The Timothy Hardie Jewellers Novices’ Chase at Perth yesterday showcased all that is thrilling about National Hunt racing, especially the transition from hurdler to chaser.
Jump racing fans are chomping at the bit as the winter season approaches, and the return to action of Cyrus Darius will have stoked the fires with meetings at Chepstow and Cheltenham just weeks away.
Malcolm Jefferson’s six-year-old was sent chasing for the first time, and at odds of 1/6 was expected to cruise home in a three runner affair. But a switch from hurdles to fences is rarely straightforward, and that element of the unexpected is one of the beauties of the sport. Last seen slaughtering a strong field in a Grade 2 at the Aintree Festival, he had a hurdles rating of around two stone superior to his main rival at Perth. Gordon Elliott’s Shadow Catcher did have race fitness on his side, along with previous experience over the larger obstacles.
Sent to the front by Richard Johnson, Elliott’s charge was ridden to expose any jumping frailties in the chasing newcomer. Cyrus Darius is a huge beast, and for the main part jumped pretty well. He was understandably keen after a five month break, and Brian Hughes was probably right to let him stretch out in front with four fences to take. Soon half a dozen lengths clear, a seasonal debut victory appeared a formality. However, the gelding guessed at three out, making an absolute hash of it, and suddenly the contest was back on.
That error, along with a lack of match fitness ensured a thrilling finish. Johnson sniffed a chance but Jefferson’s fella did enough and will undoubtedly go on to greater achievements over the winter. He’s certainly made for fences and with a hurdles mark of 153, arrives in the novice chase division full of potential and the raw ability to take high order.
A relieved Jefferson said after the race: “He lost a shoe, I'm not sure where, it might have been when he put his foot in the water or the next fence, which he hit. He's had a good blow. Most of mine have been running well but needed a run and Brian thinks he'll be much better in a better race. It might have done him good to nudge a few. He jumped 12 at home yesterday and never touched a twig; sometimes it's better if they make a mistake at home.”
The trainer looks sure to take his time with his new stable star, and the season ending festivals are firmly on the radar. He added: “He's a great cruiser, we saw that at Aintree, and I think when he's allowed to stride on in a good race over two miles you'll see him at his best.”
It proved to be a good day for Lucinda Russell at her local track. She took the opening two races with conditional jockey Grant Cockburn catching the eye. Both winners were sent to the front from the off, and the enterprising rides paid huge dividends.
A 20/1 winner in the opener, Cockburn held a 20 length advantage at one stage, and though the field closed right down turning for home, the jockey had saved enough. Under a stylish driving finish, his willing partner held off John Ferguson’s short-priced favourite.
Perth was saying goodbye to the 2015 season with racing returning to the most northerly Scottish track in April 2016.