MALCOLM Jefferson has always held Oscar Rock in the highest of regard. Yet it is only now, with the Yorkshire trainer’s string of horses back in tip-top form, that the novice chaser is beginning to show his true class.
Back-to-back wins, first at Newcastle and then at Kelso on Saturday, have left the Malton trainer contemplating an appearance at the Crabbie’s Grand National meeting for his lightly-raced seven-year-old.
In many respects, Oscar Rock’s form this season is emblematic of the fluctuating fortunes endured by Jefferson. The horse’s two reverses late last year at Haydock and Kelso were symptomatic of an out-of-sorts stable that could not buy a winner.
However, Oscar Rock’s latest success, secured with an exuberant leap at the last, was the yard’s 20th triumph of the season. Just as significantly, it took stable jockey Brian Hughes to the 93-winner mark for the campaign.
Firmly ensconced in fifth place in the jockeys’ championship, Hughes will be hopeful of recording his first century of winners.
He needs seven more successes before the current campaign ends in a month.
The landmark would be a fitting reward for the insatiable work ethic of the North Yorkshire-based rider, who rode the gallant Somersby to a heartwarming second-place finish in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Northern-based jump jockeys have never had to work harder for mounts – meetings at the likes of Wetherby, Doncaster and Catterick are increasingly targeted by the top yards from the South – but few ride these tracks better than the no-nonsense Hughes.
As for Oscar Rock, Jefferson wants to let his stable star enjoy an easy week following the Kelso race before deciding targets.
“He did it nicely and we were very pleased with him,” he said.
“I think if they’d gone a bit quicker it would have suited him better, but I thought he jumped pretty well on the whole.
“He stood off one fence and dragged his back legs through it a bit, but he was always travelling well, he never looked like falling and it was only his third run over fences. He jumped the last like it was the first.
“We’ll just wait and see what we do now. There’s a two-and-a-half-mile novice (chase) at Aintree, there’s the Future Champions at Ayr and then there’s Perth.
“We’ll see how he is in a week or so, but I’ve led him out this morning for a pick of grass and he seems fine and happy in himself.
“He’s not a big horse that takes a lot out of himself – he’s a nippy sort of horse – and it’s just nice he’s back to what we thought. There’s three novice chases at Aintree so you wouldn’t think they’d all have big fields. We’ll probably give him an entry.”
There was another heartwarming win for the connections of Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree when Carruthers rolled back the years to land Newbury’s feature chase on Saturday.
Like the Cheltenham winner, Carruthers was bred by the late Lord Oaksey from the mare Plaid Mad and is trained by his daughter Sara Bradstock and her husband Mark.
A former winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, many thought that the best days of Carruthers were behind him but he was given an inspired ride by the season’s leading conditional Nico de Boinville, who partnered Coneygree to glory 10 days ago.
Ecstatic Mark Bradstock said of Carruthers: “He doesn’t know how to give up. He’s been going seriously well at home and it was horrendous ground at Uttoxeter which was why we took him out of the Midlands National.
“I’m not sure if he will continue racing next year. We always have an AGM in the summer and we thought about going point-to-pointing, but I’m not sure if he’s qualified to do that now after winning this race.”
One horse who could upstage Coneygree and Carruthers is 14-year-old Oscar Time, who is still on course for a tilt at next month’s Crabbie’s Grand National.
Second to Ballabriggs in 2011, and fourth to Sue Smith’s Auroras Encore in 2013, the horse continues to show great enthusiasm after winning a hunter chase at Wetherby last June.
Robert Waley-Cohen’s veteran won the Becher Chase at Aintree before finishing fourth in a veterans’ chase at Doncaster last month, and has a great affinity with the trainer’s amateur rider son Sam, whose record over the unique National fences remains second-to-none.
Trainer Robert Waley-Cohen, whose colours were carried with great distinction by 2011 Gold Cup winner Long Run, said: “Oscar Time is in very good order. He went to Kempton for a racecourse gallop, that went very well and he seems very well, so it’s all systems go. I didn’t expect him to be going back for the National at the start of the season, but he won over the fences in December which is not that long ago. The Doncaster run was fine and we know he’s a much better horse at Liverpool than he is anywhere else.
“People tell me no 14-year-old has ever won the National, but Sam tells me he doesn’t feel any different to how he felt going into the race in December, so he definitely deserves a shot at it.”