the TIMING of Ruth Jefferson’s first winner as a trainer could not have been more poignant after Cyrus Darius won Kelso’s prestigious Morebattle Hurdle for a second successive year.
This was one of the top-class horses that had been trained with such love and attention by her much-respected, and much missed, father Malcolm who died a fortnight ago at the age of 71 after a long illness.
Today the Jefferson family will be joined by owners, trainers, jockeys, dignitaries and wellwishers for Jefferson’s funeral in Old Malton, a short canter from the stables that he acquired in the early Eighties.
“That was great,” said the victorious trainer after Cyrus Darius galloped to an eyecatching – and pleasing – win under jockey Brian Hughes after she took the decision to switch the horse back to smaller obstacles after two luckless races over fences.
“I’m thrilled. We couldn’t see him handling the big handicap chases so we made the decision to go back hurdling for a bit with this in mind and it came together perfectly.
“He’s not a bad chaser, he just doesn’t fiddle that well in close. If he meets his fences right he’s fine, but in big fields you get too far back.
“Once the horses were switched into my name you obviously want the first winner as soon as possible. Nothing has run badly and we haven’t had many runners.”
Just Jefferson’s sixth runner since acquiring a training licence, Cyrus Darius travelled fluently throughout for Hughes and the heavy ground did not stop him pulling 12 lengths clear of Better Getalong.
“I’m delighted for Ruth. She has the horses in good form and things will carry on the same – she learned plenty from her dad,” said Hughes who brought up his fourth successive century of winners earlier this week.
Hughes and Jefferson will be hoping for even greater success tomorrow when Waiting Patiently lines up in the Grade One Ascot Chase, which is effectively a trial for next month’s Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
Unbeaten from five starts over fences following an imposing Listed win at Kempton last month, Waiting Patiently’s six rivals include Nicky Henderson’s Top Notch and Colin Tizzard’s veteran Cue Card.
Meanwhile Tizzard saddles The Dutchman, his leading Grand National hope, at Haydock tomorrow. Winner of last month’s Peter Marsh Chase at the Merseyside track, Tizzard has booked North Yorkshire jockey Danny Cook for the ride in the Grand National Trial Handicap.
The field is headed by ante-post National favourite Blaklion, who is racing for the first time since winning the Becher Chase over Aintree’s iconic fences last December. Nigel Twiston-Davies has entrusted the mount to his son, Sam, with the intention of him maintaining the association at Aintree in April.
The most significant absentee is David Pipe’s Vieux Lion Rouge who won Haydock’s National Trial 12 months ago. Connections are not happy with the form of the horse and are instead represented by Daklondike.