ADAM Nicol has enjoyed many memorable days in the saddle on Lady Buttons – the Queen of Yorkshire rival.
Yet none rival his relief – and satisfaction – after the horse’s heartwarming victory on Wetherby’s biggest day of the year.
Winning the Listed Mares’ Hurdle for a second successive year, the victory completed a remarkable comeback for the North Yorkshire-based rider who had spent nine months on the injury sidelines after badly breaking his left leg in a New Year’s Day fall.
There were times, as Nicol told The Yorkshire Post on Saturday, that Nicol doubted himself – and only the prospect of riding Lady Buttons, thanks in no small part to the faith shown by connections – sustained his recovery and return to race-riding last month.
In cruise control throughout this two mile contest at a rain-sodden Wetherby, Nicol’s only moment of doubt came after the final flight when the nine-year-old, trained at Catterick by Phil Kirby, began to idle on the run-in as connections celebrated wildly.
“It felt an eternity from the back of the last – I am absolutely elated,” said the rider whose partner, Jennie Durrans, led the winning horse into an ecstatic winner’s enclosure.
“I thought winning on her at Newbury last year – going south and winning on what was Hennessy day – was special but I think this surpasses to that. For her to come back aged nine, turning 10, and for me to come back after my broken leg, I couldn’t ask for more. As soon as she hits the front, she thinks she’s done enough – she’s very clever.”
Nicol has been in the saddle for 12 of the 13 wins recorded by Lady Buttons and the number of racegoers sporting the horse’s purple and white colours is testament to the mare’s burgeoning popularity.
Yet, as the horses were called in by the starter, there was one moment of light relief when the redoubtable Harvey Smith asked a racegoer: “What wins this?”
Little did the showjumping and racing legend realise that he was talking to the mare’s ever enthusiastic owner Jayne Sivills who heads the Lady Buttons fan club. “Buttons of course,” declared the North Yorkshire pub owner before showing a great turn of foot to get to the walkway to lead her horse of a lifetime into the winner’s enclosure.
The success of Lady Buttons, and then Jedd O’Keeffe’s Mr Scrumpy in the finale, heartened Yorkshire racegoers on a testing day – on and off the course – because of prolonged and persistent rain.
It saw the 50th renewal of the £100,000 bet365 Charlie Hall Chase become a real war of attrition with Grand National hopeful Ballyoptic prevailing from last year’s Welsh National hero Elegant Escape with defending champion Defintly Red – totally unsuited by the conditions – back in fourth.
The horse, who won a prep race at Cheltenham, was providing trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies with a record sixth success in the race. It was particularly pleasing for him because his son Sam was in the saddle and winning the Charlie Hall for the first time
“Nige does a very good job and as everyone knows he likes to start the season well. When you’ve had a run under your belt in conditions like that, it’s a big help,” said Twiston-Davies junior. “He gallops strong and stays well. He’s incredibly tough, has a great attitude and goes on the ground, so while it stays like this why not have a crack at the Betfair Chase at Haydock – you’ve got to dream.”
Just like Adam Nicol.