‘He’s still full of zest… with the heart of a lion’: meet the 12-year-old racehorse heading for Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle

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  • Not So Sleepy, a diminutive racehorse standing at “barely 15.2hh” is set to line up in the Grade One Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival this afternoon (12 March) – and at the age of 12, it’s notable that he has been in training for so many seasons.

    Bred and owned by Lord and Lady Blyth, he has been in the care of dual purpose trainer Hughie Morrison for his entire career, which started in October 2014 when winning on debut over 1m½f at Nottingham Racecourse as a two-year-old.

    He has won 11 of his 65 races to date, clocking £560,829 in prize money, with significant victories coming both on the Flat and over hurdles. In 2019 and 2020 he won the Grade Three Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle and in 2021 he tied with Epatante in a dead heat in the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle, before winning the race outright in 2023.

    “We never thought ‘Sleepy’ would achieve what he has,” says Hughie. “On paper, his pedigree was perhaps struggling a little bit – he was a sixth foal out of an unraced dam, who hadn’t produced a great deal of winners, but he was always a good looking little horse.”

    Hughie says Sleepy’s longevity in the sport is down to a mixture of reasons.

    “It’s probably down to the fact he has looked after himself and I’ve had the full support of Lord and Lady Blyth,” he explains. “Horses don‘t stay in training for as long as this unless the owners give you the chance to experiment.

    “He still shows the same enthusiasm for his work – I suspect he’s quite cute underneath it and when he doesn’t want to do something, he won’t! He’s always been full of zest, but is a delight on the ground and in the stable.”

    Hughie explains that the decision to try Sleepy over hurdles for the first time in January 2019 was down to Lady Blyth “suggesting they try something different”.

    “Lady Blyth made the suggestion because we’d had a few ups and downs with Sleepy on the Flat. He won on his third attempt and at the end of the year, he won the Grade Three Betfair Exchange Hurdle at Ascot, where he really showed up how good he is,” says Hughie.

    Ahead of Sleepy taking part in his fifth Champion Hurdle, Hughie says their expectations are “ hopeful, but realistic”.

    “He’s run well in the race before, but I’ve always felt he could run better,” says the trainer, who is based just outside Newbury.

    Becky Bosworth, who is an equine sports therapist, has been treating Sleepy since he first arrived on Hughie’s yard.

    “He’s wonderful in the stable and the nicest person you’ll meet,” she says. “You just can’t believe how little he is – he’s barely 15.2hh, but he’s got the heart of a lion.

    “I’ve been treating Sleepy every week since he arrived at Hughie’s – as I do with all of his horses and I think Hughie and Sleepy have proved that with the right horse, owners and approach, racehorses can enjoy a long and happy career.”

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