WIndswept Girl wins unchallenged at Taunton, trained by Anthony Honeyball and ridden by Rex Dingle

No, I wasn’t imagining it. For the second time in 15 days, a concluding bumper on a Taunton card was dominated by a female horse trained by Anthony Honeyball and ridden in geegeez.co.uk’s red, black and white colours by Rex Dingle, writes Tony Stafford.

On Saturday January 18, Coquelicot, third time out, had come wide of her Taunton field and drawn five and a half lengths clear of a Paul Nicholls runner. Yesterday, newcomer Windswept Girl travelled the 26 miles from her Dorset base near Beaminster to the Somerset course, this time scoring by 13 lengths.

The only difference this time was the margin as Dingle, sporting breeches denoting his sponsorship by the owner, produced an effort from his five-year-old partner that typified the Honeyball pattern.

Coquelicot had been somewhat atypical, as six of Honeyball’s other eight bumper winners this season had won first time, including Belle de Manech, who beat Coquelicot by almost two lengths when the pair made their debuts at Warwick back in November. She then went on to another second at Newbury before breaking her duck two weeks ago.

Windswept Girl is not the widest-margin debut winner for Honeyball this season. Kid Commando, a point winner, won his first bumper by 18 lengths from the Nicholls-trained Threeunderthrufive at Fontwell. He then was beaten despite running creditably twice in more competitive affairs at Ascot before putting in another wide-margin successful intro, this time in a Plumpton hurdle race. The Fontwell runner-up duly won next time at Chepstow last month, but surprisingly is one of only two Nicholls bumper winners from 27 starters in that sphere this campaign.

Windswept Girl comes second in the Honeyball wide-margin hierarchy. Then it’s Kilconny Bridge, by 12 lengths at Plumpton in December and, since then, already an 11-length hurdle winner second-time over jumps at Chepstow. Midnight Callisto won by eight at Fontwell and You Caught My Eye by seven at Uttoxeter. In all 24 Honeyball bumper runners this season have yielded nine victories at 30 per cent. Only one trainer boasts a better percentage this term. David Pipe has won seven from 21 for 33.3 per cent while only championship leader Nicky Henderson, with ten wins from 38 (26 per cent) has won more races in the category than Honeyball.

The irony of this second bumper win in short order will not have been lost on Matt Bisogno, owner of this site and the supremo of the geegeez.co.uk ownership group. We met, as I related two weeks ago, a few days before Coquelicot’s victory when he was talking about drastically reducing the numbers and stressing “I won’t be buying any more stores”. Well the five-year-old mare Windswept Girl couldn’t have been much more of a store, having only once gone through a sales ring in November 2016, more than three years ago, and leaving it unsold at €5,000.

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I can’t be sure exactly when she became a part of the geegeez team but I seem to recollect a conversation with Matt just after he had agreed to buy her. [June 2018, Ed.] With a couple of wins from the Mick Appleby-trained Forseti also in the bank in the last fortnight, the geegeez boys are certainly flying.

In comparison to Honeyball, some of the top jumps trainers are finding NH Flat wins elusive. Among the beaten horses yesterday, there were runners trained by Harry Fry (two wins from 18), the one-time almost-unbeatable in bumpers Warren Greatrex (three from 27) and, most surprisingly, Colin Tizzard and Philip Hobbs, both winless from nine and 21 runs respectively.

Greatrex has had a quiet winter but victories for Bob Mahler (Saturday) and Gangster yesterday on the valuable two-day Musselburgh card, will have boosted confidence for the remainder of the season.

He was also represented by the tough La Bague Au Roi in Ireland yesterday, and while the mare has not yet come back to her earlier eminence which includes a previous win at Leopardstown, she was far from disgraced in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup, feature event on the two-day Dublin Festival there.

In the leading group throughout, La Bague Au Roi was still in contention coming to the second fence from home. From here she struggled but held on for fifth as Delta Work (Gordon Elliott) beat Kemboy (Willie Mullins) in a thrilling finish with Presenting Percy a revived third and the outsider Jett fourth.  Possibly unlucky when third in the RSA Chase behind Topofthegame (Tizzard) and Santini (Henderson), Delta Work could be the pick of that changing-of-the-guard trio and offers of around 5-1 for next month do not look unrealistic.

Gordon Elliott was also in the winner’s circle after another Gigginstown horse, Darling Daughter, also carrying the first colours but a 25-1 shot despite being an easy winner on bumper debut behind fellow Elliott inmate Bigbadandbeautiful, had too much under Lisa O’Neill for Politesse. Bigbadandbeautiful was carrying the well-known colours of Jupiter Island’s owner, then known as the Marchioness of Tavistock, but now the Dowager Duchess of Bedford.

Yesterday’s favourite had won three times since finishing second in the corresponding race 12 months previously and the owner was logged on the card as Andrew Bedford. Andrew, a long-standing director of Tattersalls, succeeded his late father as the 15th Duke of Bedford and runs the family’s beautiful Woburn Abbey estate as well as the bloodstock interests.

There was another Gigginstown runner, this time trained by Joseph O’Brien, and also at much shorter odds than the winner. Castra Vetera, a winner on debut at Fairyhouse in November, disappointed in eighth place.

It is interesting to compare the bumper statistics for the three leading Irish trainers this term. Normally Willie Mullins is almost invincible so for him to have dropped below his five-year strike-rate of more than 30 per cent, down to 25 with 17 wins from 69 runs is almost unconscionable. Elliott has the most bumper wins this season, but his 24 victories from 125 representatives is a relatively low 19 per cent. The best percentage figure is held by Joseph O’Brien. His 16 wins from 51 runners are marginally better than Honeyball’s UK figure, 31 compared to 30.

Saturday at Leopardstown had been a celebration with some of the best Irish candidates for Cheltenham showing their credentials. Chacun Pour Soi, Notebook and Honeysuckle all won, although the unbeaten Honeysuckle’s narrow margin of success over the outsider Darver Star did not please every onlooker. A quick perusal of Darver Star’s rapidly-improving profile for trainer Gavin Cromwell reveals it almost uncannily echoes the quick rise last season of the ultimately ill-fated Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D’Allen. I wouldn’t mind, in a confused market, a little of the 25-1 about him.

A string of long-priced winners wrapped around Delta Work and the day’s most generously-received winner, the 12-year-old Faugheen, forging a new career as a chaser with a characteristically-gallant win over Easy Work in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase. If he could go on to Cheltenham and win, five years on from his Champion Hurdle victory, there won’t be a dry eye, or throat, in the house.

For the rest it was 14/1, 12/1, 33/1 and the concluding 25’s. Let’s hope the boyos saved a little for next month!

- TS

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