Longsdon waiting for the big call
Will Hayler reports from the first day of Cheltenham Trials weekend at Musselburgh where long-distance travel paid off for some.
The scene of success for Her Majesty on Saturday.
Charlie Longsdon would be well advised to have his mobile phone turned up to the maximum volume on Sunday when one of his newer owners phones in to discuss future plans.
While the paying crowd on the first of Musselburgh's newly-extended and enhanced Cheltenham Trials meeting may have proved somewhat sparser than might have been hoped, those that did make it to the track came from far and wide.
Paul Nicholls himself failed to make it, but two of his three runners delivered victories and both could conceivably aim to add their names to the three previous horses to do the job this fixture was designed to serve and head on from here to claim success at the Festival.
When Harry Cobden and Will Biddick got on the plane at Bristol before 8am, they knew they were in for a long day, but both returned home with welcome winners, the former losing his conditionals' allowance in the process as Diego Du Charmil confirmed his wellbeing with victory in the Bet365 Scottish County Hurdle.
Claiming the prize for the longest journey was Gerald Dartnall, who negotiated most of the motorways of Britain in eight and a half hours on Friday to bring Dancing Shadow all the way from North Devon to win the inaugural Edinburgh National.
Recent years have been quieter at the yard of Dartnall's brother, Victor, but it was pleasing to hear Gerald report the arrival of new young stock for a stable that does so well with an old-fashioned approach to training – Boxing Day winner Run To Milan earned a particularly positive appraisal.
Noel Fehily, who brought Dancing Shadow with a well-timed run from off the pace to suddenly capture what had on the home turn looked an open affair, was another long-distance traveller with plenty to celebrate.
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He completed a treble in the finale aboard Whispering Storm for Neil Mulholland, which he had initiated with the Charlie Longsdon-trained Forth Bridge, the winner of the Bet365 Scottish Triumph Trial.
Musselburgh executives must have cursed when Nicky Henderson found a change of heart over the participation of the exciting Charli Parcs, but the reputation of this meeting requires genuine Cheltenham contenders to make themselves known and in Forth Bridge, they found both a winner who has the Festival on his agenda and boasts the additional attraction of being owned by The Queen.
"We met her when she came up here last June and I know she'll be delighted with this," one racecourse bod told Longsdon. No great revelation perhaps but a sign of the appreciation for any royal winner.
The trainer revealed he'd only decided to run Forth Bridge with minutes to go before final declaration time, and even in victory there was a hint of mixed feelings.
"That's the handicap mark blown," he said. "On ratings, it looked like we were going to be up against it taking on two horses with ratings of 140-plus but when we beat Warp Factor here last time, we did it in a time considerably faster than Project Bluebook's victory and I just had the feeling that he and Fidux might be a shade over-rated.
"It's going to be interesting to see what the handicapper makes of this, but he is a very nice horse with a future and he won't be over-raced this season."
Would Her Majesty have a say in those future plans for Forth Bridge?
"Firstly I'll talk to her racing manager, Sir Michael Oswald, but I imagine we'll have a chat about it, perhaps tomorrow," he said. "It's important to keep in touch with all of your owners!"
Forth Bridge is the second horse Longsdon has trained for The Queen after being given another chance to prove himself when a "quite slow" filly failed to sparkle for him last season.
Along with Fehily and others, he will be joining the celebrating Scottish rugby fans in Edinburgh overnight, before returning for the good ground and excellent prize money offered on Sunday's card.
Not disappearing back to a local luxury hotel, however, was the luckless Lucy Alexander, the talented but desperately-unfortunate jockey whose career has been peppered by injury in recent years.
Alexander went to hospital with her mother suffering from suspected concussion and facial injuries after being kicked when her horse Rocklim fell fatally in the three-mile handicap hurdle.
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