Form records will be on the line in some enticing contests at Carlisle’s first weekend race meeting of the year.
Sunday’s seven-race card has attracted runners from some of National Hunt’s biggest trainers including Lucinda Russell, Sue Smith and Dan Skelton, who has saddled more winners than any of his rivals this season.
There’s an exciting clash expected in the afternoon’s highest-prized race, a novices’ limited handicap over three miles.
Both Philip Kirby’s Skipthescales and Lord Getaway for James Evans could make it a third win in a row.
Skipthescales led them home at both Wetherby and Newcastle, where he ran on strongly from two out. The seven-year-old also won last time at Carlisle in March over the same distance. Lord Getaway should be fresh after a 66-day break following success at Uttoxeter and Huntingdon. Evans is in good form with two February winners for his Kinnersley stables.
Skelton’s Red Rising, ridden by brother Harry, has also enjoyed a break since a post-Christmas runner-up spot at Wetherby. Smith’s Lough Derg Farmer has shown good place form recently, including a second at Carlisle in December.
In the Racing TV Handicap Chase over 1m 7f leading jockeys Derek Fox and Brian Hughes are likely to be in contention.
Hughes rides Divine Port for Pauline Robson. The nine-year-old is another who has won his last two, including at Carlisle in December when he found a little extra to finish well after leading.
Fox is with Russell’s Mumgos Debut, a double winner in January with the same jockey on board at Newcastle and Ayr. The 11-year-old also scored a Carlisle victory in April 2017.
Also fancied will be Doc Carver, a two-mile winner for Henry Oliver at Chepstow last time out in January. Lisa Harrison’s Instingtive has a couple of runner-up places at Carlisle this season and a handicap hurdle win at the track last March.
The 3m 2f handicap chase, a qualifier for the Northern Lights Staying Chase series, also looks keenly contested.
Nick Alexander’s Calivigny has two wins and two places since a November return. The highlight of these was success at Carlisle in the Northern Lights Middle Distance Chase final in December. There was also a win at Kelso in the same month.
Achill Road Boy hasn’t been out of the top four in six outings since returning in October. These runs included a January first at Kelso and Stuart Coltherd’s entry also tasted success at Carlisle last March over the same distance.
Smith’s Le Drapeau was a Boxing Day runner up at Wetherby and George Bewley has Onderun, who stayed on gamely to win at Carlisle in April.
Over the shorter 2m 1f handicap hurdle, Lucy Wadham’s Gregarious will go off as the highest-rated entry and is coming back after a 76-day break. The Newmarket-based trainer has enjoyed a successful February with handicap chase success at both Wetherby and Lingfield.
John Dixon’s Pistol is a Carlisle favourite with three previous wins at the track. Last time at Durdar was a fourth, in the Northern Lights two-mile hurdle final.
Trainer Gillian Boanas enjoyed a win in the big handicap hurdle at Carlisle’s last meeting with Teescomponents Lad. She has Just Call Me Al in a 2m 1f novices’ hurdle with Ross Chapman again taking the ride.
In the afternoon’s finale, a National Hunt flat race over 2m 1f there’ll be plenty of interest in Stainsby Girl. Donald Whillans’ horse was a winner on debut at Carlisle in December and is again paired with the trainer’s son Callum.
Tickets for Sunday February 24 are £15 for adults (in advance) or £18 (on the day). Under-18s free entry when accompanied by an adult.
Gates open 12.10pm, first race is 2.10pm and last race 5.15pm.