Saturday’s Tingle Creek at Sandown produced radically contrasting fortunes for the sport’s leading trainers with champion Paul Nicholls yet again saddling the winner, whilst Nicky Henderson sadly lost one of his stable stars.
Oscar Whisky fell at the ditch in the back straight and it quickly became apparent that he had sustained a serious hind leg injury. Tragically he could not be saved and his jockey Barry Geraghty , who had partnered him in all bar one of his races said: “I'm not sure what happened. I was long at the ditch, but that fence was well within his range and it was a simple fall which shouldn't have justified the injury."
Still only a nine-year-old, the horse had won 16 of his 28 career starts. Third in the Champion Hurdle of 2011, his optimum trip appeared to be two and a half miles. He was a duel winner of the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Aintree Hurdle at the Grand National meeting .
Geraghty added: “He was a warrior, so brave, reliable and honest, and he'd never miss a day. There were so many highlights, including some great wins over hurdles and fences at Cheltenham, but I suppose those two wins in the Aintree Hurdle stand out, both by a neck from Thousand Stars and both only about three weeks after giving everything at Cheltenham.”
Sarah Henderson, the trainer's daughter, added her thoughts on social networks saying: "Cannot describe how sad we all are to have lost our wonderful friend Oscar Whisky. He was an absolute sweetheart a favourite at home.”
Dodging Bullets went on to win the Sandown showpiece, sprinting clear of Somersby after the last, to win with some authority. Nicholls also had the third home with Hinterland running a race full of promise. The winner could only finish fourth in the Arkle, but it would be folly to discount him from the Champion Chase in March. Tingle Creek winners have a fantastic record going forward and his trainer appeared bullish after Saturday’s win.
While tragedy struck at Sandown for one son of Oscar, over at Aintree a 13-year-old son of the same sire was performing heroics in the Becher Chase. Oscar Time continued his love affair over the National fences when getting the better of Mendip Express in a thrilling finish. Beautifully ridden by course specialist Sam Waley-Cohen, the horse was sent to the front after the last and fought off all-comers from the famous Elbow.
After the race his owner Robert Waley-Cohen was clearly thrilled and said: “We've had the most enormous fun with this horse. We bought him to run in the National, where he came second and then fourth. But then he got injured so we took him back to Warwickshire to nurse him back to health. He's a better horse here than anywhere else. He gets here and stands up straight and loves it. Sam has an extraordinary record here as well - I don't know how he does it!"
Later on the card another Sam put his best hoof forward when Sam Winner out-battled his opponents in the listed chase. Gold Cup fancy Holywell took an early spill, and though the omission of fences in the home straight appeared to favour both Medermit and Ma Filleule, Nicholls’ warrior under a forceful ride from Nick Scholfield, simply refused to be beaten.
Yesterday it was the turn of another ‘old warrior’ to continue his recent renaissance. Wishfull Thinking made it two from three this season when adding the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase to the Old Roan that he won in October. His jumping proved the key with his closest challenger Eduard fluffing the last. Richard Johnson again rode a wonderful race, booting his willing partner into fences again and again. His next target could well depend on arrangements for stablemate Captain Chris, with the Victor Chandler, Game Spirit and Betfair Ascot Chase all coming into the reckoning.
This latest victory was yet another terrific success for trainer Philip Hobbs in what is fast becoming one of his greatest winters. His wife Sarah said after the race: "We were a bit worried about the weather as it was a bit breezy and he has had a wind operation. He jumped well and likes flat tracks like this and Richard gave him a lovely ride."