Curtis takes the high road to Season Salvation

Joe Farrell caused a 33/1 upset when defeating Ballyoptic by a nose in a thrilling finish to the Scottish Grand National.

It’s been a challenging winter for Pembrokeshire trainer Rebecca Curtis, with the number of horses in her yard tumbling from around 50 to little more than 20. Winners have been hard to come by, so this success is a huge tonic for herself and the team.

“It’s amazing,” said Curtis, speaking to ITV Racing just after the result of the photo-finish was announced. “We’ve had a difficult season and to end it like that is just brilliant for us. I thought it was a big ask, he’s just a novice but he stays all day. It’s my first time in Scotland. I own a quarter of him, and thankfully it’s paid off. I’m drawing a line under this campaign, though this is a great way to finish.”

Adam Wedge was the victorious jockey and was clearly thrilled to have held-on in a pulsating finish. He’d kicked on with three fences to go and looked likely to win by some distance. But Tom Bellamy got a hell of a tune out of Ballyoptic late-on.

“He’s stuck his neck out,” said a thrilled and relieved jockey. “I could feel Tom Bellamy getting to me all the way, but he's tried his heart out. To come here today not knowing whether he would stay, it’s fantastic.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies will surely have Aintree in his sights for the runner-up. Ballyoptic remains on a workable handicap mark, though may have to be campaigned accordingly next winter. A temporary switch to hurdles would not be a surprise. Vintage Clouds had led for much of the race but had to settle for third. Doing Fine arrived late on the scene to snatch a fourth-place finish. Vicente had been looking to make it three in-a-row, and ran another cracker at the track, finishing a fine fifth.

As the Jump season draws to a close, action on the Flat stepped up a gear, with informative meetings at Newmarket and Newbury.

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Roaring Lion was all the rage in the Craven Stakes last Thursday, having proved himself to be one of the leading juveniles last summer. But it was Godolphin blue that shone brightest, as the Charlie Appleby-trained Masar romped to an impressive nine-length success. William Buick set the fractions and kicked for home almost three furlongs out. The chasing pack were left toiling with the winner instantly cut to single figures for the 2000 Guineas in a fortnight.

Appleby said of the winner: “William said he quickened twice, before the Dip and then up the hill. He’s got quicker but he’s also got stronger. People asked why we gave him a run in Dubai, but that was just to take the gas out of him and put some manners on him. He was always going to be a three-year-old and he looks to be a nice horse. We were confident coming into this race that we were a player and that he’d either win or finish second to Roaring Lion. The Guineas route will be foremost in our sights now.”

Just 24 hours after the Masar romp, we witnessed another stunning performance, this time at Newbury, when John Gosden’s Lah Ti Dar crushed a field of fillies over 1m2f. Stunningly bred, by Dubawi out of Dar Re Mi, this filly could be special. Apparently weak at two, this was her debut on the track and Frankie Dettori was impressed with the performance. She’s now third-favourite, behind a pair of O’Brien fillies, for the Oaks at Epsom.

Saturday at Newbury was supposed to revolve around a resurgent Expert Eye in the Greenham Stakes. Sir Michael Stoute’s colt had looked a future star when winning the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood last August, but then flopped on his final juvenile outing in the Dewhurst. Sadly, he again fluffed his lines, though ran with more promise, finishing runner-up to James Garfield. Keen from the off, he came under pressure two furlongs out, and though gaining late-on, he never looked likely to get to the winner. He may well improve for fast ground, though it’s likely that he is not the star many believed him to be. The winner is undoubtedly good, though looks shy of top-class.

Raid was something of an eye-catcher back in fourth. Trained by David Simcock and owned by Qatar Racing, this was only his second career start and having been outpaced mid-race, he stayed on strongly in the latter stages. He should improve a bundle for this.

A little more than six exciting months lie ahead in this latest Flat campaign, and at its conclusion, many of the season’s best will head to America for the 35th Breeders’ Cup World Championships. This year’s glittering season finale comes from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. A few days ago, organisers announced details of qualifying races to be run around the globe.

“As international participation increases for Thoroughbred racing on a global scale, the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues to support horsemen and racing stables with important incentives, such as automatic starting positions and free entry fees, to qualify for the World Championships,” said Craig Fravel, Breeders’ Cup President and CEO. “We also recognize the outstanding work by our 28 racetrack and racing association partners around the world who conduct these Challenge races and thank them for their support and commitment to the series.”

There will be 11 such races held in the UK, five in Ireland and a further four in France. Four qualifiers take place at Royal Ascot, including the Queen Anne Stakes and the Diamond Jubilee. The Irish Champion Stakes is another notable entry on the list, along with elite juvenile events at Longchamp, the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere and the Prix Marcel Boussac. The winner of the Darley Yorkshire Oaks from York, for example, would automatically qualify for the Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs.

It’s a laudable effort by the Breeders’ Cup guys to promote the valuable and prestigious event across the globe, and may well tempt some to renew those passports for an early winter jaunt across the pond.

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