EVEN though Silviniaco Conti’s victory in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase could not have been more emphatic, big race jockey Ruby Walsh was still talking about the victor’s “potential” rather than predicting King George or Cheltenham Gold Cup glory.
Perhaps it takes more to convince the mercurial Walsh following his long association with horses like the legendary Kauto Star. Perhaps he was conscious of the moderate pace during Wetherby’s £100,000 race, hence caution about the six-year-old’s ability to step up to Grade One level.
There was also the fact that the Paul Nicholls-trained 11-10 favourite was chased home by Wayward Price, a steeplechaser with a modest reputation.
“He was the most inexperienced horse in the field, but he didn’t ride as though he was.
“His jumping was fantastic and at every fence I seemed to be getting that bit closer to the others,” said Walsh in his post-race debrief.
“He had some good form last season, he won at Wincanton and then was second to Grands Crus in the Feltham and there was no disgrace in that.
“We think he’s got the potential to go to the next level. Potential, but still a way to go.”
That “next level” will include an entry in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day which has been monopolised by Kauto Star in recent years, although Nicholls expressed doubts yesterday about whether Kempton’s right-handed track will suit Silviniaco Conti.
The champion trainer also has to consider the merits of Cristal Bonus and Kauto Stone, half-brother to Kauto Star, after their impressive victories at Down Royal.
But this two-day Charlie Hall meeting will always be remembered for AP McCoy’s facial injuries on Friday – and the horsemanship of Walsh, the champion jockey’s great friend and rival, whose three rides at Wetherby all yielded popular successes.
After the three-year-old French import Sametegal ran away with Friday’s Wensleydale Juvenile Hurdle, it was a former champion at the opposite end of the age spectrum – Tidal Bay – who brought the horse down in the John Smith’s Hurdle.
The 2008 Arkle Trophy winner, now a veteran at the age of 11, is an enigma. He can often tail himself off before consenting to race. In a race that saw Malcolm Jefferson’s Cheltenham hero Cape Tribulation fail to fire, Walsh just coaxed his seemingly ageless mount into the race – before a mighty leap at the final flight provided Tidal Bay with the momentum to catch Crack Away Jack on the run-in, with Alan King’s heavily-backed Smad Place back in third.
Smad Place was very disappointing, given that he had been third to the record-breaking Big Buck’s and Walsh, in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
It is also possible the veteran Fair Along, twice a winner of the John Smith’s Hurdle and who plugged on for fourth, will be retired – the 10-year-old has nothing left to prove.
But Tidal Bay’s owner Graham Wylie was ecstatic. “Paul said to Ruby just to let him do his own thing and creep into the race. I knew he’d win jumping the last. Paul said he’s been like a six-year-old at home,” Wylie told the Yorkshire Post.
“He has an awkward head carriage and jumps as if his legs are in every county, but people adore him. He’ll be entered in the Betfair Chase and Hennessy, whichever has the softer ground. He’ll have a Grand National entry but will only run if it is bog.”
A cold, crisp day was warmed by two Yorkshire winners – David O’Meara’s Rose Of The Moon and Tim Easterby’s Trustan Times. There was also a Paddy Brennan riding masterclass on novice hurdler Lordofthehouse who conceded 20 lengths before winning, and Nicky Henderson’s mare Une Artiste confirming her promise under young conditional Jeremiah McGrath. He did not ride this summer in order to preserve his weight allowance.
Ironically his two rides on Une Artiste, at Wetherby and the Cheltenham Festival in March, have both been winning ones and hurdling’s top handicaps await.
But this meeting will be remembered for the manner of Silviniaco Conti’s win. Though not the most imposing of horses, he could be destined for the top – and that is good news for NH racing and also the revered status of Wetherby’s premier race.
Injury fails to stop McCoy as he wins at Ascot
AP McCoy showed his powers of recovery to drive home My Tent Or Yours at Ascot, just 24 hours after a fall at Wetherby in which a stray hoof kicked him in the face.
The 17-times champion reportedly had up to 30 stitches at York Hospital – he declined any anaesthetic – and then emergency treatment to three broken teeth on his way home from Yorkshire.
To the astonishment of racegoers, and trainer Nicky Henderson, the seemingly indestructible 38-year-old described his injuries as “very superficial”.
That may be so. He has, after all, ridden winners before with a fractured ankle – or broken collarbone – but McCoy’s courage continues to be limitless.
The champion is in action at Kempton today as racing’s attention turns to the Melbourne Cup early tomorrow where Ed Dunlop’s Red Cadeaux, beaten a nose 12 months ago, heads a strong European contingent looking for a boost after a disappointing Breeders Cup’ in the USA.
Classy York winners The Fugue, Shareta and Dundonnell all failed to win, although an inspired Ryan Moore landed the Juvenile Turf on Aidan O’Brien’s George Vancouver.