KASHMIR Peak’s journey across the Irish Sea to John Quinn’s yard may have been a slightly fortuitous one, but the three-year-old is now only heading in one direction – to Cheltenham and the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the National Hunt Festival.
This is the Grade One race for four-year-old juvenile hurdlers which Quinn’s Countrywide Flame won last season, and this success ironically played a role in Kashmir Peak – victorious at Doncaster on Saturday – making the trip to the trainer’s stables at Norton.
County Meath trainer Ger Lyons had offered the three-year-old Flat horse to Quinn, but the North Yorkshire handler did not have a buyer.
When he was in a position to make a deal, it was seemingly too late – Kashmir Peak had been purchased by the aptly-named Win Only SP Partnership.
Yet, in a twist of fate, the newly-formed syndicate decided that Quinn was the trainer that they wanted after Countrywide Flame followed up his Triumph win with a battling second-place at the Aintree festival.
It looks to be a winning move, the horse winning at Market Rasen before showing tremendous battling qualities on Town Moor to beat the Paul Nicholls-trained Sametegal and Nicky Henderson’s Vasco du Ronceray.
Asked whether his new acquisition was Triumph-bound, Quinn said: “Absolutely. Why not?”
He revealed in the Doncaster winner’s enclosure that his rising star – who pricked his ears approaching the finishing line –would have two more runs before Cheltenham to gain greater experience.
“We won this race last year with a very likeable horse in Royal Bonsai,” added Quinn. “He’ll be aimed at the Triumph. Ger trained him on the Flat and said there was plenty there. He really liked him. He’s as tough as nails.”
As for Countrywide Flame, he’ll be entered in Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day and the Istabraq Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29.
Quinn favours the latter because it is a galloping track; the negative is that it will feature the 2011 Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly.
“I supposed we’ve got to take him on some time,” he added.
Kashmir Peak was ridden by Dougie Costello, who went on to complete a double when Court By Surprise just prevailed in a frantic finish to the three-mile BetVictor Handicap Chase by a nose from Jonny England on Night In Milan – one more stride and the runner-up would have prevailed.
Court By Surprise was a second winner on the day at Doncaster for in-form trainer Emma Lavelle after Easter Meteor won the two mile, three furlong chase under Guiseley-born Dominic Elsworth, who had also landed the opener on Lucy Wadham’s Wiesentraum – a race which saw Malton-born Andrew Tinkler fortunately emerge unscathed when Kings Lodge crashed out at the final fence.
With other winners at Lingfield and Cheltenham, Lavelle was enjoying the first four-timer of her burgeoning career – a feat surpassed by the aforementioned Nicholls whose Rocky Creek won the novice chase at Doncaster under Grand National-winning jockey Daryl Jacob before the champion trainer won four races at Cheltenham.
Far West, ridden by Ruby Walsh, won Cheltenham’s JCB Triumph Hurdle before the rider partnered Shooters Wood to victory in the Jenny Mould Handicap Chase, outbattling his great friend and rival AP McCoy on His Excellency.
Harry Derham, the 18-year-old nephew to Nicholls, was in the saddle when Unioniste became the first four-year-old to win the Paul Stewart Handicap Chase, the day’s feature, before Zarkandar – and that man Walsh – won the International Hurdle.
On unsuitably soft ground for the main protagonists, he outfought Henderson’s Grandouet and the reigning champion Rock On Ruby – the victor was made 6-1 second favourite for the Champion Hurdle behind the aforementioned Hurriciane Fly.The victory offered some consolation to Walsh after the Nicholls-trained Cristal Bonus had to be pulled up with a fatal injury in the Stewart race.
Like Al Ferof who won last month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup on similarly heavy ground, Unioniste runs in the colours of top owner John Hales.
He was among the first to give a bear hug to a mud-splattered Derham as he jumped off the winner, who was no match for David Pipe’s top novice Dynaste at the track a month ago – form which is worth noting.
The teenager’s first winner since the conditional jockey’s weight allowance dropped to 5lb, Derham said: “He never missed a beat the whole way.
“He jumped fantastic and jumped his way into the race.
“He had no weight on his back and I was always pretty confident from the second last that I’d get to Walkon.”
Nevertheless Nicholls was in a bullish mood afterwards, saying it was “onwards and upwards” for his stable after a week dominated by the controversial removal of the legendary Kauto Star from his Ditcheat yard after a bitter falling out with the retired champion’s owner Clive Smith.
The trainer said he “had never been more embarrassed” and apologised for any upset that had been caused to Kauto Star’s adoring fans; Nicholls wanted the two-time Gold Cup winner to remain at Ditcheat, while Smith believes the 12-year-old has the potential to become a successful dressage horse.
One retiring veteran not taking up dressage is Hello Bud. Though the 14-year-old winner of the Becher Chase over Aintree’s Grand National fences has been retired by owner-trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, he will remain at the stables.
Twiston-Davies has also gifted the horse to his son Sam who rode him with such aplomb on several occasions at Aintree; the jockey saying that he can’t wait to go hunting with ‘Budley’ who he claims to love as much as his parents.
Felix de Giles received a 12-day ban for taking the wrong course at Lingfield.
The jockey was quick to realise his error and pulled up the 2-1 favourite Take Over Sivola shortly afterwards.
His suspension begins on December 29.