky Bet Christmas Meeting.
Gates will be open at 10.00am and racegoers are advised to arrive in good time for what are always two of the busiest days of the year at Wetherby. As an extra incentive to arrive promptly, free mulled wine and mince pies will be available from 10.00am onwards in the Paddock Enclosure (while stocks last!).
Wetherby's two-day Sky Bet Christmas Meeting commences on Boxing Day, Monday, December 26 and continues Bank Holiday Tuesday, December 27, with high-class racing programmed for both days. This will be the fourth year that Harrogate-based Sky Bet has generously supported these two days, which boast prize money of £174,000 for 2005. For the fifth time in the last six years, the West Yorkshire course was recently voted the 'Best Small Racecourse in the North' by The Racegoers Club.
HAGGAS PLEASED TO BE ON TOP IN ALL-WEATHER CHAMPIONSHIP
The 2005/06 Littlewoods Bet Direct all-weather Championships, run in association with the Racing Post and Weatherbys, look set to be the most competitive and exciting ever held, with a host of trainers and jockeys aiming for title glory.
Newmarket trainer William Haggas jointly leads the Littlewoods Bet Direct all-weather Champion Trainer table but does not expect to do so by the end of the season on March 18.
Despite not having the biggest all-weather squad in the country, Haggas is pleased to be having runners and winners on the all-weather, and is looking to continue his recent run of good form.
"The incentives to run on the all-weather are extremely good, the horses are very well, and we'll be trying to make hay while the sun shines," explained Haggas.
"I've won two nice races so far which is great, and we've not had many runners. Fyodor, who won very well at Southwell on December 6, will go back there on New Year's Day - the programme for sprinters at the track is excellent.
"We'll have a select team, including a few maidens, but Suggestive [an impressive winner over seven furlongs at Wolverhampton on December 9] is going out to Dubai for the Carnival.
"I've got a dearth of handicappers, and I'll probably only have three runners a week, not three runners a day. The likelihood of us winning the title is slim, but we'll keep paddling away and hope for the best."
The current standings on the all-weather Champion Trainer table, up to the end of racing on Monday, December 19, show Haggas in pole position with 53 points along with Derek Shaw, closely followed by Richard Hannon in third place with 52 points.
Hannon closed the gap on the two trainers above him to one point over the weekend, with victory in the betdirect.co.uk Conditions Stakes over one mile at Lingfield on Saturday, December 17, courtesy of Psychiatrist, with stablemate Hail The Chief back in third.
The Wiltshire handler was also represented in the most valuable race of the day at Lingfield on Saturday, December 17, the £18,000 Bet Direct Handicap over six furlongs, however his Lindbergh did not secure any points, finishing in 10th position behind Les Arcs, having his first run for the Tim Pitt stable.
Leading the Littlewoods Bet Direct all-weather Champion Jockey table up to end of racing on Monday, December 19, is Eddie Ahern, with 156 points, followed in second by John Egan with 120 points. The third-placed jockey in the table is Steve Drowne, who has amassed 97 points so far, helped by a treble at Lingfield on Monday, December 19.
With Eddie Ahern due to ride in Macau and then possibly in Dubai in the New Year, Egan, who achieved 100 winners in a year for the first time at Wolverhampton on December 9, on board Red Cape, believes he has a serious chance of becoming champion all-weather jockey.
"I'm definitely going to continue riding on the all-weather throughout the season, and I think I'm in with a shout of landing the title," said Egan.
"I'm doing very well at the minute, and riding for a lot of different trainers who are in top form, which obviously helps.
"The racing on the all-weather is good quality and very competitive now. The better rides are coming my way and I'm looking forward to riding many more winners."
The Littlewoods Bet Direct all-weather Championships, run in association with the Racing Post and Weatherbys, culminate at Lingfield on Saturday, March 18, 2006, with a seven race card worth £270,000, which includes the £100,000 betdirect.co.uk Winter Derby, a Listed contest run over 10-furlongs.
Kate Hills, Head of Marketing and PR for Arena Leisure Racecourse Division, commented: "We are approaching the stage when the all-weather season really starts to hot up and the race for the trainers' and jockeys' championships begins in earnest.
"The better quality horses are now starting to appear in handicaps and after Christmas the build-up to betdirect.co.uk Winter Derby Day enters full swing."