HENRY OLIVER and Neil Mulholland, two horsemen who served their apprenticeships at illustrious yards in Yorkshire, proved their prowess as rising stars of the training ranks by saddling significant victories on day one of Cheltenham’s prestigous Open meeting.
Keel Haul was a first success at the home of racing for Oliver, who enjoyed a successful association with Sue and Harvey Smith before pursuing a training career, while Mulholland’s Shantou Village maintained his unbeaten welcome with a classy win in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle – a race with a rich history,
First Keel Haul. The seven-year-old stayed on stoutly to deny Minella Present in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Cheltenham under resurgent jockey James Davies whose career is firmly back in the ascendancy following several seasons in the wilderness.
The horse was owned by Richard Whitehead whose Restless Harry won the 2011 West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby with Oliver, a former champion conditional rider, in the saddle. “That was fantastic,” eulogised the trainer.
“To be honest I was a bit unsure about this horse two days ago, as you can see he’s got quite shallow feet and he had a bit of a stone bruise, but luckily the farrier sorted out.
“We’ve always held this horse in high regard. He had a nice run round Stratford a couple of weeks ago and I haven’t done much with him since. I’ve just cantered him around recently to try and bring him here a fresh horse.
“It’s important for the owner (Richard Whitehead) who is a great supporter and it’s his first winner of the season. Hopefully, we can try and get some new owners in at the yard now which we’re always trying to do.”
That sentiment was shared by Davies who was recording his first Cheltenham winner as a jockey – his career reached such a low that he spent one summer working as an extra in the World War One blockbuster film War Horse before teaming up with Worcestershire-based Oliver.
This was the jockey’s third winner of the week following the successes of Dresden at Aintree last Saturday and Foxcub’s victory at Huntingdon on Tuesday.
“Mr Whitehead is very good to us at Henry’s yard and Henry’s an up and coming trainer who can definitely do the job so hopefully he can get some more horses off the back of this. There’s nothing like riding a winner here – I’m delighted,” said Davies, who is in action at Wetherby today.
“Keel Haul had plenty of horses to pass up the home straight but he does his best work when he’s passing horses so it’s all worked out well.”
Meanwhile, Shantou Village could be a potential future star for Mulholland who was a conditional rider for West Witton trainer Ferdy Murphy in his younger days before becoming established as one of the country’s best – and most ambitious – young trainers.
Now based in the West country, the five-year-old appears to have limitless potential after powering 15 lengths clear of his well-regarded rivals to land the top novice hurdle.
Jockey Noel Fehily, who recorded his 1,000th career winner 10 days ago, certainly thinks so. “He’s a very, very good jumper. This horse will only get better, which is nice,” said the rider.
As for Mulholland, who recorded a first victory at the National Hunt Festival in March with The Druids Nephew, jump racing’s premier meeting is now on the agenda for Shantou Village who is now unbeaten from three starts.
“He won very, very well and we were very, very happy. We still don’t know how good he is,” said Mulholland, who believes the horse could be even better when stepped up to three miles. “He’s lazy – he only does what you ask him to do – and he’s a lovely horse to have in the yard.”
Meanwhile, More Of That put his troubles firmly behind him as he made an emphatic debut over fences in the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase.
The 2014 Ladbrokes World Hurdle hero, owned by JP McManus, was having his first race since a wind problem was discovered nearly 12 months ago.
Now ante-post favourite for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham next March, trainer Jonjo O’Neill observed: “That was the perfect start. Hopefully it is onwards and upwards. He was a great horse over hurdles and hopefully he’ll be even better over fences.”