Top class racing returns to Carlisle this weekend with an intriguing match-up of Grand National winning trainers in the big money race of the day.
Sunday is the first ever Finals Day of the £125,000 Northern Lights Race Series which was launched to promote jump racing in the North.
On top of the five Northern Lights finals – which have attracted the North’s leading trainers – is the Class 1 £30,000 Houghton Mares' Chase (Listed Race).
It features entries from Grand National winners Willie Mullins and Donald McCain.
Mullins, trainer of 2005 Grand National winner Hedgehunter and the 2011 and 2013 Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly, brings French chaser Benie Des Dieux to Cumbria from his stables in Ireland. It is the six-year-old’s first outing since a dominant 30-length victory in Limerick last December.
Benie Des Dieux will be up against exciting Cheshire-based prospect Lastbutnotleast. The seven-year-old is looking to make it four wins on the bounce for trainer McCain, who famously saddled Ballabriggs to National glory in 2011.
Elsewhere on the Northern Lights card, Fife-based trainer Nick Alexander has no fewer than five entries – four set to be ridden by daughter Lucy. It will be Lucy’s first race in more than a fortnight after she was injured in a fall at Hexham.
Her rides on Sunday are Jet Master in the 2m hurdle, Buffalo Ballet in the 3m Staying Chase, Another Mattie, who won at Ayr back in March, in the 3m Stayers Hurdle and Calivigny in the 2m 4f Handicap Chase. Her father’s fifth entry is Orange Rogue, who has won two of his last three races, and goes in the Middle-Distance Chase.
All five of the Northern Lights finals – which are the culmination of many months of qualifying races – carry prize money of £25,000.
Alexander’s Calivigny will be pushed in the Handicap Chase by Forest Des Aigles – trained by another Grand National winning trainer, Lucinda Russell. The six-year-old, who won last time out at Hexham in October, will be ridden by National-winning jockey Derek Fox.
Russell has three runners on the day with Voyage A New York also featuring in the Handicap Chase and Catchthemoonlight in the 2m 4f Handicap Hurdle.
Cumbria’s James Moffat has two runners in the shape of Lough Kent, who is looking to add to his total of eight career wins in the Handicap Hurdle, and Amuse Me in the Handicap Chase.
To qualify for the Northern Lights Finals Day, all horses were required to have started in at least two series qualifiers and be placed in the first eight at least once.
The British Horseracing Association, this week, announced it would look to expand the number of qualifying events in 2018 to enable more horses to be involved in what is an ongoing initiative to promote jump racing in the North.
Geraldine McKay, General Manager at Carlisle Racecourse, said: “We cannot wait for Sunday. Finals day is the culmination of many months of qualifying events and we look forward to welcoming some of the North’s leading trainers and jockeys here to Carlisle.
“The series is so important as it really shines the light on jumps racing in the North where we have some exceptional trainers, jockeys and horses so we cannot wait to showcase them here on Sunday.”
Together with the action on the track, there will be plenty of fun for families. Young racecgoers can enjoy Lantern Making workshops and inflatable ‘Laser Quasar’ which sees teams battle it out in a fun test of skill and agility.
Tickets for the Northern Lights Series Final are £14 in advance (£17 on the day). It is free admission for all-under-18s when accompanied by a full-paying adult. Gates open at 10.20am. First race is 12.20pm. Last Race is 3.30pm.