MUSSELBURGH’S traditional totepool New Year’s Day meeting has attracted top quality entries from across the UK with owners and trainers seeking their share of more than £130,000 prize money.
The East Lothian track also shares top billing tomorrow with Cheltenham as ITV returns to live racing coverage after a 27-year absence.
Leading trainers Dan Skelton, Venetia Williams and Charlie Longsdon – who had a winner at Musselburgh a fortnight ago with the Queen’s horse Forth Bridge – are all represented.
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In the £30,000 totepool.com Auld Reekie Handicap Classic at 1.40pm Hereford-based Williams sends out Cold March with Liam Treadwell in the saddle. The pair famously won the 2009 Grand National with 100-1 shot Mon Mome.
In the same race, Longsdon’s Germany Calling is top weight and with two wins from its last three outings will put up a challenge to Royal Macnab, trained by the in-form Rebecca Menzies, and a three-time course winner as well as runner-up in this same race last New Year’s Day.
In the feature race, the £40,000 totepool Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle at 2.50pm, Scottish trainer James Ewart is looking to do the double with last year’s winner of this race Aristo Du Plessis, while the Skeltons – trainer Dan and jockey brother Harry – have top weight and Cheltenham Festival winner Superb Story looking to chalk up another win.
Carluke-based trainer Keith Dalgleish fields Mirsaale, a winner twice at Perth this year which came a credible ninth in the 2013 Investec Epsom Derby.
Renfrewshire handler Jim Goldie has course favourite Jonny Delta hoping for a repeat of its last Musselburgh win on December 14. Irish trainer James Nash makes his first appearance at Musselburgh, sending over My Manekineko from his Curragh yard and could be worth the watching.
With advance ticket sales markedly up on last year, Musselburgh are hoping for a near 6,000-capacity crowd and racecourse chief executive Bill Farnsworth said: “We have some great entries from many of the leading trainers and our New Year’s Day fixture is growing in popularity each year.
“With the dual attraction of first-class jumps racing and the historic Racing UK New Year Sprint athletics race, sports fans will struggle to find a better way of bringing in the new year.”
Gates open at 11am and the first race is off at 12.30pm.
Meanwhile, champion jockey Richard Johnson acknowledged that Native River has to be a “big player” in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup after his Welsh National win.
Beaten in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in March, his three subsequent outings over fences have seen him win a Grade One at Aintree, the Hennessy and the Welsh National before he even turns seven.
It capped a great first half of the season for his trainer Colin Tizzard, who also won the Feltham with Royal Vacation and of course the King George VI Chase with Thistlecrack – who is odds-on in places for the Gold Cup.
“We went to Chepstow hoping for good to soft ground for Native River, but it was definitely soft. It was a phenomenal performance to carry that weight on that ground,” said Johnson. “I’ve ridden him four times and each time he’s improved. He’s got such a great attitude, he always delivers. You can’t ask for more than that.
“I see he’s now second favourite for the Gold Cup and he has to be a big player as he stays and jumps. If you take Thistlecrack out, it’s a very open race.
“Thistlecrack is the one everyone has to beat, but he is a novice. That lack of experience could be the only chink in his armour. He is another who is improving with each run.”