There is plenty of action at the sales when a top class flat horse is on offer and the National Hunt owners and trainers battle it out to try and secure a potential star for their code. Horses rated 90+ over 1m2f are the real jewels and Kevin may have just unearthed one himself without the trouble of searching. Erik The Red switched codes to tackle hurdles for the first time and he made a perfect start when taking the 2m William Hill Leading Racecourse Bookmaker Novices’ Hurdle at Kelso.
Now 7 years old, Erik has enjoyed the last few seasons competing in the top 1m2f and 1m4f handicaps. Having reached a career high of 100, he has won 4 times on the flat whilst also finishing in the frame in some top handicaps, including the November handicap. Last season he didn’t quite reach those same heights and although he did run well, there was just a little spark missing. Knowing that the horse still had his class, Kevin went about finding a way to bring back his spark and recapture the form he undoubtedly had in the tank. As always a schooling session was the obvious choice and Brian Hughes was called in to teach the gelding. After impressing on a few occasions it was clear that a crack at the new code was in order and so the entry book was opened and races searched.
Kevin tends to introduce any jumpers at the same type of tracks. Kelso has always been a happy hunting ground and it was the Scottish track that offered the ideal starting point. Obviously there is always a question mark over flat horses taking on the obstacles. Will they stay, will their jumping hold up, will they take to the different style of racing. Erik had these same doubts but if he could answer them then he had the class that should see him too good for the 7 rivals due to line up. The punters agreed and when the biggest danger, Elvis Mail, was withdrawn Erik’s price dropped into 4/6 fav.
As the tape released and the field were on their way, there was very little pace on. Brian was keen to drop Erik in and get him settled but the slow gallop was not to the gelding’s liking. Dropped in towards the rear, Erik took a keen hold through the early stages fighting Brian for his head. This tussle continued down to the first flight and although he was over safely it wasn’t his most clean jump. The crawl up front continued and so too did Erik’s unwillingness to settle. Again he headed into the next flight giving Brian a bit of a handful and again he was at his best. Safely jumping over again, this time he leapt to his left but was quickly away on the other side.
Finally Erik settled and got into a nice rhythm before galloping down towards the 3rd flight. This time he was well over and again quickly into stride after the hurdle. The field passed the winning post for the first time as they hit the turn and headed into final circuit. The pace remained very steady and all of the 8 runners were well bunched up sweeping around the bend. Brian was still happy to watch on from the back and his mount was now travelling easily as they bared down towards the fourth hurdle. Kept wide, Erik had a clear sight of the jump and took it very well once again. His jumping was standing up to the test and now Erik was showing his skill at taking his hurdles. There was just one more to jump down the back straight and Erik took it very well, taking a couple of lengths out of his rivals. As they left the back straight he had moved closer to the lead, still travelling strongly.
Jumping the 6th flight Erik again took lengths out of the field and put himself into contention by jumping up to third. That took the runners towards the home bend and now the first bit of pace was injected into the race. The leader was trying to quicken up which had a knock on effect. Brian didn’t need to worry as Erik moved powerfully up on the outside and was cruising into the home straight. Well inside the final 1/2 mile and heading towards 2 1/2f from home he had almost taken the lead. Erik was cantering on the bridle whilst his rivals were hard at work to try and challenge. Still coming to challenge on the outside, Erik headed to 2 out with the lead seemingly at his mercy. The 7th flight was taken with ease and now it looked as though favourite backers were ready to cash out, although there was one obstacle remaining.
Edging into the lead, Erik held a length advantage with Brian yet to move. There was nothing finishing with a flourish so his biggest danger would come from the second fav Northern Soul. His rival was staying on at the same pace so it seemed as though all that was needed was one spring heeled leap. Brian continued to let Erik just stride on and he met the last on a perfect stride. Swiftly over he then quickened away from the hurdle and immediately asserted his dominance. Drawing clear with ease Erik The Red ran out a smooth 3 length winner and announced himself as a potentially nice prospect for the sphere.
It was all about whether Erik could transfer his class from the flat and he did just that. The steady gallop was not ideal through the early stages which was why he didn’t settle immediately. Once Brian got him to drop the bit Erik travelled well and then his jumping was near faultless. Although it was a race that offered a good opportunity, especially with the biggest threat on paper being withdrawn, Erik won in convincing fashion. Owner Frank Gillespie has enjoyed some big days in both codes and he looks like he has a horse who could give him a few more in the future.