Confident Burke shows obvious class once again

BURSTING THROUGH: Goonyella and Jonathan Burke going on to win the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA
BURSTING THROUGH: Goonyella and Jonathan Burke going on to win the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA
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REMEMBER the name. Jonathan Burke showed why he is regarded as the best young rider on both sides of the Irish Sea when winning the Betfred Midlands National on the gutsy Goonyella.

It was the talented teenager’s first victory in Britain, his composure in the saddle at Uttoxeter suggested that his will be a name to conjure as National Hunt racing prepares for life after the legendary AP McCoy.

This, after all, is an 18-year-old trainer’s son who had ridden just 12 winners as a professional when he was plucked from relative obscurity to become first rider to owners Alan and Ann Potts whose red, green and yellow colours remain synonymous with former Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Sizing Europe.

Though 18-year-old Burke’s seven rides at Cheltenham last week did not yield any winners, he was third on Sizing John in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle before going one closer aboard Grand Jesture in the concluding novice handicap chase on the Festival’s opening day.

While his contemporary Bryan Cooper was struggling to cope with the weight of expectation as number one rider to Gigginstown House Stud – his accumulated whip offences mean that he will miss the English and Irish Nationals – the calm Burke, mature beyond his years, was still prepared to get his hands dirty at Cheltenham and lead up horses.

He lives with Ruby Walsh’s understudy Paul Townend, a great race tactician, and Goonyella’s success could be attributed to the rider’s patience in stamina-sapping conditions before taking up the running in the home straight.

A delighted Burke said: “He deserves it more than any horse in training. He’s very consistent and he’s very tough. I was in front half-a-mile too soon, but he’s jumped his way there. He was idling in front, but got there. I want to thank everyone at home for giving me the opportunity.”

The only negative is Goonyella is very unlikely to make the 40-runner cut for the Crabbie’s Grand National because the handicap was announced before Saturday’s test.

The horse’s low rating was not helped by a first fence fall last December in the Becher Chase over the world-famous Aintree obstacles; an experience that Burke, still a three-pound claimer, will learn on.

Goonyella hails from the County Meath yard of Jim Dreaper and was overseen at Uttoxeter by the trainer’s son, Tom, who was formerly conditional rider with Ferdy Murphy in West Witton, North Yorkshire.

Dreaper junior is steeped in racing – his grandfather Tom trained the triple Gold Cup winner Arkle – and he speaks in glowing terms about Burke’s affinity with horses.

He said: “The rider’s 3lb claim put him in 3lb better off and it worked out great. It was the right race for him – four miles on heavy ground around a big, fair track. We’re over the moon.

“We came for a reason. We thought of the likes of the Kim Muir at Cheltenham and the Irish National, but three-and-a-half (miles) is not far enough. This was the survival of the fittest and he’s got plenty of ability. He’s got no chance of getting in the Grand National.

“What we’ll do now, I don’t know. Good ground at Fairyhouse (in the Irish Grand National) is just too sharp for him. If every horse could win one of these in their career you’d be happy enough.”

The Uttoxeter undercard saw a very taking win for the Sue and Harvey Smith-trained De Vous A Moi, who is owned by Neil and Julie Morgan of Kalahari King fame.

A horse who showed considerable potential in France, the seven-year-old has taken time to get over various injury setbacks and proved that his recent 11-length win at Catterick was no fluke when making all under the in-form conditional rider Jonathan England.

Soft ground clearly suits the horse who runs with great confidence for Guiseley-based England who has been working tirelessly on his fitness and who showcased his own riding skills last week with victories on successive days at Towcester, Fakenham and Uttoxeter. If he keeps his feet on the ground, he will get more opportunities.

As for De Vous A Moi, his 11-length victories at both Catterick and Uttoxeter means that he will be stepping up in grade next season.

Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree will not run again this season after becoming the first novice in more than 40 years to win jump racing’s blue riband race.

However, winning trainer Mark Bradstock’s elated wife Sara suggested that the horse might attempt to emulate Denman next season and win Newbury’s Hennessy Gold Cup off top weight.

She also revealed that two downhill fences were built on the gallops to help Coneygree prepare for Cheltenham’s unique test – and that her son Alfie schooled the horse every day last week prior to the big race.

“We pay a tremendous amount of detail to all our horses’ preparations, and that’s got to help,” she said. “I do hope that what happened is a shot in the arm for all small trainers. It’s hard to believe a little 10-horse yard can do what we did, but they can.”