A FIVE-STAR ride saw Richard Johnson win a fifth Racing Post Chase – and Quinz gallop into Grand National contention.
There were no high-fives, however, in the Kempton winner’s enclosure; Johnson and trainer Philip Hobbs were in an animated discussion about the horse’s Aintree credentials.
“He’s in the Grand National, but Richard’s first reaction to that was ‘no’,” said Hobbs who was winning the prestigious handicap for a fourth time.
“He’s probably not grown up enough but, having said that, he’ll never have the same mark again. He may never have a better chance and Richard was coming round to that view.
“There’s no penalty and, at 10st 8lb, we may never be so well handicapped again.”
Running in Andrew Cohen’s blue and white star colours that were made famous by 1997 National second Suny Bay, Quinz was the beneficiary of another inspired ride by Johnson – the second most successful jockey of all time.
While Safari Adventures set a scorching and unsustainable gallop, Johnson bided his time on Quinz, lobbing alongside the Charlie Hall winner Nacarat.
Turning for home, it appeared to be a two-horse race between Quinz and Nacarat. But, after the latter fell away as the grey tried and failed to concede 12lb to Johnson’s mount, 50-1 outsider Mount Oscar emerged from another county under in-form Aidan Coleman.
However, while Mount Oscar was far from fluent at the last after momentarily taking the lead, Quinz jumped the fence clearly and pulled clear under a strong Johnson drive.
Perhaps the best compliment is that it was a winning ride that AP McCoy, Johnson’s great rival, would have been proud of.
As Channel Four pundit John Francome, the former champion jockey, said of Johnson: “If he was a boxer, you would have to shoot him to beat him.
“He never knows when he is beaten.”
Johnson smiled politely as he considers whether this horse could provide him with a first National victory after being backed down to 16-1 for Aintree.
Characteristically, he simply paid tribute to Quinz – the seven-year-old horse also has Cheltenham entries – and downplayed his own efforts.
“He’s got his confidence this year. As a novice, the main thing was to get out of the gate and give him some light. He jumped from fence to fence and I just had to point him,” said Johnson.
This was the third win of the season for Quinz. His only defeat came at Cheltenham when he was third to Time For Rupert who is now an even hotter favourite for Cheltenham’s RSA Chase.
The win – the first for Johnson and Hobbs in the Racing Post Chase since Farmer Jack prevailed six years ago – brought up a double after Arkle prospect Captain Chris won the Pendil Novices’ Chase with a creditable performance.
And, despite the heavy showers, Kempton’s stamina test – another reason why a visibly tired crowd favourite Nacarat now bypasses Cheltenham for Aintree’s Totesport Bowl – was more satisfactory than Newcastle’s card.
While so many meetings have been lost in the North, the sight of three horses – legless with fatigue – climbing over the final fence in the four mile Eider Chase, and then crossing the line at walking pace – did horse racing’s profile few favours.
A pillar to post run saw Campanero, wearing blinkers or the first time, prevailing for Howard Johnson’s yard by 30 lengths from the well-backed Giles Cross, with Morgan Be 188 yards further arrears in third for Middleham-based Kate Walton.
Richie McGrath’s mount stopped for a breather before the last before landing £2,769 prize money.
The conditions were so heavy that 2008 Grand National winner Comply Or Die was pulled up before the last.
The race was a triumphant spare ride for Peter Buchanan seven days after he won Haydock’s Grand National trial on Silver By Nature.
Ironically the Eider had Aintree comparisons – the desperately testing conditions had parallels with the going when Red Marauder won the ‘monsoon’ National a decade ago.
But Newcastle clerk of the course James Armstrong accepted that the race was a very poor spectacle, even though no horses were injured after the going was as close to unraceable as possible.
“I’d have to say, it wasn’t a nice race to watch,” he conceded after declaring Newcastle fit for racing after an early morning inspection. “It didn’t look good, but what do you do?
“The Eider is a very tough race every year and this year we got heavy ground, but although it’s heavy, it’s not particularly unsafe ground.
“Everyone who took part knew what it would be like.”
Locally, Sue Smith’s Gansey continued his upward progression by winning Newcastle’s opening handicap chase.