RACING AHEAD with Tony McCormick

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Racing pundit Tony McCormick from www.irishbigracetrends.com beforetheoff.com and racing radio station racingfm.com looks ahead to the ‘North East National’, while the countdown to the Cheltenham continues with more notes for your Festival Notebook.

The Eider Chase at Newcastle this weekend promises to be war of attrition given some weather reports. The race, over a marathon trip of 4m1f, which was at one point was briefly renamed the ‘Northern National’ during the era of the late Sir Stanley Clarke is seen as one of the key trials for Grand National in April.

Sponsored by The Tote, now Betfred, David Pipe saddled the Timmy Murphy ridden Comply or Die to land both prizes as recently as 2008. Being held annually in the North East in late February, the race is traditionally run in testing conditions providing a unique test of strength, stamina and performance for both horse and jockey as witnessed with just the three finishers in the 2011 renewal landed by Companero.

Last year’s winner Wyck Hill catches the eye in the entries, along with Portrait King, winner in 2012, David Pipe’s Broadway Buffalo and Alpha Victor. Wyck Hill’s trainer, David Bridgwater, would love the rain to hit Gosforth Park, “Wyck Hill is in the same order as he was last year, it’s just that this year he has a bit more weight to carry but he is a big-framed proper National Hunt chaser so that won’t be a problem,” said Bridgwater.

“The trip suits him and it is a case of the more rain the better as he is not a quick horse. With a bit of luck we will get some rain and if we do he would have a solid each-way chance.”

Cheltenham Festival Notebook: Cheltenham Racecourse executive hit all the right notes on Monday by announcing that the Top Trainer award with be named in honour of the late Dessie Hughes.

The Irish Independent Dessie Hughes Leading Trainer Award will go to the trainer who sends out the most winners during the showpiece four days in March. Hughes, who died in November last year at the age of 71, was a major force at Cheltenham both as a jockey and as a trainer.

He rode eight winners, including Monksfield in the Champion Hurdle of 1979 and Davy Lad in the Gold Cup two years earlier, and is one of an elite band to have both ridden and trained a Champion Hurdle winner.

Hardy Eustace provided Hughes with his greatest success as a trainer from six triumphs, landing back-to-back renewals of the Champion Hurdle in 2004 and 2005. Hughes’ son Richard has been champion jockey on the flat in Britain for the past three seasons, while his daughter Sandra has succeeded her father as the trainer at Osborne Lodge and already sent out Lieutenant Colonel to two Grade One victories in Ireland this season.

Irving’s participation in next month’s Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham is in doubt. Irving’s trainer Paul Nicholls, writing on his website, said “It was disappointing to see Irving put in his place by Blue Heron in the Kingwell Hurdle.

“Strictly on that performance it would make no sense to take him to Cheltenham for the Champion Hurdle.”

The Tullow Tank is set to be prepared for the Cheltenham Festival following a much-improved effort at Leopardstown. A dual Grade One-winning hurdler last season for Philip Fenton, has been given the green light to cross the water this year by current handler Sandra Hughes.

On The Fringe is set for a third tilt at the Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival following his narrow reverse at Leopardstown last weekend.

Willie Mullins’ talented grey Champagne Fever made amends for a fall at the final fence on his previous start when easily disposing of the opposition in the Grade Two contest to book his ticket to Cheltenham for the fourth year running.

A chirpy trainer said “I’m just happy to be going to Cheltenham on a positive note, and I’d imagine he will either run in the Ryanair or the Queen Mother.”

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