Charlie Longsdon has reported Tea for Free to be in “flying form” ahead of his attempt to win a fifth successive race over fences in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on Saturday.
The eight-year-old is unbeaten since switching to the larger obstacles and was last seen when winning at Newbury on New Year's Eve by an impressive six and a half lengths.
Charlie Longsdon said; “Tea for Free has come out of his last race in flying form, he won really impressively at Newbury and he has gone up the handicap a huge amount. I’m really looking forward to this race, it’s a big step up in class but he deserves to be there. He’s won his last four and he seems to be in extremely good form.
"I couldn’t have been happier with his win at Newbury. I was worried about the deteriorating conditions that day but he seemed to relish it and Lilly [Pinchin] got him into a lovely rhythm. He jumped for fun from fence to fence. We always knew Newbury would suit him as a track and he seemed to enjoy it.
"One of the main reasons we’re thinking about Doncaster for the Sky Bet Chase is because the track is similar."
Having gone four starts without a win over hurdles, Tea For Free has continued to impress over fences winning at Huntingdon, twice at Uttoxeter and Newbury. He is currently 9/1 with sponsors Sky Bet for the 3 mile contest at Doncaster this weekend.
Charlie Longsdon said: “He’s just a massive improver. He started off at the beginning of last season off a mark of 108 when he won very comfortably at Huntingdon, and has gone on from there to his last win off 131 and he’s now 138. His progression will end somewhere, but the way he won last time you’d like to think there’s more to come.
“We always knew he was far better than his form last season. For some reason things didn’t go our way. Whether that was hurdles or he wasn’t quite right last season, we knew he was a far better horse than he was showing. He’s now progressing into the horse we initially thought he was going to be.”
Aboard Tea for Free once again on Saturday will be 3lb conditional jockey Lilly Pinchin, who joined the Longsdon team at the beginning of the season.
Longsdon added the rider has struck up a great partnership with Tea For Free. “Lilly loves him. He was probably her second or third ever winner for us and they’ve won four now. They get on extremely well and Lilly’s forward going style suits the horse. Tea For Free likes that, he likes to be up with the pace.”
Lilly Pinchin has had a fine start to the 2022/23 Jumps season, bagging 21 winners to date including a couple of high profile successes on ITV and smashing her previous best tally of 14 winners in the season. The 23-year-old conditional rider has has an opportunity for another high-profile victory this weekend when she rides Tea For Free in the Sky Bet Chase.
Pinchin said: “Tea For Free is in great order. He’s a horse who takes everything in his stride and has come out of Newbury in absolutely flying form. He is a gentleman, a really kind horse. Jess, who looks after him, has done a brilliant job.
“I was very impressed with him at Newbury. I rode him in a novice chase last season, when he won at Huntingdon, and then he won another two races at Uttoxeter. He’s a very progressive horse and hopefully he can just keep progressing.”
Tea For Free has proved versatile over fences, winning at a variety of distances between two miles and 6 furlong and three miles and two furlongs. Pinchin believes the recent drop back in trip has suited the Susan Monkland-owned gelding.
Pinchin said: “The trip might have just been a bit too far on his second win at Uttoxeter (over 3m 2f) but we’ve dropped him back in trip and it was very impressive the way he won at Newbury.
“I think the track at Doncaster will suit Tea for Free. It’s the same sort of track as Newbury and I think that will play to his favour - a nice big, open galloping track. He jumps for fun, so the fences will be good for him. I think there’s masses of improvement left in him. He’s a bit of a star here and I think that we’re going for a big race which should be right up his street.”
Lilly Pinchin’s form has not gone unnoticed and has attracted high praise from a number of people, including legendary former jockey and current ITV pundit Ruby Walsh, who referred to her as “the next generation of female riders”.
Pinchin is delighted with how things are going since she joined the Charlie Longsdon team and admits Saturday’s Sky Bet Chase would be up there with anything else she has won thus far in her career.
Pinchin, who started out on the Pony racing circuit, said: “At the end of last summer, Charlie offered me a job and I was delighted. I’ve ridden Charlie a lot of winners and I really enjoy riding his horses. If I was stood here last season, I would have said I wouldn’t be able to reach something like this. It just goes to show when you have the support and the horses behind you, like Tea for Free, you can build on things and I’ve just been so grateful. There are some lovely owners here supporting me and even when you’re struggling you have great support and that’s the most important thing.
“If Tea for Free was to go and win the Sky Bet Chase it would be one of my biggest career wins. I think it could help move me onto bigger things, so fingers crossed he can go and do that.”
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