Home team raise flag for Festival after day of brave wins

SUNDAY TIMES, 13 February 2022

Fears for the Paul Nicholls string, as his customary 25 per cent strike rate slumped into single figures, were booted away yesterday as Bravemansgame dazzled at Newbury and stablemate Red Risk did the same within the hour at Uttoxeter.

Bravemansgame has the sort of spring in his leap that an impala would envy. The distance with which he cleared the water jump had the crowd gasping. But when he got in too close to the fourth from home, he was also very sure on his feet, which will be important in the showdown against Irish hotpot Galopin Des Champs at Cheltenham. Nicholls, inset, with jockey Harry Cobden, said he had left plenty to work on, so in that contest at least Britain need not feel overwhelmed by the Emerald invasion that ran us ragged last year.

Such hope was much needed after last week’s Dublin Racing Festival and, praise be, Bravemansgame was not alone in raising the flag. At Newbury, other winners Eldorado Allen, Funambule Sivola and Betfair Hurdle hero Glory And Fortune all declared themselves as sporting shots for Festival targets. Meanwhile, Royale Pagaille’s gutsy second to Eldorado Allen would not count him out if the going came up soft.

But the best rehearsal of all was Edwardstone’s decisive defeat of Third Time Lucki at Warwick. He has everything you want to see in a novice chaser and will go to the Arkle Chase as that rarity, a British favourite for a top race at the Festival.

The centrepiece at Newbury was the Betfair Hurdle, the richest handicap in Europe, and while it was short on numbers with 14 runners compared with the usual 20-plus, it was certainly not lacking in competition. At least ten were still in contention at the second last, and while Glory And Fortune was clear at the final flight, I Like To Move It was eating into his lead all the way to the line and was in front a couple of strides past the post.

Glory And Fortune started at 20-1 despite being second to Champion Hurdler Epatante at Christmas. “I couldn’t work out why he was the price he was,” said winning rider Stan Sheppard, who has also won the Welsh Grand National in this fine season for the 24-year-old. “It’s just brilliant. I was pretty confident beforehand, but I am glad I got this one right.”

Glory And Fortune’s continued improvement was another mark of Tom Lacey’s expertise which, while spanning ten years as a trainer, has involved a lifetime behind the scenes and a big reputation for recognising young talent. He bought Glory And Fortune as a three-year-old at the same time as he won a point to point with a horse called Energumene, who has turned out to be exceptional.

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