NATIONAL Hunt stalwarts triumphed over their Flat counterparts when Ile de Re completed a remarkable Chester Cup triumph for trainer Donald McCain and jockey Jim Crowley, a one-time rider for Sue and Harvey Smith.
McCain was also responsible for Overturn, the Champion Hurdle runner-up, who was on the brink of winning this unique race for staying Flat horses until being overhauled by his stablemate with a furlong to go.
A recent acquisition for McCain, the 2011 Grand National-winning trainer, from the yard of Ian Williams, Ile de Re is well-known to Doncaster racegoers – he unseated his jockey in last year’s November Handicap before chasing home Open Hearted, owned by the Queen, in a hurdle contest on Town Moor.
“He was being a bit fractious at the start but I managed to get a good position after a furlong and we got a good trip all the way round,” said Crowley, the most successful of the growing number of National Hunt jockeys to have made the switch to the Flat.
“He travelled nicely and he was loving the ground so I was pretty confident and I knew he’d keep going.”
Eddie Ahern had the field strung out like washing as Overturn (7-1) made a brave attempt to win again, but he could not quite give 13lb to Ile de Re who made relentless progress on the final circuit for Jim Crowley and won in good style by a length and three-quarters.
Mark Johnston’s Gulf Of Naples (11-2 co-favourite) was five lengths away in third with the Middleham handler’s Eternal Heart (14-1) a long way back in fourth.
“Ian Williams deserves a lot of the credit as he did a lot of the work and we’ve only had him a few weeks,” said McCain who enjoyed big race success at the Cheltenham Festival with Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Cinders and Ashes.
“It was a brave run from the old horse as well. I don’t quite know how to feel as Overturn has beaten everything bar the other one. I thought he’d win two furlongs out but the weight on that ground has taken its toll.
“Overturn is in the Ascot Gold Cup as well as the Queen Alexandra and that race would suit him. I shall speak to Tim (Leslie, owner) but I expect he’ll end up running in one of those races at Ascot.
“We’d thought of the Northumberland Plate for Ile De Re but if he doesn’t win another race for us, it doesn’t matter.
“Flat racing is not the be-all-and-end-all for us but we are lucky to have some smashing horses that can do a job for us.”
Meanwhile Wayne Rooney made an inauspicious start as a racehorse owner when Pippy, his first runner, finished last in the Lily Agnes Stakes.
The two-year-old colt, making his debut, was always towards the rear after a slow start and he never got into the race which was run on rain-softened ground.
However, his jockey Richard Kingscote made sure the Tom Dascombe-trained youngster, wearing the colours of the Manchester United and England soccer star and his wife Coleen, got some experience without giving him a hard race in the testing conditions.
“When I went down to the stables I was very impressed and I’ve got three horses there now,” said Rooney.
“The name was just what my wife got called when she was younger.”
All Fur Coat won the race under course specialist Franny Norton who completed a quickfire double when springing a 50-1 surprise on Good Morning Star for enthusiastic local owner Dr Marwan Koukash, and the aforementioned Johnston, in the Cheshire Oaks.
Betterbetterbetter looked like landing the spoils for trainer Aidan O’Brien when his son Joseph kicked on just over a furlong out after a tussle with Everlong on the turn for home.
However, the 2-1 favourite’s stride started to shorten and the pack closed with Mark Johnston’s charge getting up in the shadow of the post to score by a short head. The Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot is the horse’s next target.
Confessional (5-1) overcame trouble in running to take the Stellar Group Handicap.
Tim Easterby’s sprinter was squeezed for room near the rail on the turn into the short straight as Foxy Music made his best way home.
However, Paul Mulrennan quickly got him on an even keel and Confessional got his head in front in the last 100 yards to win by three-quarters of a length.
Easterby, based at Great Habton, says Haydock’s Temple Stakes or the Epsom Dash, the five furlong sprint that precedes the Derby, are possible targets.
Easterby added: “He got the draw and everything went right, spot on.
“He loves Haydock and he loves Epsom so the two choices are the Dash or Temple. If we can, we want to make him a Listed winner this year.”
Later on, Wetherby trainer Robin Bastiman’s stable stalwart retuned to form by finishing second to the Tom Queally-ridden Duchess Dora in the five furlong sprint.
A successful meeting for Yorkshire trainers could become even more eyecatching if Richard Fahey’s Mickdaam wins today’s Chester Vase, a significant trial for the Epsom Derby.
Tony Hamilton will be aboard the three-year-old who spent the winter in Dubai under the watchful eye of South African Mike de Kock, finishing fourth in the UAE Derby before chasing home Rougemont in the £250,000 Tattersalls Millions 3-Y-O Trophy at Newmarket once the horse had returned to Fahey’s stable.
Mickdaam holds a Derby entry and the trainer said: “He’s come out of his last race well. There aren’t many options for him so we are going to give him a punt and see what happens. We’re happy with him.”
His primary rival could be the Charlie Hills-trained Model Pupil – the Sinndar colt won a hot Newmarket maiden on his reappearance.
Hills said: “He showed a really nice attitude at Newmarket. He’s got a great temperament and I couldn’t be happier with how he came out of the race. The extra couple of furlongs should really be in his favour, the way he’s bred.”