Champion Still In Flame's Sights

Wed 2nd Jan 2013, 12:58

Countrywide Flame seen here winning the Triumph Hurdle
©Healy Racing Photos
Countrywide Flame remains on course for the Champion Hurdle despite meeting with defeat in Kempton's Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day.

The impressive Triumph and Fighting Fifth winner was one of several in the contest whose chances were compromised by the pedestrian early pace but trainer John Quinn plans to keep him busy between now and the Cheltenham Festival as he bids to get back on track.

"He's not going to stay in his box until March," said Quinn, who also attributes the five-year-old's performance at Kempton to the right-handed track.

"We've had plenty of time to think about it because it's a long drive from Kempton to Malton. I asked Denis O'Regan the following day if it would have made any difference if he had made it and he said not at all - he just wasn't the same horse going right-handed.

"The last thing I would do is make excuses but it was a learning curve because going the other way he is a different machine," he told the Racing Post Weekender.

"We know he loves Cheltenham and although it's a good year for the Champion, I'm sure he'll be in the mix if he is right on the day.

"Although we haven't really discussed options, before that I would be considering the Morebattle at Kelso or the Haydock Trial. I'll also put him in the Irish Champion Hurdle."

GRAND NATIONAL - The Northern Challenge

The Sue Smith-trained Auroras Encore was the last northern-trained horse to win the Grand National back in 2013 but recent victories for that part of the country have been thin on the ground since the likes of Lucius, Rubstic and Hallo Dandy in the late 70s early 80’s showed that steeplechasing was in a healthy state north of the Watford Gap with the likes of Gordon W Richards, Denys Smith, Arthur Stephenson, Peter Easterby and Jimmy Fitzgerald capable of holding their own against their southern and Irish counterparts.