Emotional Nick Gifford records special victory

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.”

Herbiers one of the highlights as curtain comes down on Ascot’s jumps season

Oliver Greenall has a valuable race on the bet365 Gold Cup undercard in the sights of Herbiers following the four-year-old’s narrow success in the Betfred Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, as the curtain came down on Ascot’s jumps season.

The Malpas trainer felt Herbiers would prove typical of the horses that come over from France and enjoy cut in the ground, but his observation that the gelding scored on a better surface in a bumper has been borne out by the son of Waldpark proving versatile in handling all surfaces.

Under Paddy Brennan the 12-1 shot made a big move to lead between the last two flights, and stayed on in determined fashion to hold Royaume Uni by half a length.

Greenall believes his charge has improved with each run and said: “We thought he had a little bit in hand, and while it was soft when he won at Hereford he was very happy on the better going today. It was very professional the way he came up for Paddy at the last.

“He’s qualified for the final at Sandown which is worth £75,000, and that’s where he’ll go.”

Venetia Williams reached the 50-winner milestone when Funambule Sivola dominated the Age Concern Bracknell Novices’ Handicap Chase from start to finish under Charlie Deutsch.

The 11-10 favourite was already well clear of Rikoboy when that rival unseated at the last, leaving Monsieur Lecoq as the only other finisher.

“He loves his racing and is so quick over his fences,” said the jockey.

“He has a great way of going and will come up long when you ask him. I always thought he’d find more if anything came at me and I got a very good feel from him off that ground.”

It was a double celebration for the Williams/Deutsch team as the latter bettered last season’s score of 34.

He added: “I’d been on 34 for a week or so and was itching to get to 35. I always set a target to beat my previous score, and am delighted that Venetia has reached the half-century. She has the horses in brilliant health.”

Few horses with recognised talent have frustrated as much as Singlefarmpayment, but the 11-year-old was given a fine ride from Adrian Heskin to take the Berkshire Women’s Aid Veterans’ Handicap Chase.

Well aware that he could not get to the front late enough, Heskin took a couple of tugs on the Henry Oliver-trained 9-4 favourite going down the back and waited until jumping the last to ask his mount the ultimate question.

The combination then quickly asserted to go clear of Crosspark.

Heskin said: “That is a weight off my shoulders. This horse has plenty of history and his last win was in 2015. He was beaten a short head at the Cheltenham Festival and plenty of lads have tried on him, but he’s tricky.

“Today he jumped too well going down the hill and then put in a good jump two out, and to be fair I should have waited a bit longer.

“These races give all the older chasers their turn to win again, and have to be a good thing for the sport.”

Singlefarmpayment (right) got his head in front again
Singlefarmpayment (right) got his head in front again (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Heskin, meanwhile, sees Alan King’s Tritonic as a horse to look forward to at Aintree if the gelding is given the green light to do so after his underwhelming run in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.

He said: “I’m confident we didn’t see the real Tritonic at the Festival. Maybe three quick runs stacking up might have found him out. Aintree is a track that would really suit him, and as far as hurdling’s concerned we’ve got a real good horse going forward.”

For Nicky Henderson and owners Chelsea Thoroughbreds, Cascova responded positively to the fitting of earplugs to settle better than in his previous outing at Newbury in the Parents And Children Together (Pact) Maiden Hurdle.

The 7-4 favourite had 7lb in hand of his rivals on the book and was ridden stone cold by Nico de Boinville to cruise into contention two out and quickly put the race to bed when given the office, scoring by eight lengths from Manvers House.

Nico de Boinville scores aboard Cascova
Nico de Boinville scores aboard Cascova (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

De Boinville said: “He probably ran to his mark and so did the others. It was a nice even gallop and that set us up nicely for the finish. I think the earplugs helped relax him. He’s got the size and scope to go chasing next year, but there should first be a nice handicap awaiting him over hurdles.”

With South Terrace a late absentee after injuring a hip in the box and Ecco underperforming, Stoner’s Choice seized the advantage to take out the Sky Sports Racing Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle under Max Kendrick.

Kendrick changed his original plan to hold up his Fergal O’Brien-trained mount and made the running. One by one his rivals fell away and the 11-4 chance scored by six lengths from Bells Of Peterboro.

This was a fourth success of the campaign for Stoner’s Choice, and Kendrick observed: “When the two horses I thought might go forward didn’t I decided to press on myself and the horse soon got into a lovely rhythm.

“He’s still a novice, and was very novicey to start with (this season) but has kept on improving. Not many novices win with a double penalty.”

Defi Sacre jumped well for James Best
Defi Sacre jumped well for James Best (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The superior jumping of Defi Sacre proved crucial at the business end of the Berkshire Community Foundation Handicap Chase.

Approaching the final fence James Best’s mount was defending a diminishing lead from Marracudja, but his rival made a mistake that handed the initiative back to Defi Sacre who scored by four lengths.

Best has been a regular sight on trainer Richard Hobson’s horses over the last two and a half years and he said: “This horse has been very good to me and did very well in climbing the handicap last season. The key to him is that he pings off this better ground.”