CHELTENHAM TRIALS DAY

Sunday Times

27th January 2024

Glory, unpredictability and disaster, the three competing powers in the jumping game, all pulled at the heart strings here.

Glory in quite breath-taking turns from the juvenile Sir Gino and the flying grey mare Lossiemouth, both capped by the wonder of 18 year old Freddie Gingell’s triumph on Elixir Du Nutz. Improbability that saw Jonbon outbattled by Gingell’s mount despite being billed as 1-4 certainty. Disaster in the fatal injury to Datsalrightgino in the very first race after the horse’s crowning glory at Newbury.

Deal first with disaster. 8 weeks ago Datalrightgino’s Coral Gold Cup was the greatest victory of his and indeed his trainer Jamie Snowden and jockey Gavin Sheehan’s careers. Now, half an hour after Snowden and Sheehan had won with Gar Law, Datsalrightgino’s left front leg snapped on take-off at the 9th of the Cotswold Chase’s 20 fences and euthanasia was the only option. However much it may be accidental the hurt is terrible, and efforts at prevention must never cease.

Unpredictability is a blessing as well as a curse. Who would have thought that Jonbon, only once beaten in 8 runs over fences, would put in such a howler four from home that only serious acrobatics by James Bowen kept the partnership intact? Who would have guessed after Noble Yeats won the 2022 Grand National that he would be at Cheltenham edging Paisley Park out of a record 4th win in the Cleeve Hurdle yesterday ?

But the dream of glory will always be racing’s biggest draw and that was at its most dazzling with two quite breath-taking displays from Sir Gino and Lossiemouth which installed them hot favourites for the Triumph and Mares Hurdle back here at the Festival.

Burdett Road had been made favourite but on the run-in Sir Gino sped 10 long lengths away with Bowen making no more effort than on a rocking horse. Lossiemouth was even more impressive, streaking effortlessly away from Love Envoi, First Street and Rubaud from the last hurdle having had the casual effrontery to have a full gallop crap at halfway.

Lossiemouth actually beat Rubaud a length further and just as easily as Constitution Hill did at Kempton on Boxing Day. Her Festival target is the Mares Hurdle but owner Rich Ricci may yet be tempted to tilt at the Champion itself. Who knows, it may yet exceed her grasp. But as good Mr Browning said ,“what is heaven for?”

It is certainly for moments like Freddie Gingell honouring his late mother’s memory with his Cheltenham success, and his first Grade I victory on a horse trained by Joe Tizzard, his mother’s brother. Gingell may have been put on a pony as soon as he could walk and now be part of Paul Nicholls multi-championship team, but he is still so much just an innocent,  slightly spotty teenager that you both thrill and tremble at what lies ahead.

He had given the grey Elixir Du Nutz a thrilling ride from the front,  had got a tremendous leap from his partner at the last, and now was being led into this most coveted of winner’s enclosures as the cheers rained down. Following him was 93-year-old owner Terry Warner who two decades earlier had made the same happy trek behind Rooster Booster after the Champion Hurdle.

The sun was just high enough to light the yellow and black Warner silks. Freddie Gingell punched the air with a happiness that will never be bettered. Terry Warner came through rightly proud to still be in the swing. A nonagenarian, a teenager, and a grey horse to thank for it. It was hard to avoid the conclusion that while this can be a brutal game, there are times when its wonder still conquers all.

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