12 October 2008

Lick your wounds and look forward. That is what the world has to do this morning. That is what jump racing has to do every day. That’s why it was good to be at Chepstow for what champion trainer Paul Nicholls calls “the real start of the season.” How Crack Away Jack won the big race certainly helped.

For Crack Away Jack has promise written all over him. Successful in his final two races last season, the big gleaming chestnut has even been talked of as a Champion Hurdle hope. The way he cruised up to the favourite Squadron for the last flight in the williamhill.co.uk Hurdle suggested that this is not as fanciful as some people first supposed. Yesterday’s sponsors clearly agree, making the four-year-old 8-1 third favourite behind Katchit, the reigning champion.

Squadron, who finished second, is a much inferior stable companion to Katchit and although Crack Away Jack was giving him 16lb after deducting Jack Doyle’s 3lb allowance, my first impression was that only beaten by a length and a half with the front-running but strictly limited Super Formen a few lengths away in third, was hardly championship class. But winning is the thing and that is much aided by the sort of tactical cruising speed that Crack Away Jack showed throughout the race and it was noticeable how confident Doyle seemed as he manoeuvred out to challenge between the last two flights.

“He never does much when he hits the front,” said trainer Emma Lavelle afterwards, “so we are really pleased with today. It looks like we will now have to consider all the options.” Lavelle and the lanky Doyle had combined to win the day’s opening race and she impresses like her horses, as a young talent that might go all the way.

Barry Fenton, a now retired former jockey, continues to be a central pillar of the operation and rides Crack Away Jack every morning. Doyle is an able replacement and was very calm in what was the most important challenge of his career to date. He came over from Ireland to join Alan King a season ago and one wishes him well with the unhappy query of how someone so tall is ever going to control the weight problems.

Nicholls may have been only third in that race but normal service was renewed with a vengeance as he and Ruby Walsh then landed a four-timer with Herecomesthetruth, R De Rien Sivola, Tchico Polos and Tataniano. The first of these was in the mauve colours of Harry Findlay, immortalised by Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman whose fibrillating heart problem and its subsequent treatment at Newmarket was the biggest, if least welcome, jumping muse of the summer.

Findlay was significantly reserved as he talked of Denman’s chances of full recovery this season. “We will have a bit of an idea once he starts to do more exercise in the next few weeks,” he said. “But obviously it is a big worry and Paul is never going to hurry him.” Denman’s victory drive up the Cheltenham hill was one of the great moments of last, or of any season. But it may prove to have been achieved at quite a cost.

Chepstow in gorgeous autumn sunshine and with the Nicholls-Walsh team in full flood was a place to promise much for the jumping season ahead, and the fact that Nicholls today saddles two runners in Ireland is testimony to his new plan to target big prizes across the water as well as over here. In these uncertain times all predictions might seem dangerous but it would be amazing if there will not have been a whole bundle more glory for the Nicholls team before we convene here next year.

Hope yesterday morning was that by next summer we might be hailing Her Majesty the Queen’s Four Winds as a Classic winner, but although the two-year-old son of Red Ransom was far from disgraced in third place behind Kite Wood and Taameer in the Autumn Stakes at Ascot, he needed to have won it to be considered as a serious Derby candidate.

Much can happen between now and Epsom on the first Saturday in June, but it was quite fair of bookmakers to mark Kite Wood up as a horse to note.

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