If any southern softies think they were hard done by during the recent freeze, just don't let them whinge to Willie Amos about it. Yesterday, finally, his all-weather gallop, 1,000 feet up in the hills of Roxburghshire between Hawick and Langholm, lay black against the white and this morning horses will be on it for the first time this year.
"At one point the snow was up past my knees in the yard," he said. "And it was the strangest snow. It fell straight down and stayed in 18in-high columns on the fence posts.
"We were down to minus nine for a few days and, though we dug out the lanes, the main roads weren't open. But the wagons wouldn't start anyway, even with half a gallon of petrol in the diesel."
Amos spent yesterday afternoon harrowing his precious training strip, after a JCB had shifted the snow. His relief in getting his business back to some semblance of normality is chiefly on behalf of his Broadhaugh Farm stable star, Lie Forrit, bound for the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday week. Amos's intention is to test the mettle of the reigning long- distance champion Big Buck's in the three-miler, one of the significant preps for the Festival stayers' crown, the World Hurdle.
Lie Forrit has already proved himself one of this season's most improved performers; the only blemish on his record when, poised to win on his seasonal debut, he jinked and unseated his young rider Campbell Gillies. Since then, though, the pair have scored at Kempton and Newbury, effectively ruling out handicaps.
"Everyone seems to be running scared of Big Buck's," said Amos, "but he's just one horse. Nothing's looked him in the eye for a while, and if there's anything we do, it's stay all day and fight. We'll have a go, and see where we stand in that sort of company."
Lie Forrit's preparation for his step into the elite spotlight has, obviously, been less than straightforward. "We've had to box over to an indoor arena 15 miles away," Amos explained. "We'd go 30 times round each way, trotting and cantering, so we've kept an edge on them.
"Lie Forrit was fit before we had the snow, and still looks tremendous. But we won't know what we've lost until we get him out on the gallops and I'll really need to get three more bits of work into him before Cheltenham."
The six-year-old's progress has been a heart-warming boost for his small but perfectly effective yard. He was bought at auction as a foal for just £4,000 by his octogenarian owner John McNeill, a retired civil engineer. And when he won his first race, a bumper at Carlisle, he started at an unconsidered 100-1.
"We knew then we might have something," recalled Amos. "It wasn't just that he won. It was the way he cocked his lugs as he went past the post and was pulling up.
"At Carlisle, the turn away from the stands is sharp, so to the horses it looks as if they're running into the crowd, and it's a rare young one who has the confidence to prick his ears and go on.
"We always thought going three miles would play to his strengths, but we didn't expect him to progress quite this much.
"He has his quirks – he does tend to idle when he gets to the front – but he's genuine. And I wasn't surprised the way he came up the Cheltenham hill in November – the gallop here rises 310 feet from start to finish."
Lie Forrit could hardly have been given a more serendipitous name. It has nothing to do with untruths; it is a Scots dialect exhortation used to encourage rugby scrums. Push forward. Which is just what he and those around him are doing.
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Jan Mayen (4.20 Wolverhampton)
Shaped with conspicuous promise on her belated debut and should get off the mark for a yard with a fine record in this type of contest.
Black Annie (4.10 Folkestone)
From the family of Silver Birch and Alexander Banquet and her stout breeding should serve her well on her step up in trip, particularly in today's conditions.
One to watch
Novice hurdler Ashleys Lad (N J Gifford) was best of the rest behind two useful, more experienced, types at Kempton on Saturday and should be on a workable mark when he starts his career in handicaps.
Where the money's going
Carthalawan, runner-up to Go Native in October, is 8-1 favourite in with Paddy Power's market for the weekend's betting feature, the MCR Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Chris McGrath's nap
Chiff Chaff (1.40 Folkestone)Reuse content