There was no let up from the Paul Nicholls team as the 2011-12 National Hunt season came to a close at a watery and wintry Sandown on Saturday. Nicholls trained the winner of both the main chases on the card.
Sanctuaire set out to demonstrate his credentials in the 2-mile division by making all to win the bet365.com Celebration Chase. Presumably his rivals thought that the heavy ground would bring Daryl Jacobs’ mount back to the field, but in the end he just kept going and came home 17 lengths of the remainder.
The immediate conundrum was whether Sanctuaire would be a serious rival to this season’s star Sprinter Sacre. The general consensus was that he wouldn’t, and that his runaway style would help Nicky Henderson’s horse, who can be pretty headstrong himself, to settle.
The Whitbread Gold Cup has brought the curtain down on the jumps season for many years. Tidal Bay took the opportunity to show that neither age nor weight need be barrier to success in heavy ground as Daryl Jacob followed up in Whitbread’s current incarnation, the bet365 Gold Cup Chase.
In terms of a ride, Jacobs took a diametrically opposite approach, but the result was identical. He held 11 year old Tidal Bay up towards the back until the last four fences, and only took the lead at the last of the 24 jumps. But despite carrying 11st 12 lbs, Tidal Bay pulled clear for a 15-length victory, his first since January 2010.
Nicholls said afterwards, “I know he ran really well over hurdles at Aintree the other day, but he nearly got brought down on the far side. He flew up the straight and finished fourth. He might have finished second but for that and that race was a prep for this. When it kept on raining to slow the ground down, it was always going to suit him. We knew they would go that bit slower and it would give him time to get his confidence. If it had been quick ground it might have rushed him and he would not have jumped well enough. Everything was right for him today for the first time in a long time.”
The problem for Henderson, Donald McCain and others as they contemplated the challenge or preventing an 8th consecutive trainer’s championship heading to Nicholls’ Ditcheat next April, is that everything goes right for Nicholls all too often.