Stratford novice Sine Nomine wins Cheltenham Foxhunter

The St James’s Place Foxhunter turned in a feel-good story to close out Gold Cup day at Cheltenham with the victory of Sine Nomine, 22 years on from owning a previous winner of the race for Robin Tate. Stratford followers will recall seeing the grey mare win the novice hunter championship here back in early June 2023.

Trained by daughter and Catterick Clerk of Course, Fiona Needham and ridden by John Dawson, the game grey mare showed a good turn of foot after the last to make up around 3l and outpoint 11/8 favourite, It’s On The Line, and retain the Festival’s largest trophy in Britain once again.

Back in 2002, it was Fiona Needham in the plate to win the race on Last Option, but this time around, it was senior statesman of the Yorkshire Area changing room, John Dawson, who guided the 8 year old mare to success. Dawson is a veteran of over 900 rides between the flags, and nearly 200 winners, but this will rank right up there with the best. “We didn’t really know what we had,” he told Racing TV, “but I always knew she had that little bit of something else.”

Hunting round the first circuit, Sine Nomine took closer order at the top of the hill joining a group of 7 after Ferns Lock had cut out the running for the first circuit and a half. Time Leader and Shantou Flyer were both prominent throughout, and favourite backers could have been forgiven for thinking their horse was cooked as It’s On the Line was pushed along down the hill. Two out, Time Leader asserted, pressed by the favourite, who hadn’t left Dawson and Sine Nomine room on the inner. Switching before the last, the grey mare responded to her rider’s urgings to win by 3/4l. 

Dawson continued, “I was hoping the race would pan out in her favour. If we were travelling coming down the hill, we’d be galloping at the top.”

Sine Nomine has been lightly campaigned since winning the novice hunter championship at Stratford last June, but with this target in mind. A 3l second in an Alnwick Open last December, her only other run at Wetherby in early February, where a bloodless victory over Bennys King brought race fitness without really finding anything more detailed, have been a product of the abysmal weather which has forced the abandonment of half the first half of the Pointing season. 

But the back-to-back victories of English-trained winners in Pointing’s showcase race offer encouragement to those growing the sport as a nursery for young horses and riders, even if john would agree that epithet no longer describes him. This is one race where home-trained horses have largely kept the Irish at bay, and gives a massive fillip to pointing in Yorkshire, whose 11 fixtures provide plenty of stirring entertainment. 

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