By Tony Stafford
The rain pouring down woke me at 5 a.m. It wasn’t ideal, what with a trip to Newmarket for a 9 a.m. schooling session for my boss Ray Tooth’s new jumper Notnowsam planned for the Links. At least, with the December sales starting tomorrow, the Tatt’s sales pavilion will be open for breakfast so Mr Quinlan can reward my devotion to duty with some sustenance.
I’ll need it after watching the latest Emirates horror show, Kieren Gibbs following his injudicious foul which brought Swansea back into the game just before the latest international break, with the double whammy of injuring his own goalie and scoring a brilliant own goal while on the deck so that even Man U could beat them.
Luckily, there are other things to think about than saying goodbye to Chelsea. It seems that recent buy Notnowsam has an affinity for jumping – he’s big enough – and that quality was at the forefront of the two most impressive performances of the past couple of days.
Coincidentally, both came at Haydock and in brush hurdle races. Regarded as mini chase obstacles, they seem to have much more going for them than conventional English-style hurdles. You only have to look at the roll call of winners of the Betfair-sponsored handicap on the undercard of their big Chase every November to appreciate that.
The first running over these still rarely-used jumps was in 2007 when the Francois Doumen-trained Millenium Royal unsurprisingly took advantage of equipment knowledge by defying 11st12lb to collect the £62k first prize.
According To Pete earned a similar sum under Graham Lee (is he still about?) the following year before the first Nick Williams winner Diamond Harry in 2009. The baton passed to David Pipe for Grands Crus and yesterday’s highly-promising Betfair Chase third Dynaste before Trustan Times got Tim Easterby on the honour roll in 2012.
It was Pipe and Tom Scudamore again last year with Gevrey Chambertin, and David again provided a big challenge with Greatwood Hurdle winner Katkeau turning out again trying to keep ahead of Cesarewitch hero Big Easy, and also Vieux Lion Riouge out to reverse October Chepstow form with Aubusson, when they were second and third to Dan Skelton’s smart winner Shalford.
Add to the mix a quiet Tony Martin stayer who was back jumping from a layoff and a fortunate stewards’ room verdict which landed a Catterick Flat-race gamble after Graham Lee had just failed to get him over the line in front.
So, as ever, a tough field, which produced what beforehand might have seemed an unlikely outcome, but one which I actually fancied happening. How could a 20-year-old amateur female rider, with the massive racecourse experience of around 40 rides (admittedly nine wins), beat just for one, Richard Johnson, fresh from his seven wins at the Open meeting?
But that’s just what Lizzie Kelly, daughter of owner Jane Williams and trainer Nick, achieved. Setting off in the middle of a front three, she never allowed her five-year-old to take a backward step, and with him produced an immaculate round of jumping.
This victory in a race whose winner’s value had dropped from the original £62,000 to £45,000, was still worth the equivalent of three-quarters of the total nine previous wins she’d achieved, which included a valuable and important one at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. That day Aubusson got the better of A P McCoy, her acknowledged hero “since the age of 10” when she started riding the family’s horses around their “mud-patch in Devon”.
Lizzie, as befits an academic who was encouraged to complete her studies before concentrating fully on her love for race-riding, has a different attitude to the commentators who reckon the way best to promote racing is to instigate a single million-pound event. In a Daily Telegraph feature article the day after the career-forming (sort of) win over McCoy, she expressed a different opinion, suggesting it is important for racing to spend the money on attracting young people to the sport.
In the article it was revealed she is a frequent visitor to Willie Mullins’ stable in Ireland. The skills learned there, presumably with Ruby Walsh looking on, have not been wasted and the way she drove Aubusson, in just his sixth race and from a mark of 141, 6lb higher than seven-time career winner Big Easy, clear to win emphatically, promises much for horse and rider alike.
My other star winner of the weekend came in Friday’s novice hurdle over two and a half miles. Here, the Paul Nicholls-trained Vago Collonges, Grade 2 placed last season, started odds on to benefit from the 6lb penalty of Maximiser, a six-year-old trained by Simon West.
As the race neared, confidence in the favourite seemed to weaken as money came for the big Northern-trained grey, already a giant-killer having beaten a Donald McCain odds-on shot by 36 lengths at Carlisle.
The key that day had been his accurate hurdling, and this was again the theme, as he was sent straight into the lead by Joe Colliver. Once there, all that was needed was a consistent pace, allowing his mount to find his relentless stride. If in the end the victory margin was less extreme, 11 lengths was still quite good enough to suggest that here is a potential Cheltenham candidate, probably in the three-mile novice next March.
Maximiser, who also won an Irish point-to-point before his switch to Yorkshire, has only a single defeat on his card. That came on debut in a bumper in Ireland when he was eighth to Faugheen, who brightened up a solid if short of horses Ascot card, and gave a fleeting glimpse over here of Walsh, who rewarded his fans with a flawless treble.
Those two big-race winners reinforced the appeal of jumping and jumping people and showed once again that it is not only the big names that can win the big prizes. Lower down there are many capable people who can step forward when they get the right material. So now it’s over to you Noel and Jack Quinlan at Wetherby on Wednesday!