Twenty years to the day after the ‘voice of racing’ hung up his microphone, there was a thrilling three-way finish to the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase that the great man would have relished.
Trained by Nicky Henderson, the seven-year-old showed no signs of race-rustiness after 239 days off the track as he rallied on the run-in to hold Warriors Tale and Gentleman Jon in a thrilling finish complicated by the presence of the riderless On Tour.
Gold Present, prominent throughout, looked beaten for a few strides as Gentleman Jon and Warriors Tale went ahead of him before Nico de Boinville – one of the best big race riders in the business got a renewed effort out of his mount who has a bright future.
Henderson said: “I took him to Aintree (Topham Chase), which was a brave thing to do with a novice. There was a bit of Aintree still in his jumping today. He jumped the fences like he was still there.
“The funny thing is he was going out right and he normally goes out left. I think he wants three miles. I thought Nico was very good. He blew up turning into the straight, but he blew up far enough out to let him get his second wind and have one run at them at the end.
“What a lovely race to win. Sir Peter was a great mate. It’s very special.”
Cotton, from Harrogate, heads the Mirfield-based John Cotton Group which manufactures pillows, duvets and mattress protectors.
However the aforementioned De Boinville was out of luck in the Ladbrokes Trophy – formerly the Hennessy – when 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree was pulled up.
Mark and Sara Bradstock’s injury-prone champion may now have a wind operation – no physical abnomalities were reported following a race won by Total Recall.
Paul Townend’s mount got the better of the Henderson-trained Whisper on the run-in to become the first Irish-trained winner since Bright Highway in 1980.
The winner is trained by Willie Mullins whose Be My Royal was disqualified from first place in 2002 after testing positive for a banned substance caused by contaminated food.
Fulsome in his praise of Townend who was deputising for the injured Ruby Walsh, he said: “The horse was very cool and Paul was very cool. We all thought he was going well until the second-last and it fell apart a bit.
“It wasn’t until the final 150 yards that I thought ‘we have a life here’. I imagine the horse in front was feeling just being in front so long.
“It is a race that any jumps trainer wants to win. It’s a fantastic race and we have just got to hold on to it this time. It (Be My Royal) was very disappointing at the time, but hopefully that is laid to rest.
“We will look at more handicaps, but we will have to look if he is better than that. We will let him get over this and recover. He will definitely get an entry in the Gold Cup after that run. I imagine the entries will close before he runs again.”
Elegant Escape put up a gutsy front-running display to open his account over fences in the Ladbrokes John Francome Novices’ Chase at Newbury.
Second on his two previous tries over the bigger obstacles, Elegant Escape justified trainer Colin Tizzard’s hopes with an improved effort from four older rivals.
Harry Cobden had the five-year-old jumping well from the outset and had enough in hand over the Bryony Frost-ridden Black Corton.
Tizzard will now look at the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton over Christmas for the winner, who was second to budding superstar Samcro in a point-to-point in Ireland in April last year. “He jumps and jumping is the name of the game,” said the trainer. “He is a beautiful young horse and the rest were older. He stayed on lovely and it was a good performance. He is a lovely big staying chaser.”