Alex Edwards’ Doncaster victory on the promising Osprey Call was further vindication of his decision to turn professional just three weeks ago – a move which means he can seek more Cheltenham glory next month.
On the day it was confirmed all Edwards’ former amateur colleagues will remain out of action until after the Festival, because of coronavirus restrictions, even in the moment of victory he had inevitably mixed feelings.
The 30-year-old will be able to bid for his second success in the St. James’s Place Festival Hunters’ Chase – be it on 2019 winner Hazel Hill or one of the 13-year-old’s younger stablemates Wishing And Hoping or Salvatore.
Ex British point-to-point champion Edwards was due to complete this campaign as an amateur for trainer Phil Rowley, until the season was put on hold last month – and subsequently amateurs were suspended from riding under rules.
Against that backdrop, he made the switch early.
“It was always my plan to turn at the end of the point-to-point season – because I could ride a lot of point-to-pointing for my boss,” he said.
“That’s always been my main job. But with my boss (Rowley’s wife, Mel) now training under rules, it made sense for me – now or never to go professional.
“With the stopping of the amateurs riding, it spurred me on to do it quicker. I’d been speaking to the BHA beforehand, and it pushed me into making a decision there and then.”
Edwards may face a tough choice over which horse to ride at Cheltenham.
He said: “We’re very lucky – we’ve got a selection of two or three I could possibly ride.
“I can keep the ride. That’s great for me, but obviously there’s not great news for the whole amateur side.
“A lot of good friends of mine work very, very hard (as amateur jockeys) – so it’s just frustrating for them. Let’s hope, in a month’s time, we’re all back up and running and this is all forgotten about.”
Edwards should have more to smile about with the Alastair Ralph-trained Osprey Call, who overcame a significant mistake and awkward landing at the last for a near four-length win from Across The Line in the opening Virgin Bet Novices’ Hurdle.
“He’s a very green horse,” he said of the 7-1 winner.
“One minute he’s hanging right, then he’s hanging left, so it’s just trying to keep him on the straight and narrow.
“He’s got plenty of ability, and I think he could be going places.
“He was fairly keen early on. He’s a baby, and has to learn to settle and to breathe and to get into a rhythm jumping.
“It’s all a bit of a rush for him at the moment. But to go out and still win like that is quite nice – really impressive.”
Beau Bay produced an exemplary round of jumping from the front, apart from a blip at the second-last, to take the feature Virgin Bet Veterans’ Handicap Chase by almost four lengths from Ami Desbois.
The back-to-form Grand Sefton winner proved three miles is his bag these days – and after his 8-1 victory under Charlie Hammond, trainer Dr Richard Newland will be making future plans on that basis.
Among them the 2022 Grand National may even enter the equation – because although Beau Bay has an entry back at Aintree this year too, at 98th in the list he has no realistic chance of making the cut.
Newland said: “I was a bit gutted – because I thought he had a chance of winning the veterans’ race at Exeter (last week), and they called off the chases at the last minute (because of frost) and just ran the hurdles.
“That would have put him in the National – which is what we’d love to do.
“But he’s in the Kim Muir, and we might have a go.
“Then maybe, if he’s high enough rated, next year the National.”
Beau Bay, a bargain buy for the yard out of a Worcester claimer four years ago, has exceeded all expectations.
Newland added: “”He’s quite a small horse – but for whatever reason, he just loves the chasing.
“He tends to get a bit forgotten about in these races – people think he’s been around the block a bit, and is exposed.
“But he’s just in rude health. He’s an incredible horse – extraordinary. You can pay thousands and thousands, and you won’t get one as good as that.”
At £150,000, Patroclus was a little more expensive – but after Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old had doubled his career tally in his just his third race under rules, jockey Nico de Boinville was in no doubt he has potential.
Following the evens favourite’s three-quarter-length success from market rival Riggs in the Virgin Bet EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle, he could chase a high-profile hat-trick if taking up next month’s Ballymore entry at Cheltenham.
A patient approach may be more likely, however.
De Boinville said: “He’s a smashing horse – a really solid National Hunt type.
“He probably got a bit lonely but stayed all the way, and I think he’ll want three miles in time.
“I wouldn’t know where we’re going to go after that, but he’s very much a long-term project.”