By Tony Stafford
A few weeks ago, this column was given over to the exploits of the young amateur (sic) Lizzie Kelly (she’d already become a conditional) after Aubusson’s amazing win in a valuable handicap hurdle at Haydock. Jane Williams’ daughter continued her rise to fame and almost certainly fortune with another big win for her stepfather Nick’s West Country stable at Kempton yesterday when Tea for Two romped away with the Lanzarote stable.
Nepotism comes to mind and I’m sure it will have been advanced in some jealous quarters to explain just how this family partnership has been allowed to develop. But before a more sanguine approach to her prospects is considered, I’d like to offer just a tiny statistical piece of evidence that maybe even the Williamses might not be aware of.
In the past 14 days, Nick Williams’ stable has had three winners from 13 runners. Lizzie has ridden all three of the winners from only four rides for the stable, with just an unseated, late in a Leicester race after her mount had already cried enough, spoiling the perfect score.
Not for Nick the use of average jockeys, however. Six different riders were employed on the remaining nine runners, and three started favourite. As indicated earlier, none of them, despite the employment of Richard Johnson, Sam Twiston-Davies, Daryl Jacob, A P McCoy, Wayne Hutchinson and Noel Fehily, could get their heads in front.
Each of that sextet of star jockeys, though, was on the winner’s rostrum at their chosen Saturday meeting: Johnson, Jacob and Twiston-Davies winning at Warwick, Hutchinson and Fehily at Kempton and the perennial champ A P up at Wetherby. Only Barry Geraghty and Ruby Walsh, of the top boys, have missed out on a Nick Williams ride in the last fortnight. They too were on winners, at Kempton and Punchestown respectively.
It’s been a pretty clumsy way to point out yet again that the Lizzie Kelly stats are remarkable, just as is her confidence in grabbing hold of the initiative in valuable, highly-competitive handicaps. She has impressively allowed her mounts to take advantage of that mouth-watering 7lb allowance that I’m sure that as a conditional, thus professional, she cannot wait to lose.
For the Williamses, the enormity of Tea for Two’s performance off 134 on his fourth hurdles start (three wins) after four educational bumper efforts, will have implications. Jumps handicappers respond for the most part pretty aggressively at wide-margin victories, especially in big races, and I expect around 20lb to be the probable hike in Tea for Two’s rating.
The Racing Post suggestion of the Coral Cup might look a little silly at first sight, but the 2014 winner Whisper won it off 153, having started that season in the 130’s. The difference is that he’d already gone through his novices for Nicky Henderson the previous season and by the time of his last-gasp defeat of Cheltenham regular Get Me Out of Here in the Coral, he’d run nine times over jumps.
Memorably, he also followed that by beating At Fishers Cross in the Grade 1 Stayers Hurdle at Aintree. Looking at the rapidity of Tea for Two’s as well as his rider’s progress, maybe it’s not such a silly idea, especially as she will again be able to claim her allowance in the Festival handicap.
The glorious uncertainty of horse racing was never better exemplified than by the result of a novice hurdle race up at Catterick on Thursday when my boss Ray Tooth was aiming to follow up with his recent course winner Notnowsam.
His name proved prophetic as he struggled to get into the race in which the John Ferguson-trained Buckwheat ran out an impressive winner after late money forced him into favouritism, displacing French import Konig Dax from that distinction.
That five-year-old had been bought for Euro 160,000 after winning a hurdle race at Saint-Malo, by the seaside in Brittany, down the coast from Deauville. He’d also won a Flat race at the same course for connections, before an unplaced effort first time over hurdles in the Paris region.
He was up with the pace under Jason Maguire, unlike “Sam” who was sluggish compared to his previous run, but faded badly in the straight. By the line he was even 60 lengths behind us in last place, having almost been pulled up. I hope there’s an explanation and that his owners and trainer will eventually see a future more in keeping with his past.
And his past was certainly highly promising. In that Saint-Malo race he finished five lengths adrift of Douvan, a son of the obscure stallion Walk in the Park, who stands the 2015 covering season in France at a fee of only Euro 1,500.
Walk in the Park, owned by Michael Tabor and trained in France by John Hammond, won a single race, as a two-year-old over a mile at Saint-Cloud. A son of Montjeu, who also raced for Tabor and Hammond, he had his finest hour, albeit in defeat, when runner-up to fellow Montjeu product Motivator in the 2005 Derby.
Obviously frustrated as his form after that gradually tailed off, Hammond even gave him a single start in a Listed hurdle race at Auteuil, to no avail, but there’s clearly no reason why those strong genetic influences should not produce a decent horse or two, given the chance.
Douvan, probably at a disadvantage against the prominently-ridden winner on that debut, stayed on for a five-length second place. Within three weeks (almost nine years to the day of his sire’s finest hour) he was winning another little race, the Prix Karly Flight at Compiegne by two and a half lengths from a horse whose form, before and since and there was plenty of it, didn’t amount to a hill of beans.
Then came the move that transformed his career. He was sourced into the Willie Mullins stable and Ricci ownership. His first run for them brought a wide-margin victory over subsequent easy Grade 1 novice winner Sizing John at Gowran Park and he followed up fluently at Punchestown on Saturday. Those two wins have him at the forefront of Cheltenham Festival betting and on the same likely path to glory as Faugheen.
Meanwhile, for the benefit of one regular reader who switches off at the mention of football, Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew made winning starts respectively at West Brom and Crystal Palace. Beating Spurs will have made Pardew not only a hero at the club with a supermarket behind the stand, but also among Arsenal fans who may finally forgive him for some touchline clashes in the past with M. Wenger.
Today the last-named gentleman has won the battle with Chelmsford City for my attention, as I prefer to stay home and watch the Gunners against Stoke, while dipping in and out of the action from the former Great Leighs, just about the quickest trip I have to any racecourse.
Meanwhile Tottenham are facing the ultimate season from hell (again) as they and the remarkable Harry Kane try to get fourth place in the table once more. Already in the League Cup semi-final (two-legged) and facing a Third round FA Cup replay, they remain in the Europa Cup with a few more matches at least to come, and the matter of 17 more League games to negotiate.
How they’d love to be Manchester United, who have to think about only the League and FA Cup in which to date they’ve played Yeovil and now face Cambridge City. What a manager that Louis van Gaal is!