The New One continued his dominant build-up towards a second tilt at the Champion Hurdle crown in March. Giving weight all-round, he scorched clear from the last to beat his main rival Vaniteux in Saturday’s International Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Visually impressive it has to be said that we learnt very little from this latest victory. The proximity of the 133 rated Olofi at the last suggests the race was run at a dawdling pace. Venetia Williams’ Zamdy Man failed to fire and the other likely front runner Bertimont, was ridden with restraint, a tactic that appeared to backfire. Sam Twiston-Davies was happy to ‘hold on’ to the favourite for as long as possible before using his familiar burst of speed close home.
Nigel Twiston-Davies was more than happy with his stable star’s performance: “It was excellent. We were giving Vaniteux 8lbs so it was a good performance. He wasn't flashy but he got the job done and did it very, very well."
Henderson’s stunning looking son of Voix Du Nord may well have needed a stronger pace to be seen at his best. He could yet become a star over fences, and his trainer now has to decide whether the switch comes sooner rather than later.
The Cheltenham crowd were also treated to a stylish performance from a former Champion Hurdle winner, when Rock On Ruby proved too classy for Volnay De Thaix in the Relkeel Hurdle. ‘Super-slick’ over his obstacles Noel Fehily allowed him to take up the running in the back straight. Travelling powerfully throughout, he finished off his race strongly up the famous hill. It’s hard to imagine him staying the trip in the World Hurdle, though connections may be forced into giving it a go.
Venetia Williams may have been out of luck with Zamdy Man in the International Hurdle, but she had already snapped up a major pot when Niceonefrankie ran his opponents ragged in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup. Aidan Coleman deserves a huge amount of praise for an enterprising ride which saw his mount a dozen lengths clear coming down the hill, and even further ahead turning for home. The horse may have tired from the last, but the race was already in the bag.
A relieved trainer was clearly thrilled when speaking after the race: “"I always said when he was fully matured we'd see the best of him but he's now an eight-year-old! The plan was to sit handy but his jumping really put them under pressure. I was praying he didn't walk up the hill. People were wanting to celebrate with me almost before the last fence, but I was trying to tell them all he hadn't won yet. In some cases I was quite rude."
At Doncaster a potentially high class juvenile hurdler was unleashed by Nicky Henderson. French import Peace and Co thrashed a decent looking field without breaking sweat. Not only did he travel through the race effortlessly, his jumping was incredibly slick. He appears a natural over his obstacles and was installed as joint favourite for the Triumph Hurdle in March. Winning jockey Daryl Jacob said: “He picked up in the home straight. He feels a bit special.”
Unfortunately for racing fans at Doncaster and punters in general, there was yet another ‘Dolling Off’ episode, a problem that has become a much debated issue in recent weeks. It’s hard to sympathise with Doncaster’s race organisers after the recent high-profile incidents. Three hurdle races went off as scheduled prior to 2.30pm, yet a novices’ chase was sent off at 2.50pm with all the fences in the home straight omitted due to the low sun. I realise that it’s ‘Panto Season', but surely this habitual problem cannot be allowed to continue. “Oh yes it can!”
Finally I must mention Chris Gordon and his team, after covering their promising start to the season in a piece on geegeez last week. It was terrific to see them pick up a stunning treble at Lingfield on Saturday. King Edmund has been a consistent performer for years, but the two former Nicholls horses of Sea Wall and Lightentertainment look set to bring the stable further success for years to come.