Hurricane gusts and punctured dreams aplenty at Sandown and across the Irish Sea, and until 2.30 it looked as if Daryl Jacob might be going home the most disappointed of all. Then he had one of those rides that only Sandown can give when making all in the Betfred Scilly Isles Chase on a grey buck of a horse called Bristol de Mai.
With the top northern challenger Maximiser a late absentee, the big dream here was for Lizzie Kelly and Tea For Two to repeat December’s Kempton heroics that saw her become the first woman to ride a Grade I winner over jumps in Britain. She gave Tea For Two another peach of a ride and joined Jacob and Bristol de Mai at the end of the back straight for a battle home up the hill. Tea For Two was good but he lacked the springs on the grey.
At the second last Lizzie did not even have horse enough to hold on to second and it was left to Sam Twiston-Davies on As De Mee to vainly pursue the man whom he replaced as Paul Nicholls first jockey two years ago. Daryl Jacob may not ride the number of winners as in those heady but high stress days but as retained rider for top owner Simon Munir he does not lack quality. Bristol De Mai may not be the best of all the horses to carry the now familiar light and dark green silks but there will be few nimbler over a fence and Daryl can look forward to another cracking ride in the JLT Chase at Cheltenham.
Yesterday morning, he would have also been keenly anticipating his rides on the Munir owned Fingertips and Peace And Co the hot favourites in the first two races only for both to get the thumbs down from fate. Fingertips was a beaten second when taking a tired horse’s fall at the final flight and last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner could only finish third to the four-year-old Connetable and had his Champion Hurdle odds stretched out from 14s to 33/1.
To the outside eye Peace And Co was much the most disappointing. Admittedly there was no repeat of last time’s runaway debacle at Cheltenham, a new bit and a set of earplugs helping Darryl Jacob to anchor him in third place behind the thankfully tearaway early pace set by Rayvin Black. But with his head high and tense, Peace And Co was never relaxed under the restraint and when his jockey asked him to win his race there was a hint of “wouldn’t” as much as “couldn’t” about his struggle up the run in.
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Neither trainer nor jockey would accept this analysis. “Today was mission accomplished,” said Darryl Jacob with an aplomb worthy of a career in politics. “The really important thing was to get him to settle. He moved into the race well and just got tired at the end. Nicky Henderson is a master at timing their preparation for Cheltenham and I think he will be right in the mix.”
The beauty is that no one can be sure until reality overtakes talk in five weeks’ time, meanwhile results elsewhere gave racing chattering classes plenty to do in between. Before Bristol De Mai had finished blowing at Sandown his Nigel Twiston Davies stable mate Blaklion was grinding out the most resolute of victories at Wetherby to book himself a place in the RSA Chase line up at Cheltenham. There’s a lot to like about the way Blaklion buckles down when it gets deep and dirty but stable assistant and dual Grand National winner Carl Llewellyn was surely right to signal up how Cheltenham Festival conditions are unlikely to compare with the hoof sucking ordeal on offer at Wetherby.
The same caution should apply to a sheaf of shock results from the big meeting across the Irish Sea at Leopardstown although they hardly excuse the faulty jumping and abject finishing of the now Joseph O’Brien trained Ivanovich Gorbatov who started odds on in the first may be a different proposition come Triumph Hurdle but he will need to be.
The same applies to Willie Mullins odds/on shot Bellshill who weakened badly on the run in to finish only third behind his 11/1 stablemate Bleu Et Rouge in the Grade I Deloitte Hurdle. Mullins 14/1 outsider Footpad had been the winner of the first and the record breaking trainer landed a third Grade I of the afternoon when Outlander outduelled Pont Alexandre, yet another Mullins inmate, in the Flogas Novice Chase. One of the most popular bets at Cheltenham will be “Willie Mullins Selected.”
Outlander sported the maroon and white star silks of Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown operation, a livery worn by five of the ten runners in the Irish Gold Cup and which looked certain to score as Road To Riches and Valseur Lido went to the last fence with the race between them. Valseur De Lido may have been cruising but a chronic slip pitched Ruby Walsh out of the saddle and the hard grip of exhaustion grabbed Road To Riches on the run in leaving Carlingford Lough and the green and gold McManus banner to sweep through from last to first. Fate will have its fun.
One final thing not hugely noticeable about yesterday’s finished bus becoming increasingly common this season is the increasing number of jockeys who in their desperation completely lose control of the reins. The most obvious case was that of Paddy Brennan on Cue Card in the King George VI at Kempton on Boxing Day. On the plus side Cue Card responded so gallantly to his jockey’s urgings to land the greatest win of the horse’s career. On the bad side Paddy only managed this by getting in a series of mighty swats with the whip for which he was rightly penalised.
As an ex-jockey I know the importance of a whip to a rider truth is that while its use can stimulate a horse to try harder the only actual way the animal goes quicker is to thrust more weight into the ground by its hind legs. If the jockey is driving in rhythm, he adds his ten stone to the horses half a ton. If he is flapping around in desperation, he is subtracting it. The poet Stevie Smith was given her nickname because someone thought she looked like the jockey Steve Donoghue when riding her pony. Her most famous line was “not waving but drowning.” Too many of today’s jockeys are into “not driving but flailing.” Have a look at the replays.