“I think Dad would be crying now.” Trainer Ruth Jefferson’s reaction said it all after Waiting Patiently’s coming-of-age win in the Grade One Ascot Chase.
Brilliantly ridden by Brian Hughes, who was also recording his first triumph at the highest level, the success came an emotional 24 hours after Jefferson’s father Malcolm was laid to rest.
A trainer renowned for his patient approach, he prepared the progressive horse for its first five races – and wins – over fences, but his daughter prepared the chaser for this landmark success.
Not only this, but Waiting Patiently overcame Colin Tizzard’s resurgent Cue Card – the people’s horse – in the race of the season as they surged 15 lengths clear of a high-class field.
As Paddy Brennan, reunited with Cue Card, asked for everything from the old warrior, North Yorkshire-based Hughes was travelling the better and took up the running on the approach to the last.
With Waiting Patiently not foot perfect at the end of his toughest test to date, Cue Card fought back like all great champions do, but Hughes seized the far rail and drove out the Richard Collins-owned winner to the line.
As he came to terms with the triumph, he kissed his left hand and raised it to the heavens in tribute to Jefferson, who had been so instrumental in the jockey’s rise to prominence.
He then embraced Waiting Patiently before returning to the Ascot winner’s enclosure and being afforded a reception that eclipsed the hero’s welcome given to the vanquished Cue Card.
Hughes knows what the Jefferson family, and whole team at Newstead Cottage Stables in Malton, have been going through since his mentor’s death on February 2 following an unequal battle with cancer fought with characteristic dignity.
“Malcolm always had faith in this horse and I’m sure if he’s looking down he’d be having a go at me, because I got there way too soon,” said Hughes, who went on to record a high-profile treble at Ascot courtesy of Richard Newland’s Le Patriote and Mick Channon’s Buildmeupbuttercup.
“We’ll enjoy today. It’s massive for me to get my first Grade One. I’ve been second too many times to remember. It’s just nice to get a good one for this grade. This horse has immense ability.”
Now unbeaten from six starts over fences, there are no guarantees Waiting Patiently will line up in Cheltenham’s Ryanair Chase next month and face a potential clash with stablemate Cloudy Dream – the still improving seven-year-old needs soft ground to be seen at his best.
W hile jump racing’s latest two-and-a-half-mile champion settles better in his races, Jefferson – who saddled her first winner last Thursday – is conscious of her late father’s mantra. “This horse’s name does sum dad up, but he was named in Ireland before we got him,” she said.
“He liked to take time with his horses. He said ‘if you look after them when they are young, they will look after you when you’re old’. He’d be proud and I must thank him because Richard (Collins, owner) sent the horse to him, not me! I’m thrilled to bits, thrilled for Richard and for everyone at home. I think dad would be crying now.”
On future plans, she said: “This could be his Cheltenham, because we don’t know what ground we are going to get. Even if we get soft ground, we might just stop and think about it. We don’t need to rush him and he’s not a horse that needs a lot of racing every year.
“We’ll go home and see how he is. We’ll probably confirm him (Ryanair Chase) and probably decide 10 minutes before declaration time. There’s no point risking him. There are more races than Cheltenham. Everybody is obsessed except us. We’re not that fussed.”
Jefferson said she, as well as her family and team, had been greatly comforted by hundreds of condolence messages and the 500-strong turnout for her father’s funeral.
However, the Betfair Chase day had a sad poscript when it emerged Black Ivory, her father’s last winner, had lost his life after being brought down at Haydock by a faller.
“Sadly, we lost a star in the making,” Jefferson tweeted. “Black Ivory was everything a racehorse should be and a joy to train. Commiserations to the Fawcus family. He will be missed. Rest In Peace Handsome.”
A sentiment that also applies to her much missed father.