Saturday, December 3, 2022

Morrison eager to take Champion Hurdle challenge with Not So Sleepy

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Hughie Morrison hopes a different training regime will help enigmatic Champion Hurdle outsider Not So Sleepy settle better in Tuesday’s renewal.

Few expected the now 10-year-old run a big race in last year’s championship event, yet he belied his 125-1 odds and finished a fine fifth.

Not So Sleepy has a tendency to be keen and free-going. He settled well when dead-heating with Epatante in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November, but yet again showed his quirks when he paid for his enthusiasm in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, finishing last of five behind Nicky Henderson’s mare.

Morrison feels the Lady Blythe-owned gelding, who is rated 159 and is a 66-1 shot with Coral, deserves to take his chance in a fascinating renewal, where odds-on Honeysuckle bids to retain her title and take her unbeaten run to 15.

He said: “He ran a big race last year.

“The way he schooled on Wednesday, he is nothing short on enthusiasm. It is a question of whether he arrives at the start and we might find that he says, ‘it is a bit quick for me today, guys’ and do what he did a couple of years ago (when unseating Paddy Brennan).

“He deserves to be in the field on his Fighting Fifth run. But what else do we do with him? We have got to have a go.

“The owners are very sporting. They asked, ‘can we go somewhere else?’, but I say to them, ‘where would you go?’.

“Last summer, rather than turning him away – sometimes with these older horses, I think if you turn them away it is very difficult to get them going again – we just kept him ticking over and he got much more amenable about taking his rider around the Downs and now he is very happy.

“Since the autumn, we have totally changed his training regime. He has been doing most of his work on the Fibresand gallop rather than the woodchip and when he goes on the grass, he would never see a faster horse going past.

“Having been a mile and a half round there last Friday, he passed them full of running.

“They don’t go slowly in the Champion Hurdle and he likes a good gallop.”

Morrison, who is better known for his success on the Flat with the likes of champion sprinters Sakhee’s Secret and Pastoral Pursuits, and stayers such as Alcazar, Marmelo and Nearly Caught, has a select team to take to the Festival.

Our Jester is, according to bookmakers, the best of the British horses in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

The six-year-old has won both his bumpers this term, including the valuable Winter Million bumper at Lingfield in January.

“Our Jester is like his mother Cill Rialaig and his sister Urban Artist,” said Morrison. “Both were immature horses. We started them off in bumpers so they were able to progress and become black type horses on the Flat, as well as his mother winning a Listed bumper.

“He was obviously very weak last year as a five-year-old. He is a very tall horse – he is 17 hands – and basically, he is a great, big, tall Flat horse.

“The bumper system suits him well. He has done nothing wrong and he won a Lingfield bumper that was a nice prize.

“You wouldn’t fancy him running downhill on an all-weather surface like he did at Lingfield, and he proved he handled that.”

The first six in the betting are from Ireland, with Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott dominating the entries. Our Jester is currently a 20-1 chance with Coral for the Champion Bumper, the concluding race on Wednesday.

“We read the papers and we are realistic, but we are not going there for a day out,” said Morrison.

“He is not a flashy work-horse so we don’t know how good he really is.

“A bumper should be the jam on top. They are about education and not the means to an end, so I would hope he has a few days in the sun after this.”

The East Ilsley handler is optimistic Third Wind can bounce back to form in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle on Thursday.

Winner of five of his 14 starts over hurdles, heavy ground saw the eight-year-old struggle in his bid to win the Grade Two Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock for a second year in succession last time.

Morrison confirmed: “Third Wind will go to the Pertemps. The handicapper has given us a bit of a chance.

“He is back to a level he can compete at. He couldn’t win it off a very competitive mark two years ago, but the first three in front of him (Sire Du Berlais, The Storyteller and Tout Est Permis) all came from Ireland and have won or been placed a Grade One at some point.

“We are realistic and would like some soft ground for him, and we will happily accept that he has been slightly disappointing this year. But if he turns up, he will be in the money, I think.”

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