Trainer Nick Gifford could not have written the script better at Sandown ahead of the victory of Belargus in the race run in memory of his father, the bet365 Josh Gifford Novices’ Chase.
The JP McManus-owned six-year-old had been campaigned with the two-and-a-half-mile contest in mind, and though it looked like being a competitive finish with five still in with a chance at the second-last, Niall Houlihan’s mount fairly sprinted away up the hill to score by four lengths from Falco Blitz.
A tearful Gifford shares the love of the Esher track that his father did, and recalled it was in the very same race that Josh Gifford saddled his final winner, Skycab.
He said: “This had been planned for a long time, and we had skipped a few engagements with him. Sandown brings back a lot of fond memories, including dad’s final winner, and I’ve been trying to win the race for a while. JP knows that as much as anyone, and I’m sure he’ll have a grin on his face.
“It does mean the world to us, we’ve got a lot of fond memories here.”
From his current mark of 130 Belgarus will go up, and Gifford added of the 16-5 winner: “I’m sure Frank (Berry) and the boss will have a few ideas as to where we go next season, but he has the makings of a nice horse.”
Herbiers, one of only two four-year-olds in the race, proved too lively for his foes in the bet365 Novices’ Championship Final Handicap Hurdle for trainer Oliver Greenall and jockey Paddy Brennan.
The 15-2 shot benefitted from a patient ride from Brennan, who waited to launch his challenge until approaching the final flight as he did not want his mount to get there too soon.
The combination stayed on stoutly up the final hill to score by three lengths and four and three-quarters from Flic Ou Voyou and On To Victory.
Brennan said: “He’s a lovely horse with a wonderful attitude, and that was a very good performance for a four-year-old. We had to knuckle in there early, but he really warmed to it and I didn’t want to hit the front too soon.
“He’s still a baby for whom it’s all about the future. They’ve done a wonderful job with the ground which rode good, and he enjoyed it.”
Fittingly the last race of the season went the way of champion trainer Paul Nicholls, as Scaramanga (8-1) took the bet365 Handicap Hurdle under Bryan Carver.
Nicholls said: “We won the first race of the season with Nineohtwooneoh at Southwell and have now just won the last, so that is brilliant.
“That horse is improving and has done that nicely. It is good for Bryan to have a winner on a day like this. He went to Newbury last time and he surprised us when he won. He went up 5lb, but Bryan took a handy three off then. He travelled well and won nicely.
“He wants good fast ground like that. I suspect he will keep going and we might even go on the Flat again if we found a nice race over a trip.
“I’ve not thought about too much of a plan for him on the Flat, but I’m sure Megan (Nicholls) will have a plan. He doesn’t want to be stopping now. If there is a nice two-and-a-half-mile handicap over hurdles before then we could have a look at something like that.”