Unowhatimeanharry continued his incredible run of success on Saturday, with victory in the JLT Long Walk Hurdle.
A magnificent seven-in-a-row for Harry Fry’s no-nonsense staying hurdler, leave him a short-priced favourite for the World Hurdle in March. Approaching the last at Ascot, he looked set for a mighty tussle with the Twiston-Davies trained Ballyoptic. But for the second time in three runs that particular foe failed to keep his landing gear in place, parachuting Richard Johnson into the dirt. It was left to Lil Rockerfeller to chase the favourite home, finishing four lengths adrift at the line.
Geraghty said of the JP McManus owned winner: “He did it well. He had to work harder here than he did the last day. He's very good, but he only does as much as he has to. He probably has a little more class than he lets on.”
A relieved trainer Harry Fry, said of the victory: "We're relying on the jockey's report (because of the fog), but Barry said it was a proper Grade One test and he's had to work hard. We'll have a chat to Barry and the team and see where we go, but the races are sort of there - the Cleeve Hurdle (at Cheltenham) and hopefully the big day (World Hurdle) in March. He's come through it and the dream goes on.”
Trainer Neil King said of runner-up, Lil Rockerfeller: “It was a career-best for the horse and he's run a fabulous race there. We were just a little bit too far back and he was making his ground up to Mr McManus' horse all the way to the line. I am very proud of him. Since his juvenile days, we have said that three miles would be the making of him and it's rewarding. He would have a serious chance in the World Hurdle. I really do think so. I really, really do.”
Just an hour later, Nicky Henderson added to his impressive record in the valuable ‘Ladbroke hurdle’, now the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle. Brain Power was flagged-up in our Friday piece, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. As at Sandown last time, he travelled like a dream throughout, but on that occasion, he idled somewhat when hitting the front. This time around the result was never in doubt, and when David Mullins asked him for maximum effort he simply destroyed the field, powering all the way to the line for a five-length success.
Henderson said: “It's been a great race and is one of those big pre-Christmas handicaps that are very tough to win. You need a progressive horse, I think, and that is exactly what they (Brain Power and Consul De Thaix) both are. Brain Power was very good at Sandown and has won two good prizes. They were first and second there and they've been first and second again.”
The runner-up stayed on well to snatch second spot, but lacks the speed of the winner. As Brain Power cruised into contention, Consul De Thaix was under a ‘full-on’ drive to keep tabs. Only four, he remains hugely progressive, and is likely to be stepped-up in trip when next seen on a racecourse.
Winning owner Michael Buckley added: “He did win very well. He's had his little moments of being a schoolboy about life and he's obviously growing up.”
The Betfair Hurdle at Newbury could be the next target, though the handicapper is sure to make life much tougher. Henderson added: “With that weight, that is a very good performance - it is a serious performance. We were going to go chasing with him this season but his mind isn't ready for all this yet. But he has grown up a lot from Sandown. He is getting the idea of it. We are learning a lot about him and he is going the right way. He just wants minding a bit more.”
Chasing looks sure to be his game. He’s a gorgeous looking gelding, with a huge amount of scope. His leap at the second-last on Saturday was spectacular. Out of an Old Vic mare, you’d hope that he would stay further in time. Still only a five-year-old, he’s certainly an exciting prospect.