HARVEY Smith enjoyed an early 80th birthday celebration when Cracking Find won the Castleford Chase, the day two highlight of Wetherby’s Christmas meeting.
This gutsy horse, whose heart makes up for his lack of size, prevailed in a photo-finish from Marracudja with neither the victorious rider Sean Quinlan, nor runner-up Harry Skelton, certain of the outcome.
“He’s a pleasure to train, a sweet little horse,” enthused the Bingley showjumping legend ahead of his landmark birthday on Saturday.
“The jockey was in this morning riding out before coming racing. Sean works hard. No day is too long for him.”
Like Danny Cook who was at Chepstow where Vintage Clouds was pulled up in the Welsh Grand National which was won by Colin Tizzard’s Elegant Escape, Smith – and his wife Sue – continue to support no-nonsense jockeys who have a strong work ethic.
Indeed, it was Cook who nominated the Castleford Chase for Cracking Find after a string of placed efforts this season.
The first time the Smith team have won this historic two-mile chase since the crowdpleasing Mister McGoldrick prevailed in 2005, it was Micky Hammond’s defending champion Just Cameron who set the early pace under Joe Colliver from Cracking Find.
Yet, as Just Cameron made way for the pursuers on the final bend, Cracking Find and Marracudja fought it out for the lead with Brian Hughes playing a waiting game on Forest Bihan.
However, while the Brian Ellison-trained Forest Bihan travelled best of all, Cracking Find was big and brave at all four fences up the home straight, and this ultimately proved to be the difference.
“I’m very pleased for Sue and Harvey. It’s an amazing team,” said victorious owner Ann Ellis after the decision to step Cracking Find up in class was vindicated. “I’m very happy and very lucky to have horses with them.”
We just outjumped the speed horses. He didn’t miss the last four fences and gained lengths at each one. Sue’s horses are just coming right and it was Danny who picked out this race.Sean Quinlan
And the aforementioned Quinlan was delighted with the triumph. “I was 60 per cent sure I had held on. I’m normally 100 per cent,” he said, after the winning margin of a nose was confirmed.
“We just outjumped the speed horses. He didn’t miss the last four fences and gained lengths at each one. Sue’s horses are just coming right and it was Danny who picked out this race.”
Even though Quinlan incurred a two-day ban for a whip infraction, he followed up a double at Sedgefield on Boxing Day with a treble at Wetherby.
His first success of the day came courtesy of novice chaser Top Ville Ben. Trained near Catterick by the in form Phil Kirby, the smart six-year-old was a wide-margin winner and could return to Wetherby for the Grade Two Towton Novices’ Chase in early February.
Kirby said the horse, now unbeaten from two starts over larger obstacles, could be given an entry in the Grade One RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival “now that he is less of tearaway”.
Discay’s win in the concluding handicap hurdle completed Quinlan’s treble and marked a double for Kirby, Wetherby’s leading trainer this season.
Earlier, the Jamie Hamilton-ridden Northern Soul was a popular winner of the opening novice hurdle for Malton trainer Ruth Jefferson.
A half-brother to her late father Malcolm’s 2012 Cheltenham Festival winner Attaglance, she described the horse as “a work in progress” who could develop into a chaser.
The victory provided Jefferson with some compensation after her Grade One winner Waiting Patiently was unluckily brought down in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Though the horse, previously unbeaten from six starts over larger fences, appeared to gallop away from the melee unscathed, she says he will be checked over by a vet before future plans are discussed with owner Richard Collins.
Altior cruised to victory in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton to extend his unbeaten record over jumps to 16 races.
After defeats for high-profile stablemates Buveur D’Air and Might Bite 24 hours earlier, trainer Nicky Henderson was relieved by the Queen Mother Champion Chase hero’s routine success.