THE Grand National could be the target for Dolatulo, the impressive winner of the William Hill Rowland Meyrick Chase on day one of Wetherby’s Christmas festival.
The horse, owned by Betfair boss Andrew Black, was the beneficiary of a patient ride by Dougie Costello, who bided his time before pulling clear of 2012 winner Cape Tribulation and long-time leader Corrin Wood.
The victory also continued the remarkable run of success at the West Yorkshire track for Lambourn trainer Warren Greatrex.
It was his sixth win from 11 runners this season, though the handler was unable to work the oracle with Royal Moll in the next race, who disappointed for the Let’s Live Racing syndicate.
“It is a very fair track. It is not dissimilar to a northern Newbury,” said Greatrex, whose Miss Sophierose had won at Fontwell earlier in the afternoon for stable jockey Gavin Sheehan.
“When Dolatulo ran over the National fences in the Grand Sefton, I mapped out this race straight away. He’s done it well and he had to finish in the first three to qualify for the National.”
Greatrex, the winning-most NH trainer on Yorkshire tracks this season, said Dolatulo could reappear at Doncaster next month before a tilt at Aintree’s signature race.
This was a compelling afternoon of racing watched by a bumper crowd of just under 12,000 spectators, a 1,000 increase on last year.
It began with Hail The Brave’s wide-margin win in the opening handicap hurdle for jockey James Reveley and Middleham trainer Phil Kirby.
“Phil just said he would keep galloping,” said the winning rider.
Ironically, Kirby is preparing to relocate to Saltburn and lease boxes at the yard of Reveley’s father Keith.
There was drama in the second when Michael Scudamore’s No Through Road, seeking a fifth consecutive win, came down at the final fence of the novice chase with the race its mercy.
Scudamore, who saddles Monbeg Dude in today’s Coral Welsh National, has not saddled a winner since No Through Road triumphed 46 days ago while jockey Conor O’Farrell was then unplaced in the Rowland Meyrick – named in honour of Wetherby’s former clerk of the course – on favourite Broadway Buffalo.
The beneficiary was the aptly-named Itstimeforapint who is trained by Lucinda Russell, the partner of the Scudamore’s father Peter. The winner was ridden by a philosophical Craig Nichol.
“That’s racing, I’m not sure if I would have got to the leader,” he said.
In many respects, the race of the day was the William Hill Handicap Hurdle when No Planning, a well-handicapped steeplechaser at Sue and Harvey Smith’s High Edlwick yard, made a winning comeback after a 251-day lay-off.
He was given a superb ride by teenager Callum Bewley who gave his mount a breather on the home bend before just having enough in hand over Spanish Fleet, the amount of the aforementioned Reveley.
The cheers, as the two horses battled all the way to the line, were deafening and the only person who could not lose was Bruce Jeffrey – he is agent to both riders.
“That was grand. We popped him over hurdles just to get him going again,” said Smith, the retired showjumper. “I like this lad (Bewley), He is improving.”
Yet Bewley’s smiles turned to heartbreak in the very next race when the grey Stagecoach Pearl, the chaser he rode to a course victory at the beginning of the month, came to grief in the handicap chase and had to be put down after suffering a serious leg injury.
Racing is a great leveller – the race was won by Bobcatbilly whose jockey Jason Maguire nearly lost his life earlier this year following a fall that necessitated life-saving liver surgery.
There was some consolation for the Smith stable when Special Wells won the finale under Guiseley-based jockey Jonathan England. It completed a bittersweet treble on the day for the yard after Smooth Stepper’s win in the opener at Sedgefield.
As for today’s racing at Wetherby, the feature William Hill Castleford Chase has attracted a nine-runner field headed by Nicky Henderson’s French Opera and the Smith-trained De Boitron, who will be ridden by Malton-born Andrew Tinkler for the first time.
However, Upsilon Bleu could be the horse to beat. Trained by Pauline Robson, the horse runs in the colours of Raymond Anderson Green whose Merigo was a two-time Scottish National winner.
Notnowbuttwo will bid to complete a hat-trick of wins in the finale for trainer Chris Grant.
Houndscourt won Sedgefield’s handicap chase for trainer Jo Foster, The Yorkshire Post’s Country Week columnist, and Guiseley jockey Samantha Drake.