DANNY COOK’S exultation after Wakanda’s warrior-like win in Haydock’s Peter Marsh Chase contrasted with his despondency an hour later after a photo-finish went against him.
“I just want to win them all,” he told The Yorkshire Post after Silva Eclipse was, to the surprise of many, denied by the ironically-named Closing Ceremony in the concluding race. “It is nice to have big Saturday winners – but I want to win on every horse.”
Yet it is this will to win which helps explain why Wakanda, now 10, produced a stirring performance to triumph for the first time since landing Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase a year ago under Henry Brooke.
From the early stages of this latest race, Cook knew Wakanda was in the form to win a prestigious race which saw 2017 Grand National hero One For Arthur unseat jockey Derek Fox late on.
Though Wakanda was dwarfed in size, and stature, by many of his rivals, his resolution – and heart – was never in doubt as Cook rode with patience, eased the horse into contention.
Even though Cook wanted a better jump at the last, he kept enough in reserve when Robinsfirth and champion jockey Richard Johnson challenged on the run-in.
This is because Cook, one of the strongest riders in a finish, believes in getting his horses in a good rhythm in order to conserve energy at their obstacles.
“He’s a very good stayer who jumps great and travelled great today,” explained the jockey whose first of six wins on Wakanda came on Peter Marsh Chase day in 2015. “Even when he got in tight to one or two of the fences, he picked himself up and was very quickly away from them – so I knew I was in for a good ride even at that early stage.
“He’s got a great attitude, and did it well. He is a tough warrior and Sue Smith and Ryan Clavin, the assistant trainer who looks after the horse and leads him up at the races, have done a fantastic job. He’s a warrior.”
Cook signalled that the Scottish National – rather than the Grand National – might be a better longer-term proposition for a horse that is becoming slightly more fragile with age after earning connections nearly £300,000 in career prize money.
This was a record fourth win in the Peter Marsh Chase for the aforementioned Smith, and her husband Harvey, after the wins off The Last Fling (2000), Arctic Jack (2004) and Cloudy Too (2016).
It was Cook’s third victory – he partnered Our Vic (2010) and Cloudy Too – and a second in the race for ever popular owner Margaret Scholey whose colours were carried to victory by the Ferdy Murphy-trained Truckers Tavern in 2003.
Nearly a year after her husband Ray’s death, this was a popular victory tinged with poignancy. “I thought he (Wakanda) was past his best,” she said. “I never think they are going to win. I really enjoyed this one – we haven’t had one (winner) for a bit.”
She was then embraced by Cook who was recording his fourth Grade Two success of 2018-19 thanks to two high-profile successes on Definitly Red – Brian Ellison’s Cheltenham Gold Cup contender – and the Smith-trained Midnight Shadow who won at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
The latter is due to head back to Cheltenham this Saturday for the Cleeve Hurdle – the step up to three miles will help connections decide whether the Stayers’ Hurdle at the National Hunt Festival in March is a viable proposition.
When the likable Cook is reminded of the quality of these high-profile successes, and horses, he replies: “I want to win every race.”
Meanwhile the aforementioned One For Arthur could head back to Haydock or go to Kelso for his next race after a second mishap in as many comeback races.
Trainer Lucinda Russell will look at either the Grand National Trial at Haydock on February 16 or the Premier Chase at Kelso two weeks later.
Earlier Ben Pauling’s Global Citizen made most of the running in The New One Unibet Hurdle, hurdling fluently and slickly under David Bass, to book his place in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
And North Yorkshire-based jockey Tommy Dowson made a winning comeback when Suggestion took the opener for in-form Catterick trainer Phil Kirby.
It was Dowson’s first since a heavy fall at Haydock’s Betfair Chase meeting in November left him requiring surgery.