Phil Kirby’s star mare Lady Buttons is set to return to action next season following another fine campaign.
While very much in the twilight of her racing career at the age of 10, the daughter of Beneficial has arguably been better than ever this season – winning three of her five starts.
After successfully defending her crown in the Listed mares’ hurdle at Wetherby in early November, Lady Buttons finished a creditable fourth in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle before landing both a Listed mares’ chase and a Grade Two mares’ hurdle at Doncaster.
She could finish only seventh in an especially high-class renewal of the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival earlier this month, but there there has been no talk of her being retired to the paddocks just yet.
Kirby said: “We haven’t really spoken about it properly (with the owners), but I haven’t been told she’s going to be put in foal any time soon, so I’d imagine we’ll have another season with her and see how we go.
“I suppose I was a bit disappointed by how she ran at Cheltenham – I thought she might finish a bit closer than she did. Whether she doesn’t like the track or she just struggled in that bit higher grade, I’m not sure.
“I’m not going to make any excuses for her, because she went there in very good form and it just didn’t happen for her on the day, but she’s been fine since and is now on holiday.
“We’ll probably start off down a similar route next season and go Wetherby, Doncaster, Doncaster.”
While Lady Buttons ran a little below expectations at the Festival, her stablemate Rayna’s World massively outran odds of 100-1 when finishing strongly from a long way back for third in the Daylesford Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
The five-year-old is still a maiden after three starts over jumps, so crucially she remains a novice for next season.
“I thought she’d run well and put up a big show, but I didn’t expect her to end up so far behind,” Kirby added.
“I don’t know why she dropped herself out like that, because usually she’s over-keen, if anything. We rode her to run well – and whether she sulked after being dropped in, I don’t know, but I suppose it helped her finish off her race well.
“She’s a nice mare, and I was conscious early in the new year of keeping her a novice for next season, rather than winning a little maiden hurdle somewhere.”
Kirby’s National Hunt string is winding down following the coronavirus outbreak which has curtailed the season, but the Catterick-based trainer is still hoping for a swift resumption of racing.
He said: “Some of the people who ride out for us have gone elsewhere, but they would have done anyway in the next few weeks, with a lot of horses going out on holiday.
“We’ve managed to keep all the full-time staff on at the moment. Some of them are taking holidays and things.
“At the moment, we’re still busy enough. I’m muck-spreading as we speak – and even though there isn’t a lot of horses to ride out, there’s still plenty to do about the place.
“I think we have about 20 horses to run on the Flat – which isn’t as many as previous years, because we made a conscious decision to mainly concentrate on the jumpers.
“That is plenty to keep us going, once we hopefully get racing again.”