Further rain left the going on the second day of the Jumps Season Opener meeting good to soft, soft in places on the hurdles track. Conditions were cooler and damper than the day before but the quality of the racing was still high.
That was after the initial entertainment, a Shetland Pony race for very young riders. Lucas Murphy (son of former jockey Timmy) won on Cranford Fantastic, carrying the famous blue and green David Johnson colours. At other times here on Food and Countryside Day we saw parades of retrained racehorses and the Woolaston basset hounds, and had The Wild Murphys performing on stage between races.
A 2m juvenile hurdle began the more formal proceedings, a race Paul Nicholls had won on six occasions in the last 10 years. Carrying a penalty for an Auteuil win in the spring, his Quel Destin made nearly all the running with Montestrel (20/1) shadowing him in second place. They retained those positions until the final flight, by which time everything else had dropped away. Lizzie Kelly galvanised Montestrel into producing a nice turn of foot on the run-in to win by a length and a half. It was a first winner for Mrs Jane Williams, who recently joined her husband Nick among the training ranks.
Richard Johnson on Drinks Interval (10/1) set out to make all the running in the 3m novice chase and succeeded in great style. Though the mare’s jumping in the closing stages wasn’t always perfect, the fences didn’t get in her way very much as she steadily increased her lead coming up the home straight. She came home, unchallenged, by 11 lengths from Debece, who ran in second most of the way. Colin Tizzard was the successful trainer.
Today’s highlight, the Persian War Novices Hurdle, was another race to be dominated by a front-runner. Double Treasure, better known as a chaser, was eligible for novice hurdles and blazed a trail from the outset, bowling along 10 lengths clear for a while. His lead was reduced to three lengths at the entrance to the home straight, where he kicked on again. By that time Paul Nicholls’s Secret Investor (5/1) was the only one still going well within himself. His rider Harry Cobden patiently let him gain slowly but surely on the leader and he hit the front approaching the last flight. Double Treasure fought back gamely but went down by two lengths, unable to prevent the Nicholls yard from taking the race for the fifth time in 11 years.
Most of the field were still in contention turning into the straight nearing the climax of the 3m veterans chase. Kings Lad (8/1) led five out and though Exitas harried him all the way to the line, he refused to be denied, jumping boldly and sticking his neck out gamely to run out a half length winner.
Colin Tizzard and Harry Cobden were completing doubles.
Only five lined up for a 2m handicap hurdle. The front-running I’m A Game Changer made a minor but critical error at the third last, which passed the initiative to Ballymoy (6/4 fav), who went on to score by two lengths under Daryl Jacob. Nigel Twiston-Davies’s five-year-old continued the improvement he’d shown in the spring by winning for the fourth time in a row. He was running in the two shades of green Munir-Souede colours, and like most of their horses his future lies over fences.
The money came for Baron Alco in the John Ayres Memorial Chase over 2m4f, making him a 4/1 joint favourite despite 577 days off the track. In what was another very competitive race he disputed the lead with Garde La Victoire until going on at the fourth last. Kim Bailey’s classy top weight Charbel (5/1) was the only one to go off in pursuit and thanks to a slightly slow jump by the leader at the last fence, he was able to collar him in the final hundred yards and foil the gamble. David Bass drove Charbel on to win by a head.
Finally, a bumper, with many potentially exciting young horses. They went slowly early on but the pace gradually stepped up and they accelerated again coming into the straight. Lisnagar Oscar cruised into the lead three furlongs out, looking like a winner. A furlong later Ask Dillon dashed past and he seemed to have the race sewn up, only for McFabulous (13/2) to sprint into the lead with 150 yards to go for Paul Nicholls’s second winner of the day and Harry Cobden’s third. Two and three quarter lengths was the winning margin. All of the first three should be well worth following.