Op­tions open as But­tons dis­pels stamina fears

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - RACING - Tom Rich­mond RAC­ING COR­RE­SPON­DENT ■ tom.rich­[email protected]­me­dia.co.uk ■ @Opin­ionYP

PHIL KIRBY says he will take it “one step at a time” with Lady But­tons af­ter this mag­nif­i­cent mare won a third high-pro­file race on the bounce.

The in-form trainer’s sev­enth win since Box­ing Day means he is not rul­ing out a tilt at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val next March with his sta­ble star.

“I’m def­i­nitely not rul­ing it out for sure,” he told The York­shire Post be­fore driv­ing his horse­box from his sta­bles near Cat­t­er­ick to Hay­dock.

“The im­por­tant thing is ev­ery­thing is fine with But­tons. We will sit down with the own­ers and come up with a plan. One step at a time.”

The dilemma is the only twom­ile chases at Chel­tenham’s flag­ship meet­ing are the pres­ti­gious Queen Mother Cham­pion Chase, which fea­tures steeplechas­ing su­per­star Al­tior, and the con­clud­ing Grand An­nual Chase, a big field hand­i­cap run at a fran­tic pace.

Even be­fore this sea­son Lady But­tons had proven her­self to be one of the most ver­sa­tile mares in the coun­try with wins over hur­dles and fences.

How­ever, her three vic­to­ries this sea­son have all come at a higher level un­der reg­u­lar rider Adam Ni­col, whose own con­fi­dence is soar­ing as a re­sult of his as­so­ci­a­tion with such a pop­u­lar horse.

Vic­to­ri­ous in a Listed hur­dle at Wetherby on Char­lie Hall Chase day, Lady But­tons then won a two-mile hand­i­cap chase in im­pe­ri­ous style on New­bury’s big­gest raceday of the year, Siz­ing Ten­nessee tak­ing the fea­ture Lad­brokes Tro­phy.

Both of these were two miles. Yet, by win­ning the York­shire Sil­ver Vase Mares’ Chase, an­other Listed con­test and with a to­tal prize fund of £75,000, at Don­caster on Satur­day over two-and-ahalf miles she opens up more op­tions – ei­ther rac­ing against colts or stick­ing to mares only races.

The suc­cess vin­di­cated Kirby’s de­ci­sion to swerve last Thurs­day’s Castle­ford Chase at Wetherby be­cause he felt the ground was un­suit­able for a horse who is in the form of her life in spite of a ten­don in­jury in the past, which re­sulted in 630 days on the side­lines.

“It was tough enough in that plan A was al­ways Wetherby,” ex­plained Kirby. “When I saw the ground at Wetherby, and then the en­tries for Don­caster, I thought it was the more sen­si­ble op­tion.

“It was hav­ing to change ev­ery­one’s plans at fairly short no­tice, but the own­ers (Keith and Jayne Sivills) were bril­liant. It was the right de­ci­sion.”

The five-run­ner race soon be­came de­pleted af­ter Sis­ter Sibyl suf­fered a fa­tal in­jury af­ter the sixth fence, with At­lanta Ablaze then un­seat­ing her rider at the ninth.

It left Lady But­tons trail­ing Rene’s Girl and Drinks In­ter­val, but Ni­col’s mount was al­ways mak­ing up ground at ev­ery fence with her slick and ac­cu­rate jump­ing.

In tight at the first two fences in the home straight, she saun­tered clear, dis­pelling pre-race fears about her stamina be­fore idling on the run-in.

By then owner Jayne Sivills, who runs a pub near Whitby, was al­ready run­ning across the pad­dock at some speed to greet her horse.

So, too, were her fam­ily and friends, many dressed in the same pur­ple and white colours car­ried by the win­ner.

Now the win­ner of 11 out of 25 races, Lady But­tons – who turns nine on New Year’s Day – once again showed a re­mark­able zest for rac­ing.

The chal­lenge now, says Kirby, is find­ing suit­able races, both in Bri­tain and Ire­land, for a horse who needs good ground to be seen at her best.

“She’s shown she can stay twoand-a-half miles at this level,” he added. “Whether she can step up to the next level at this trip, I’m not sure.”

Ir­re­spec­tive of fu­ture plans, Lady But­tons will be rid­den by Ni­col, who is on the brink of record­ing his best sea­son in terms of prize-money ac­crued.

“She’s a plea­sure to ride,” said a beam­ing Ni­col. “I prob­a­bly got to the front soon enough. She’s so clever and it’s a long run-in. She doesn’t do a tap in front. On bet­ter ground this win­ter it has given us more of a chance.”

Ni­col has even more rea­son to savour such suc­cesses be­cause his girl­friend Jen­nie Dur­rans rides Lady But­tons on the gal­lops.

As she said: “What an awe­some day. So very lucky to be part of the amaz­ing Lady But­tons ca­reer. Love her.”

We had to change plans at short no­tice but it was the right de­ci­sion. Trainer Phil Kirby on switch­ing Lady But­tons from Wetherby to Don­caster.

PIC­TURE: JAMES HARDISTY

WIN­NING DUO: Jockey Adam Ni­col with Lady But­tons at Phil Kirby’s sta­bles.

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