Grey Dawning stays in hunt for Cheltenham Festival with hard-fought Leamington Novices’ Hurdle win

Grey Dawning stayed on stoutly to throw his hat into the ring for the Cheltenham Festival with a gritty display in the Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick.

Winner of a handicap off just 123 at Kempton on Boxing Day, Dan Skelton's charge faced a huge rise in class for the Grade Two event. 

Won by the likes of Inglis Drever, Carruthers, The New One and Willoughby Court in the past, the race can certainly throw up a top-class performer.

On paper at least it looked wide open, with Gary Moore's Givega, related to the great Quevega, sent off the 3-1 favourite in a field of seven.

Lucinda Russell's Snake Roll tried to stretch the field but his jumping fell apart down the back straight when Paul Nicholls' Knowsley Road, Tom Lacey's Ginny's Destiny and the eventual winner all pulled clear.

Grey Dawning (9-2) briefly looked in trouble at one stage and then when Harry Skelton went for a gap between the other two, it began to close.

Skelton had enough horse underneath him, though, and the grey pulled clear in testing conditions to win by five lengths from Ginny's Destiny.

A delighted winning trainer said: "We've always liked him. It's pretty obvious to say a horse that has won two bumpers you are quite excited about as a novice hurdler, but you've got to go and convert that and I think he has done. It was no disgrace to get beat first time, we needed the run a little bit then, but the horse of (David) Pipe's that beat us is a good horse in his own right.

"This horse has got progressive now and he's just smart, he's very smart.

"I had to go to Kempton because he was so well handicapped and I knew I wanted to come here with something. I had Pembroke in mind, but I just think he wants to stick at two miles for now so he'll go to the Rossington Main next weekend. And when I felt that way about Pembroke, I started to feel differently about Grey Dawning.

"He'll go any trip and he can go further. Harry said he wasn't loving the ground - he gets away with it, but he wasn't loving it.

"In fairness it's probably good that it has rained, he probably wouldn't be at home on real tacky ground, at least it was a bit loose. He wouldn't want to race here on Tuesday, I think he'd find that really unpleasant. He's going the right way though that's for sure."

He went on: "My immediate reaction is he should be going three miles rather than two and a half. We'll enter him in the Albert Bartlett and if we weren't happy with that we would go to Aintree. We will see how he is and how the landscape looks for Cheltenham, but I would be highly surprised if he ran at Cheltenham if it was anything other than the Friday.

"Over three miles you could probably ride him a bit more and arrive later on the scene. In a weird way, what happened at the last probably isn't the worst thing in the world to get a bump and make him concentrate a little bit because when he hit the front at Kempton he ran all over the shop. He's probably just improving a bit as well and getting the hang of racing."

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