By Jon Lees
Not So Sleepy will head to the Unibet Champion Hurdle, with trainer Hughie Morrison having drawn a line through the Betfair Hurdle after the horse got left when the field had to be sent off by a standing start.
The trainer will hope Not So Sleepy can produce a Marble Arch-like performance at Cheltenham next month, after that horse finished second in the Champion Hurdle after a poor effort in the same Newbury handicap hurdle.
Not So Sleepy would have scooped an extra £100,000 for his connections if he had added Europe’s richest handicap hurdle to a victory in the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot in December, courtesy of the Betfair Winter Bonus.
The horse who had made all the running to win his two previous starts was at the head of the field as the runners walked in on Saturday, but a false start was called and when they lined up a second time Not So Sleepy hesitated when the tape went up and set off last.
He finished in 15th place, having lost a shoe.
“It just didn’t happen for Not So Sleepy,” said Morrison.
“He had already had the rubber band rubbed against his nose. It wasn’t as if he was reluctant to start, but when the tapes went up he was looking at the tape rather than going to start.
“He is absolutely fine. If we are happy with him he will go for the Champion Hurdle. It was a non-race as far as we were concerned and on a form line with the fourth Sir Valentine, who was third behind us at Ascot, we would have been bang there.”
Morrison’s previous Champion Hurdle runner Marble Arch finished second at Cheltenham in 2002, after being pulled up at Newbury.
“Marble Arch didn’t like the Betfair Hurdle because it was too soft,” said Morrison. “As soon as Not So Sleepy got left it was game over. Nothing came from behind.
“Maybe he was lucky. He may have ended up in that awful melee (in which Lightly Squeeze fell, bringing down Harambe and Mack The Man). You have to think of a silver lining.
“It wasn’t to be and he lives to fight another day. He has already won a big handicap, so we can’t complain.”