LEADING jumps trainer Donald McCain will turn his attention to the Flat on Friday when he sends Navajo Pass to the RaceBets Handicap at York.
The Grand National-winning trainer, whose father Ginger was indelibly associated with the Aintree showpiece through the exploits of three-time victor Red Rum, has experienced plenty of success on the level previously.
Most famously, McCain saddled top dual-purpose performer Overturn to win the Northumberland Plate and Chester Cup in 2010 and 2011 respectively – and Navajo Pass sports the same blue and yellow silks of owner, Tim Leslie.
The son of Nathaniel has run four times to date, breaking his maiden in tenacious fashion at Carlisle in August.
And while McCain acknowledged the stiff competition awaiting his charge in what is the twenty second race of the York season to offer at least a six figure prize, he issued an upbeat bulletin on both his future and well-being.
“He’s grand,” McCain said. “He’s set to go hurdling soon enough, but we thought we’d take a punt here.
“It’s a very competitive race and I don’t really know where we stand with the form – the race from Carlisle has worked out okay, but this is a big step up in grade.
“He was bought for the other job, and he’s been schooling away over hurdles since he was two, but we know he stays and running in a race of this nature will teach him a bit more about life.”
Reflecting on his win at Carlisle, in which Navajo Pass repelled the sustained challenge of the Tom Dascombe-trained Celestial Force by a short-head, McCain added: “He was always going to want further and slower ground.
“The ground looks to be drying out a bit at York, but hopefully it will be just slow enough.”
However, the Cholmondeley-based handler will be handing responsibility for race tactics over to his Gold Cup at Royal Ascot -winning jockey Graham Lee, who was also in the plate when Ginger saddled his fourth Grand National winner – Amberleigh House in 2004.
Asked about his approach to the race from stall one, McCain said: “I’ll leave that to G Lee – he knows a lot more about Flat racing than I do!”
The £100,000 RaceBets Handicap has attracted an 18-strong field, including the William Haggas-trained Hamish.
Carrying the colours of his father Brian, the three-year-old won the Sky Bet Melrose Race to the Ebor Handicap at the Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival and will be bidding to enhance his career record to three wins from five starts. The yard is already eyeing the £1m Ebor of 2020.
Mark Johnston who is closing in on a record number of winners on the flat in a single year, landed the spoils last year with Elegiac and he is double-handed this time around, courtesy of Mondain and Mister Chiang. Current leading handler at York this season, John Gosden has also entered an interesting duo in El Misk and Koscluszko.
McCain will be able to keep an eye on future competition for Navajo Pass as the national hunt action from Downpatrick will join Newmarket in being shown in the Racing TV zone.
Friday’s seven-race card at York is scheduled to start at 2pm. The curtain comes down on another season on the Knavesmire after Saturday’s seven-race card, which gets underway at 2.05pm.