An exciting novice last season when winning three races before finishing fourth in a Grade One race at Aintree’s Grand National meeting, the jockey said yesterday’s reappearance could not have gone better.
Trained at High Eldwick by Sue and Harvey Smith, Wakanda runs in the blue and yellow colours of Ray Scholey whose Truckers Tavern – the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up – won the 2004 Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby and whose Straidnahanna, another exciting prospect, was narrowly beaten at Kelso last weekend.
Cook believes the six-year-old Wakanda had yesterday’s race secure when the pursuing Fago and Sam Twiston-Davies made a mistake at the last.
“He was relaxed. He can normally be quite keen – he has obviously grown up a bit,” the winning rider told The Yorkshire Post after the four-and-a-half length victory.
“He was always travelling well, picked up turning in for home and galloped all the way to the line.
“Fago was coming to me, but my boy picked up and had him covered at the last. It was genuine soft ground.”
Cook says there are no concrete plans – he described yesterday’s race as a “fact-finding mission” to see how Wakanda could perform at this elevated level.
“He’s a really nice prospect. He’s not the most exuberant jumper, but he’s neat at his fences,” added the rider. “I really like Straidnahanna, but he’s a big raw horse just coming into himself while Wakanda is a ready-made horse.”
In the Weatherbys Hamilton Wensleydale Juvenile Hurdle, odds-on favourite Leoncavallo – trained by John Ferguson – had to dig deep to prevail by a nose from Sceau Royal with Tim Easterby’s course winner Our Thomas back in third.
The latter’s jockey Brian Hughes, now firmly established as the North’s leading rider, did enjoy a double courtesy of Cooper and Blue Kascade while Bruce Almighty took the finale for Middleham handler Phil Kirby.
An additional highlight to the Charlie Hall Chase, which has attracted seven top class runners, is Harry Fry’s 2012 Champion Hurdle hero Rock On Ruby in the bet365 West Yorkshire Hurdle.
This is the race that was won 12 months ago by the Gavin Sheehan-ridden Cole Harden before the combination landed the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
It will be Rock On Ruby’s first attempt at three miles, and Fry knows that today’s race will determine whether the 10-year-old can become a genuine World Hurdle contender to rival the Warren Greatrex-trained Cole Harden.
Fry said: “He is running over three miles for the first time, so it is a step into the unknown, but everything that I have seen at home suggests that the further he goes the better he will be.
“The ground was soft the two times he won at Cheltenham last year and I don’t think it will be that bad up there – he is more than fit enough to do himself justice. He is showing all his old enthusiasm and we are looking forward to seeing him run. Hopefully we will be cheering him on to victory.”
A switch to chasing will be on the cards should Kilcooley fail to have an impact, according to trainer Charlie Longsdon, while the rain has been welcomed by connections of the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Splash Of Ginge. Closing Ceremony, Aqalim, Goldan Jess, Grumeti, No Planning and The Druids Nephew have also been declared for a compelling contest.
Champion trainer John Gosden has paid tribute to Golden Horn as his stable star prepares to race for the final time in tonight’s Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland in Kentucky.
The horse has not looked back since winning York’s Dante Stakes in May, winning the Epsom Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in a glorious campaign. The only blemish came in a messily run Juddmonte International.
“He probably has the most remarkable constitution of any horse I have trained,” said Gosden. “He shipped here weighing two kilos more than he did when he flew to Paris for the Arc and he put the weight back on very quickly when he got home from his exertions in the Arc.
“He has grown physically in the course of his three-year-old year and matured. Ideally, I would like to be coming to a race like this with a four-year-old or five-year-old, but he’s retiring and going to stud, so this is our only shot at it.”
Meanwhile Mondialiste’s appearance in the Breeders’ Cup Mile marks Nawton trainer David O’Meara’s first runner at America’s blue riband meeting.
Runner-up in the Lincoln at Doncaster in March, the horse won a Listed race at Pontefract and a Group Three at York in the summer before taking the Grade One Woodbine Mile in Canada.