Chepstow’s first meeting of the year took place on a wet and gloomy Monday, a day for hardy National Hunt fans. There were some good-looking performances, though their merit may have been magnified by the increasingly heavy going.
The card began with a mares-only handicap hurdle. The prolific Henry Oliver-trained winner Darlyn (3/1 fav) had won five times in the last 14 months, but was only fourth going to the final flight. However, she has scored over further and was able to finish strongly under James Davies. Passing her opponents eagerly on the run-in, she got up with 75 yards to go, denying Princess Mononoke by three quarters of a length.
The first division of a 2m maiden hurdle went to Nick and Chester Williams with Le Cameleon (15/8 fav). The jockey persisted in waiting for a gap to open up between the pair that led on the long run to the last, and was rewarded when the leaders separated in the final strides before that obstacle. He urged the horse ahead on the run-in to score by a length and three quarters. At no stage did he resort to the whip. John Betjeman and Ambion Hill, who had led up to that point, finished second and third.
The second division of the maiden hurdle came next. Beaufort West (8/13 fav) has often promised more than he delivered, but a wind op has helped him and today he won impressively. Once Robbie Power moved him ahead of the long-time leader after the penultimate flight, he drew clear without ado. Colin Tizzard’s six-year-old, carrying the Lostintranslation colours, cruised home eight lengths in front of Falberto, who was finishing in the frame for the third time in a row.
The fourth race presented the unusual spectacle of a 16-runner 3m novices chase. Nine were still in contention turning into the straight. Four out Bill And Barn went ahead with The Manuscript sticking close to him, although while they were fighting it out Adam Wedge was creeping closer on Sign Of War (11/1). He was three lengths down at the last, but ran on well and came through a gap between the leading pair halfway up the run-in to win cheekily. It was the chasing debut for the Evan Williams-trained horse, who had Bill And Barn a length and a quarter away in second.
The 2m4f novice hurdle produced a fine debut over the sticks by Lieutenant Rocco (3/1), a big horse with a giant stride and a prominent white face. He set a steady pace and lobbed along happily, jumping well. Islandray briefly drew up to his quarters by the second last but the leader, asked for a little effort, quickly left him behind. He came in, unextended, by 11 lengths, with the rest of the field well strung out. Colin Tizzard and Robbie Power were completing doubles.
The Gipper and Spring Wolf led them a merry dance in the 2m chase, but they set it up for Dorking Cock (11/8 fav), who made good progress between the fourth and third last. He took a narrow lead on the run to the penultimate fence and came right away to score by five lengths. The Gipper plugged on for second. The winner was trained by Tom Lacey and ridden by Stan Sheppard.
On his first outing for two years, the omens didn’t look good for Loverboy (12/1) when he played up leaving the paddock on the way to the start of the 2m4f hurdle. Ridden quietly by Tom Bellamy, he came to challenge the long-time leader Marley Firth between the last two flights. He jumped the final obstacle well and ran on to win by four lengths. The horse has been in the Skelton and Tizzard stables during his absence from the track but today was his first run for Alan King.