Hometown Boy makes it an Aintree double for Stuart Edmunds

Hometown Boy recovered from a scare at the final flight to give trainer Stuart Edmunds a second winner at the Grand National Festival in 24 hours when landing the EFT Systems Handicap Hurdle at Aintree.

The six-year-old, ridden by Ciaran Gethings, was clear of the pack when he blundered at the last and gave away a few lengths.

However, Gethings soon got Hometown Boy back on an even keel and the 6-1 favourite kept on gamely to lift the prize.

Always prominent throughout in this extended three-mile contest, Hometown Boy had led before the third-last obstacle and was in control until he hit the top of the final flight.

J’Ai Froid was beaten three lengths in second place, with Tea Clipper four and three-quarter lengths away in third and Ashtown Lad a further two lengths back in fourth.

Edmunds, who had taken the last race on Friday with Rowland Ward, said: “To be fair this was a long-term (plan). We wanted to come here, but wanted a prep run so went to Kempton beforehand.

“It was a bit of a gamble as he was also in over two and a half-miles, but we thought there were one or two more speedier types in there. He galloped through the line, though, and he couldn’t pull him up.

“I couldn’t repeat what I was thinking at the last! If he was a tired horse his legs would have gone to jelly.”

He added: “There’s nothing else for him this season and I think he’ll be a nice novice chaser next season – he’s schooled plenty over fences at home.”

Happygolucky gained compensation for finishing second at the Cheltenham Festival with a smooth victory in the Betway Handicap Chase.

Kim Bailey’s seven-year-old had to settle for second place behind Vintage Clouds in the Ultima, but he came back strong to take this £31,500 first prize.

He was always travelling well in the hands of David Bass and was in a good position in the early stages, as Kilfilum Cross and Lalor set the pace.

Happygolucky is a smart stayer in the making
Happygolucky is a smart stayer in the making (David Davies/Jockey Club)

When it came to the business end, Happygolucky (11-4 favourite) proved the strongest from the final fence and held Johnbb by two and three-quarter lengths. Spiritofthegames stayed on for third place, two and a quarter lengths away.

Bailey said: “We were beaten fair and square at Cheltenham by a revitalised horse, but we were staggered we did get beat. That was a great performance today. He’s a novice, but he’s very professional.

“I think we’ll be limited in terms of options for the rest of this season, but we are running out of time, it will be nice if he can come back here this time next year (for the National).

“He jumps so well and seems to stay, (but) I think you could run over shorter on softer ground.

“To start off next year there are the early races at Cheltenham, but if it’s soft we could think of the Paddy Power, maybe the Ladbrokes Trophy.”

Knappers Hill (8-1) stayed on well in the closing stages to land the Grade Two Two Weatherbys Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.

The five-year-old, trained by Paul Nicholls, took his unbeaten record to three when scoring by half a length under Megan Nicholls.

Peking Rose put in good late gains to fill second place, a length and a quarter ahead of the winner’s stablemate Stage Star.

Megan Nicholls with Knappers Hill
Megan Nicholls with Knappers Hill (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The winning rider said: “That was amazing – I’m on cloud nine. I can’t believe what has just happened. I spoke to Rachael (Blackmore) before I came out and she says she was shaking like a leaf and I feel like that now.

“It’s awesome. I’m delighted. Who would have thought I’d have been riding at this meeting? I had a great time pointing then turned to the Flat. I’m just so happy. Dad and the team have really helped and looked after me and when he mentioned about riding some of the bumper horses I was snapping his arm off. You can’t help but be excited riding young gorgeous horses like that.

“I know I’m babbling on, but I’m quite speechless at the same time. It’s awesome. Any bigger meeting whether it is over the Flat or jumps is huge. To be riding on Grand National day is like anyone’s dream. To have a winning chance, let alone be able to ride the winner is just amazing. It’s my first ride in a graded race.”

She added: “This horse has been fantastic. He was my first listed winner and he has now given me a graded winner. Mr Barber and Mr Vogt who own him have been huge supporters of the yard but me as well and to repay them is just incredible. My legs are going underneath me. I’m just ecstatic.”

Hometown hero for Edmunds and Gethings

The Cheltenham Festival may be on the lips of every racing fan at present, but jockey Ciaran Gethings and trainer Stuart Edmunds are looking a little further ahead to Aintree’s Grand National meeting, after Hometown Boy took the Close Brothers Asset Finance Handicap Hurdle at Kempton with plenty to spare.

Making his seasonal debut after 350 days on the sidelines, the six-year-old was always up with the pace and made stealthy progress turning in before being asked to inject the pace with half a mile to run.

His hurdling was efficient and a good leap at the last two saw the 11-1 shot power clear of Ecco to draw three and a quarter lengths clear, with 11-4 favourite Gunsight Ridge struggling to get involved, a similar distance back in third.

Connections have had to be patient with Hometown Boy, who broke his duck over hurdles at Market Rasen in December 2019, and while Gethings was concerned about the lack of a run, his fears were for nought.

Gethings said: “We have always liked him from the word go. He hadn’t run for 11 months and while we thought he might not lack fitness, he might run a bit fresh and a bit keen which he can be.

“Looking back on his form, we really fancied him. Stuart’s horse are a little bit in and out this season and it is hard to get a gauge on them, but he felt great today and he did it well.

“He wasn’t beaten far by Espoir De Romay at Warwick (in November 2019) so the form is there.

“He was ready to run at the Chepstow meeting at the start of the year, but it was just too quick for him. He then had a little setback and he is very hard on himself. But he is back on track and will make a lovely chaser.”

He added: “He has a very big stride for not a big horse and jumps fantastic. I think stepping up to three miles will suit him as well. He has a couple of options at Aintree and will go for either a two-and-a-half-miler on the first day, or the three-miler on Grand National Day.

“Aintree will be right up his street.”

Paul Nicholls claimed a double on the card after the victory of Tamaroc Du Mathan in the Pendil Novices’ Chase, when My Way (4-1 joint-favourite) produced a game front-running display to take the Close Brothers Motor Finance Handicap Chase in the hands of Harry Cobden.

The seven-year-old had landed a maiden hurdle at Stratford in October, but had been luckless in 12 previous starts over fences.

Yet the fitting of first-time blinkers appeared to galvanise Nicholls’ inmate, who had previously been beaten over 14 lengths at Chepstow, and he led his nine rivals a merry dance, despite tiring near the line, as Awake At Midnight closed to within two and a quarter lengths under Richard Johnson.

Nicholls felt a sense of relief afterwards, and said: “He has been a long time winning a chase. He has threatened to, but I thought the fitting of blinkers might concentrate his mind today.

“A flat track over two and a half miles was all right for him today. If we had not won with him today, we would really have been in trouble. Thirteenth time lucky, I guess!

“He is actually a novice over fences, so you could perhaps run him in novice handicap later on, but my immediate plan was to put him in at Cheltenham – which, with his rating, he is bound to get balloted out – and then come here to Kempton on the Saturday for the consolation chase over two-mile-five.

“I only entered him at Cheltenham to get balloted out and then come here, so that would be a good plan. He would not want to be running at Cheltenham in his own right.”