Sam Thomas earned a big Saturday double at a wind-swept Ascot on Saturday, with Skytastic and Good Risk At All both scoring in style.
The former rider had plenty of days to remember in the saddle, with big-race success on the likes of Denman, and he learned plenty from the likes of Venetia Williams and Paul Nicholls, so it is no surprise to see him carving out the next successful phase of his career, as a trainer.
Skytastic had to dig deep to remain unbeaten in taking the Join Kim Bailey Racing Novices’ Hurdle, with the six-year-old having won bumpers at Newbury and Doncaster last term before justifying favouritism in a maiden hurdle at the latter track on his reappearance.
He had barely been challenged previously, yet Charlie Deutsch’s mount, sent off the 6-5 favourite, had to fight tooth and nail to get the better of Scarface, who had cruised ominously through the race, only to make minor errors at the penultimate and final flights.
The 12-1 shot still looked like landing the two-mile-three-furlong event, but Skytastic kept finding more to run out a neck winner, the pair drawing 11 lengths further clear of Ballyblack (8-1).
Thomas felt he had learned plenty and while he holds engagements in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, the South Glamorgan handler may well keep his powder dry.
He said: “If anything, knowing the horse like we do – obviously it is never nice to see a horse looming like that – our lad is never going to win pretty to be honest. He is very laid back and it was great that he has had to dig deep for the first time today. That would not be his ground by any stretch of the imagination.
“He has learned more today than he will have ever learned. He is very intelligent and it is exciting to have these sort of horses to come to the big days with.
“He has Cheltenham entries but in my eyes, he is a big galloper and I don’t know if Cheltenham would be right up his street for the minute. I think Aintree would be more of a target. A nice, big, galloping track where you can wind him up up the straight, I think would suit him a lot more.
“We can look forward to Cheltenham, maybe over fences, next season, but again I’d have to speak to the owner about that.
“This is exciting and my job is to try and keep him in one piece and he’ll hopefully do the rest for us as his career evolves.”
Better was to come from Deutsch in the Dingley’s Promise Handicap Hurdle as Good Risk At All (6-4 favourite), carrying the same Walters Plant Hire Ltd owner’s silks, took advantage of his lenient handicap mark to power to a facile nine-length success.
Thomas said: “He clearly handles those conditions. At Warwick the last day, they make him look a little one-paced if anything.
“In a good run race on soft ground, like it was today, he relished that.
“He was particularly well handicapped today and that will get us into the Coral Cup if we wanted to go down that route.
“Realistically, I came into today thinking this chap was our winner. He is so well handicapped off 127 and he had to win today, or I am not doing my job properly.”
There could be a family day out at the Grand National if Fortescue gets into the Aintree showpiece.
Owned and bred by Tim Nixon, the eight-year-old shot stayed on resolutely after the last to down Fiddlerontheroof and score by a length and a half in the three-mile Listed greatbritishstallionshowcase.co.uk Swinley Chase under Hugh Nuget.
The 7-1 shot had been placed on his previous two starts, including a good third in the Peter Marsh at Haydock.
He maintained that good form, jumping well and relishing the ground under the 5lb claimer, who is now hoping the Henry Daly inmate can creep in near the foot of the National weights.
“At the moment, he has 10st and should go up a few pounds for this,” said Nugent.
“He liked this ground and jumped well, and while he can be hard work, he always finds more when you ask him.
“I hope he can get in (to the National). It would be lovely to ride at Aintree and it would be lovely for my granddad, who bred him and owns him.”
Daly, also on the mark at Haydock with the promising Hillcrest, completed an Ascot double with the Harry Cobden-ridden Guillemot (14-1) in the Ascot Racecourse Supports The Autism In Racing Handicap Hurdle.