Lee rolls back the years with rejuvenated band of veterans
Having long secured the fidelity of regulars at tracks like Ludlow and Hereford, Richard Lee is on a roll that warrants rather broader attention. After two more winners at Chepstow last Saturday, the indefatigable Marked Man attempts to maintain his trainer's momentum when contesting his 67th steeplechase at Leicester today, three weeks short of his 16th birthday.
Another veteran, Victory Gunner, has already testified to the competitive longevity of horses in Lee's care by winning three of his first four starts since entering the stable at the age of 13. "But these old horses are so easy to train," Lee said yesterday. "They nearly train themselves. You just learn their foibles and quirks, and pander to them."
Marked Man registered the first of 11 career wins at Aintree back in 2002, shortly after arriving from Ireland. "He's a born racehorse," Lee said. "I'm sure he'll tell us he has had enough, some day, but it won't be any time soon judging from the form he's in."
Necessarily, however, it is at the other end of the spectrum that he discovers optimism for the future. "The horses have been running well, but the fact is we've got some very nice ones," he said, nominating Hector's Choice and Young Victoria as prospects worth following.
Another, Russe Blanc, has unusual antecedents – by an obscure French stallion, and one of those rare thoroughbreds registered as white, he cost just £8,000 at Doncaster before winning a bumper on his debut. "I'd just arrived at the sales," Lee remembered, "and was walking past the parade ring when I stopped and thought: 'What a lovely horse.' The dam's pedigree is quite good. Even if he didn't make a racehorse, I thought he might have some appeal on the event market. He ran very well in his first hurdle, and he'll go to Hereford on Sunday."
His Chepstow winners included another novice in Knock A Hand. "A proper horse," Lee said, "a great, big scopey animal. He'd won point-to-points in Ireland, so we knew he'd stay, but he's by Lend A Hand and I suppose that's where he gets his speed. I expect we'll look for something around Christmas."
His other winner was an old favourite in Le Beau Bai, in the doldrums since finishing third in the 2009 Coral Welsh National – a target once again, if only enough horses drop out for him to make the cut. "It was a particular pleasure to see the little horse bounce back [to win at Chepstow on Saturday]," Lee said. "One word is all it takes to explain: ground. The last time he had heavy going was two years ago, when he won the same race. He does like Chepstow, but then it's a real stayers' track – and he's a proper stayer."
Chris McGrath's nap
Forestside (2.50 Hexham) Yard among the winners at Sedgefield yesterday and this one looks primed to retrieve the form he showed when scoring twice over course and distance in the summer.
Spice Bar (2.30 Leicester) Good strike rate since joining Declan Carroll and looked better than this rating at Musselburgh, clear when unseating three out, and better again back over this distance.
One to watch
Skippers Brig (Nicky Richards) gave a progressive rival a start when making his comeback at Kelso on Sunday and did well to mount a challenge before just flattening out on the run-in.
Where the money's going
With his novice chasing campaign suspended for a return to timber at Cheltenham on Saturday, Menorah is 12-1 from 25-1 for the Champion Hurdle with Paddy Power.
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