IF ever a horse was deserving of an Aintree win, it is Oscar Time, who defied his veteran status in the Betfred Becher Chase to provide pilot Sam Waley-Cohen with a fabulous fifth career win over the Grand National fences.
Second to Ballabriggs in the 2011 National and fourth two years later to Yorkshire legend Auroras Encore after disputing the lead heading to the last, Oscar Time’s win was special because the 13-year-old is owned and trained by the amateur rider’s father, Robert.
After picking up an injury in the 2013 National, the Waley-Cohen team nursed the horse back to fitness in point-to-point races and hunter chases, most notably an eye-catching win at Wetherby on The Yorkshire Post Ladies Night in the Spring.
Sent off as a 25-1 chance, Oscar Time was always going well back at his favourite course and the winning jockey did not panic when the heavily-backed Our Father burst clear three out.
When Our Father began to falter at the penultimate fence, Oscar Time was left in front and had enough in the tank to hold off Mendip Express by three-quarters of a length, with Saint Are third and Alfie Spinner fourth. Last year’s winner Chance Du Roy was fifth for Tom O’Brien. There was a sad postscript when Ballabriggan was put down after fracturing a leg between the ninth and 10th fences.
Oscar Time will not line up in the Crabbie’s Grand National next April – the horse is 14 on New Year’s Day and connections feel the extra mile will be too much to expect of their family favourite.
“The run-in felt very long as Oscar Time doesn’t do much in front and I could hear the other horse coming, but, my horse has pulled out enough. He is a great horse and part of the family at home,” said Waley-Cohen. “You’ve got to have the right horse for the Grand National course and anyone could have ridden Oscar Time today, he’s such a good ride over these fences.
“It has been a great course for me and it suits me in lots of ways. Jockeys ride most racecourses week in, week out and I come out once in a blue moon and I have to learn the course. But we have all ridden this course roughly the same amount, so it is a bit more balanced up.”
Waley-Cohen, whose incredible record over the fences also includes three seconds, a third and a fourth, nearly made it a sixth success aboard Cedre Bleu in the Betfred Grand Sefton but the David Pipe-trained Poole Master held on in gritty style.
He had led from start to finish under Tom Scudamore, who became the first member of this famous racing family to win over the National course since his grandfather Michael, who died earlier this year, won the 1959 National on Oxo.
“He was electric, he loves it round here. I’ve had a couple of goes here but never really been in contention and that’s my first win over these fences. It’s a tremendous thrill, the thrill of a lifetime,” said the winning rider.
The Frankie Dettori-bred Dodging Bullets provided champion trainer Paul Nicholls with a ninth victory in the 888Sport Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.
Sam Twiston-Davies’s mount pounced at the second last when the ultra-consistent Somersby faltered briefly, while novice God’s Own never recovered from a first-fence blunder.
The winner’s target will be the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March.
The race was marred by the fatal fall of Nicky Henderson’s popular Oscar Whisky, a stalwart of National Hunt racing.
There was a heart-warming win for former Yorkshire jockey Harry Haynes in the marathon London National Handicap Chase when he partnered Tales Of Milan to victory for trainer Phil Middleton, who has just four horses at his Buckinghamshire stables.
Haynes has just resumed riding in Britain after a stint in America and connections hope Tales of Milan, who was following up on his Doncaster win of eight days previously, could become a Grand National contender – the dream is an attainable one.
A competitive card at Wetherby saw veteran trainer Mick Easterby complete a double courtesy of Saints and Sinners and then Lightening Rod, who was recording a fifth win at the track.
The feature chase went to Sue Smith’s Stagecoach Pearl. A temperamental horse who has to be trained on his own, work rider Callum Bewley gave the 10-year-old a fine ride with some exuberant jumps in the back straight.
Crockett was an unexpected winner of the concluding Bumper for Middleham trainer Noel Wilson and jockey John Kington.
Wishfull Thinking continued to defy his advancing years as he put up a bold display of jumping to win the Betfred Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon.
He did well to hold off 7-4 favourite Eduard to clinch the race by a length-and-a-half.