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.”

Festival may beckon Anythingforlove and Fuller after Sandown triumph

Page Fuller may be reaching for the stars at the Cheltenham Festival after landing her first Graded race success on Anythingforlove in the Jane Seymour Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

Described by winning trainer Jamie Snowden as “an integral part of my team”, Fuller came in for the ride on the 18-1 shot only because Gavin Sheehan was in action at Fontwell.

She made the very best of the opportunity, though, as Anythingforlove beat Sandymount Rose by two and three-quarter lengths, for a Grade Two success which may extend their association in next month’s Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Fuller, who is enjoying a stellar season after riding out her claim in October, said: “That meant so much to me – a first winner at this level and a lovely mare for her owners.

“I knew she had every chance and was delighted when Gavin had to go to Fontwell.

“It was really hard work, and I had to assume she was going to stay. She heard the others coming, and wasn’t going to be passed.

“Winners like her show we have the quality in the yard – and while Gavin’s the number one, I am so lucky to get chances like this.”

Snowden said of the winner: “She used to be a bit novicey, and we rode her wrong in the Rossington Main.

“Over this trip she found it easier, because they were going a tad slower. I would certainly take a look at the Dawn Run – and especially if it was heavy.”

Nick Gifford’s dream of winning the race run here in April in memory of his late father Josh came a step closer with the 5-1 success of Belargus, under Niall Houlihan.

The six-year-old’s resounding nine-length triumph over Grey Diamond in the Elmbridge Handicap Chase has teed him up for what Gifford sees as “limitless options”.

Some of those will be at Cheltenham, or possibly Aintree, but the Sussex trainer hopes owner JP McManus may consider the Josh Gifford Memorial Handicap Chase in April back at Sandown.

“I’ve always loved this horse,” said Gifford.

“He got done for toe at Warwick, and this is the first time he’s got his jumping together. I could see him going up in trip, and he’ll definitely get two and a half miles on good ground.

“He’s going to be under consideration with a whole lot of others (owned by McManus) for the Grand Annual and Brown Advisory Plate – while the Topham is a lovely race for him (as well).

Niall Houlihan and Belargus clear the last to win the Elmbridge Handicap Chase at Sandown
Niall Houlihan and Belargus clear the last to win the Elmbridge Handicap Chase at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“But the one I’d love to win is the Josh Gifford Memorial – which I came close to winning with Christopher Wren (for McManus seven years ago).

“Realistically we are a tiny cog in the wheel, but romantically I would dearly love to bring him back here.”

Emma Lavelle believes she has an exciting prospect for fences next season in Red Rookie, who cashed in on the final-flight mistake of market rival Pipesmoker to land the Telegraph Hill ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle.

The 5-2 winner eventually prevailed by almost two lengths under Tom Bellamy, from outsider Mister Watson, with favourite Pipesmoker having to settle for third.

Lavelle said: “We love this horse and have felt that since he won two bumpers – but when I took the rug off him at Lingfield (in October) I could see he was fat.

“He came there two out only to weaken through lack of fitness, and then he was poorly.

Red Rookie (middle) was only third over the last but a clear-cut winner in the end of the Telegraph Hill ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown
Red Rookie (middle) was only third over the last but a clear-cut winner in the end of the Telegraph Hill ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“After that it took a long time to get him back, but he certainly is now. I was delighted at the way he jumped and travelled on that ground, and can’t wait to go chasing with him next season.”

Lavelle and Bellamy completed a quick double when 5-2 favourite Eclair Surf won the following Littleworth Handicap Chase by three lengths.

David Pipe’s team is in form – and following Umbrigado’s triumph at Wetherby the previous day, Eamon An Cnoic made no mistake in the opening Greenwich Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

The 100-30 chance came home 20 lengths clear of Will Sting under Fergus Gillard, who said: “My horse travelled really well. He got tired but at the same time won nicely.”

Dan and Harry Skelton combined to land the Kingston Handicap Chase with 11-4 shot No Getaway – who stretched nine-and-a-half lengths clear of Doitforthevillage, with favourite Mister Murchan back in third.

Glen Rocco has ‘ultimate aim’ of Grand National bid

The 2021 Grand National remains the ultimate target for Nick Gifford’s staying chaser Glen Rocco.

The nine-year-old, who is owned by a partnership that includes Sir Alex Ferguson and Jeremy Kyle, has not run since last February because of the recurrence of a previous tendon injury.

While he has recovered and returned to training, Gifford thinks December’s Grand Sefton Handicap Chase over the National fences, for which he holds an entry, may come too soon.

“It’s a speculative entry – I have given him the entry just in case he is ready but I think he is 50/50,” he said.

“I just don’t think he’s going to be ready in time – it was more in hope than anything else, and I would be doubtful as to whether he’s going to get there. I think he’s going to need a bit longer.”

Although that first introduction to Aintree’s unique Grand National course is doubtful, the showpiece event itself remains the overriding goal for the chestnut.

“That’s the target – we’ve just got to keep working our way towards that,” added Gifford.

“It’s the ultimate aim – if he stays in one piece it will be the dream.”

Gifford’s father Josh famously trained Aldaniti to success in the big race in 1981, ridden by cancer survivor Bob Champion in a fairytale feat which became the inspiration for the 1983 film ‘Champions’.

The Queen meets Aintree heroes Aldaniti and Bob Champion
The Queen meets Aintree heroes Aldaniti and Bob Champion (PA)

Glen Rocco’s intended tilt at the National will come 40 years after that victory – and he bears something of a resemblance to Aldaniti, both horses being chestnut with broad white blazes.

“A few people do think that it’s a good omen – but I’m a realist, I think it’s a coincidence,” Gifford said of the parallels between the two chasers.

“It would certainly be lovely to get him there, though.”

Mrs Hyde bounces back to bag Listed prize

Mrs Hyde secured the most notable success of her career in the Racing TV Novices’ Hurdle – forming the middle leg of a treble for rider Nico de Boinville  at Kempton.

Having had her colours lowered over hurdles for the first time at Market Rasen on her most recent start, the Brian Ellison-trained seven year-old bounced back with victory in this Listed event.

Moving smartly into contention, Mrs Hyde showed an admirable attitude from the back of the last to defeat Fidelio Vallis by a length and three-quarters.

De Boinville said of the 15-2 shot: “She is very straightforward and very gutsy, and she has run all the way to the line.

“I had a word with Brian Ellison and Brian Hughes (who has ridden her in her last three starts).

“They said she was very tough and to just ride her as you find her and ride for a place – and then you never know what might happen.

“I wasn’t really confident until going to two out.”

The Grade One-winning rider had to sit tight before getting his haul up and running aboard Overpriced Mixer, who attempted to run out at the last before going on to collect the opening Racing TV Juvenile Hurdle by half a length.

Winning trainer Nicky Henderson said of the 7-4 shot: “I don’t know why he did that at the last, because he had been out in front nearly all the way and he was doing everything nicely. Without that, he would have won fairly easily.

“He had been to Henrietta Knight’s to get him going – but he was slick there and he is a natural hurdler, so it is a good start.

“I think he wants to do something like that again [win a similar race] after that little blip. He wants to learn a bit more, before we do anything exciting.”

Sunrise Ruby makes it two from two this season with victory in the Novices' Hurdle at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA Images)
Sunrise Ruby makes it two from two this season with victory in the Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA Images)

Sunrise Ruby completed De Boinville’s three-timer, and a double for Henderson, when backing up her recent Newton Abbot success by five and a half lengths in the Novices’ Hurdle.

Henderson said of the 1-2 favourite: “She should have won over hurdles last season – but she didn’t, and we are reaping the rewards now.

“Life is going to get more difficult now, because she will have a double penalty in novice races, so we may look at handicaps.

“She loves this ground, so we have to crack on whatever – you won’t be seeing her out in the winter.”

Fairway Freddy provided trainer Nick Giffiord with a timely boost – just days after stable star Theo’s Charm suffered a fatal heart attack on the gallops – with a two-and-a-half-length success in the Racing TV Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Remembering Theo’s Charm, Gifford said : “ He was a real favourite – we had him a long time, and he was a big softie really.

“It is a big loss, because he was such a character of a horse. It was very sombre at evening stables, and the next day everyone was down.

“They will all have been screaming this one home, so hopefully we can move on now.”

Fairway Freddy could be in line for a swift return to action, with Gifford considering giving the seven-year-old another outing at Hereford on Wednesday.

He added: “Most have mine have been running well first time out – but he just needed it, so I knew he would come on for the run.

“I just put him in at Hereford because he will love the ground. I know he can back it up, especially on better ground.

“I put him in more in hope than anything, but we will see how he comes out of it.”