By Samantha (20/1/18)
On Friday evening, the rain came in buckets, showering Ascot in the South and Haydock in the North. The rain called off Newcastle’s Sunday meeting but not the two main meetings on this dismal, mid-January Saturday. Racing viewers who tuned in to ITV4 were treated to a lustrous afternoon of racing containing six Graded races and a high-class handicap as well as being able to watch two of the best, most determined horses in training.
The mainstream televised races at Ascot kicked off with the Grade 2 OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle. La Bague Au Roi was a short-priced favourite to land the £28,000 winners pot. The highest-rated of the 5 runners, Warren Greatrex’s seven year old won her last three starts but Greatrex admitted there were question marks about whether she would handle the extremely soft ground. She did and in spectacular fashion. Midnight Tune, a gutsy front runner, went off in front attempting to make all and set a good pace considering the ground but she wasn’t jumping with her usual fluency and seemed to be struggling to get away from the rest. At four out, La Bague Au Roi did a spectacular leap and hit the front. Midnight Tune faded very quickly and Noel Fehily’s mount galloped away from Sainte Ladylime, who made a few little jumping errors on the first circuit, looking like she had joined the race at the top bend. She won incredibly well. Graceful Legend came in 13 lengths behind her and seventy three lengths back was long-time leader Midnight Tune. Outsider, Hitherjaques Lady was pulled up after making a strange noise. As she crossed the line 16 lengths in front of the rest, La Bague Au Roi instantly got quotes for the Mares’ Hurdle and Stayer’s Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Trainer Greatrex said that she would most likely go to the Stayer’s after her spectacular performance.
Cameras then went up North to Haydock. The first race being televised was the Supreme Trial for the Cheltenham Festival. Current favourite is Getabird, who won impressively at Punchestown on Saturday. This race attracted some smart novices this time around like in previous years. The top two in the market, Waterlord and First Flow, had won their last two starts and all of the runners had won their last start barring one. That horse, Midnight Shaddow, chased home smart Mont Des Avaloirs last time out. Waterlord led from the beginning but was headed by eventual winner and favourite First Flow. In the hands of David Bass, Kim Bailey’s charge strode clear and won by ten lengths, with Midnight Shadow in second and one of the outsiders Lisdoonvarna Lad in third. Kim Bailey, the winner’s trainer, said after the race that this run would probably be the son of Primary’s last start for the season but, even still, he is around a 33-1 shot for the Supreme.
Next, it was back to Ascot, where the majority of the jockeys were claiming. The top three horses in the market were ridden by some of the most promising young conditionals. Crossed My Mind came over from Ireland having been third on both starts this season. He was four and a half lengths behind A Hare Breath at Sandown when other market rival Jenkins was far back in the field. He had only won once and was partnered by Jonjo O’Neil Jr, who took 7lbs of his back. Oxwich Bay, who won a maiden hurdle by three and a half lengths and had to face a large step up in class in the race, was also partnered by a conditional in the form of Mitchell Bastyan, a claimer of 5lbs. Jenkins seems a new horse now the team have put blinkers on him. He won impressively last Saturday and got an 11lbs rise for the win that Welsh Grand National winning jockey, James Bowen took down to 6lbs using his 5lbs claim. The horse, who comes from Nicky Henderson’s stable, that have collected over one and a half million pounds worth of prize money this season, raced quite prominent from the off, looking a bit keen and eager to get on with the task. Night Of Sin led up until before the seventh when Air Horse One came up on the outside and took the lead. Also at that hurdle, Oxwich Bay had a crashing fall, luckily him and Mitchell Bastyan were both okay. At four out, Jenkins began to strut his stuff and lengthened into the lead. He was joined in the front at two out by stable companion Burbank but Jeremiah McGrath’s mount and second placed Air Horse One couldn’t get to Jenkins, who asserted his dominance on the field up the run-in. That gave James Bowen his third consecutive winner on a Saturday on ITV after winning the Welsh National and Lanzarote Hurdle.
Fifteen minutes later, they were off in the Champion Hurdle Trial, where the first of the equine millionaires- The New One- was on show. The ten year old gelding, who hails from Nigel Twiston-Davies’ yard, broke the £1 million prize money barrier when a runner-up to Champion Hurdle favourite, Buveur D’Air, in December. He ran from the front followed by outsider Unison, second-favourite and good hurdler in his own right Ch’tibello and Clyne raced in-touch but never seemed to look comfortable. At three out, Ch’tibello loomed up next to The New One, who was attempting to win the race for the fourth time. They battled all the way to the line and Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount looked momentarily beaten after the last but fought on to win. There was an almighty cheer as race goers forgot the dismal weather as The New One warmed their hearts with his brilliant win. After the race, winning jockey, Sam Twiston-Davies said, “He’s nearly paid my morgage- I’ll have to rename my house! This horse means the world to me since day one and he’s still doing it now on the big stage.” He is likely to go straight to the Stayer’s Hurdle at Cheltenham and stands a good chance of winning due to the currently wide-open market.
Six horses went to post in the next at Ascot, after the two highest-rated horses were pulled out. Guitar Pete was undoubtedly lucky to win a Grade Three contest at Cheltenham after the Starchitect sustained a fatal injury, leaving the Ryan Day ridden grey in front. The favourite, Acting Lass (a gelding) was stepping out of Novice Company for the first time after he won well at Leicester and Market Rasen on his previous two starts. For the first half of the race, the Harry Fry-trained gelding jumped left but Noel Fehily let him get on with it and eventually he jumped a lot straighter. At the tenth fence, Guitar Pete unseated Ryan Day and the race seemed to change shape there. Acting Lass went to the front and jumped well apart from pecking on landing at three out. Kilcrea Vale ran on and tried to get to the leader but was outpaced and could only manage second. Fortunate George and Minella Daddy finished far behind.
The Peter Marsh came next at Haydock. Last year, it was won in stupendous style by super star grey Bristol De Mai, who is a Haydock specialist. The Dutchman led most of the way and he was not looking at all tired on the run up to the second last under Harry Cobden. He made a little error at that fence but didn’t lose much momentum and galloped on strongly to the last where Captain Redbeard tried to challenge but couldn’t get passed Colin Tizzard’s gelding. He jumped it well and lengthened away from the others. Captain Redbeard stayed on for second and the favourite, Hainan, battled past runners to grab third. Whether the winner will go on to be as good as Bristol De Mai, remains to be seen but the three times winner looks to be one that will be in the Winner’s Enclosure again sometime soon.
That race was just the starter to a scrumptious main course. Un De Sceaux, seven times Grade One winner over chase fences from nine starts, was attempting to break the £1 Million barrier by winning the Clarence House Chase for a third time. His main rival was seen to be Brain Power, an exciting novice who unseated last time out, from Nicky Henderson’s yard. In all the papers, it was deemed to be a two horse race between the Irish Champion Trainer and English Champion Trainer’s charges. Despite this, the other runners have some class. San Benedeto and Kylemore Lough both have form in Graded races and Speredek could, arguably, be one of the most progressive handicappers this season. At the start of 2017 he was rated 115 but, currently, he’s rated 135. He won last time out and was looking for a five timer on his previous start when second. Sean Bowen set a blistering pace out in front in the mud on Nigel Hawke’s son of Kapgarde for the Kapinhand Partnership. He began to struggle to keep it up on the final bend when Un De Sceaux loomed up and took the lead from two out when in behind Brain Power had a crashing fall. Luckily, he was okay and got up. Un de Sceaux was never challenged from two out and was kept up to his work by Willie Mullins’ go to man at the minute, Paul Townsend. “I rode my horse to suit him and the further we went, the more confident I was getting.” Townsend explained after the race. There were emotional scenes from his band of owners, who were out in full force as they celebrated in the winners enclosure. It looks like he will probably go to the Ryanair Chase again, Mullins said from Navan, where he also had runners. The ten year is at around 5/2 for the race and a 12/1 shot for the Champion Chase behind the likes of Politologue, Douvan and Altior.
So despite the clouds, rain and mud, some of the most heart warming performances were seen. We saw a top-class equine millionaire run and another horse become one, in a day full of happy stories, summing up what National Hunt racing is all about.