Yet few were as impressive as Lady Buttons after Phil Kirby’s mare was an eye-catching winner of Newbury’s concluding two-mile handicap chase as jockey Adam Nicol enjoyed an armchair ride on Jayne Sivill’s ‘horse of a lifetime’.
Jumping for fun against her male counterparts, the mare will be targeted at Wetherby’s Castleford Chase on December 27 by the in-form Kirby, who trains near Richmond.
He had been up since before daybreak to feed Lady Buttons – and his string of racehorses – at 5am before driving the horse box to the Berkshire track for a £40,000 race in which Lady Buttons cruised into the lead in the home straight despite Nicol trying to ride a more patient race.
Following a fine leap at the last, the eight-year-old – who has won 10 out of 24 starts for Sivills, who runs a pub near Whitby with her husband Keith – gained a commanding two-and-a-quarter-length victory under hands and heels over the persistent Shear Rock.
“Lady Buttons is very, very good and keeps upping it every time. I am hoping the better the race, the better she will be – she just needs a lead into her race for a bit longer,” said Kirby.
“Adam said she jumped and travelled so well that she took him there and I hope that, in a really good race, they might be able to carry into it for a bit longer.
“She was always very good, but had a problem as a young horse and we missed nearly 18 months. The owners have given me as much time as it takes to get her back and she is probably coming back to what she was.
“She goes on anything and I have only minded her on fast ground because of her legs from the old days. She is that quick that faster ground maybe helps her to get into the race further down the line but she goes on anything and loved that ground today.
“I was up feeding the horses at 5am and left the yard driving the horse box a hour later. It will be a shorter trip back home and we will hopefully return to Wetherby for the Castleford Chase now.”
The win came a day after Nicol’s 29th birthday and thrilled his girlfriend, Jennie Durrans, who led up Lady Buttons.
Her pride was self-evident. “Pure class! Lady Buttons is the Queen! A pleasure to be a part of her training, a joy to ride every day! Just love her!” she tweeted.
Such emotion matched the poignancy of 10-year-old Sizing Tennessee’s win in the Ladbrokes Trophy for trainer Colin Tizzard and, in doing so, becoming the oldest winner of this historic race – formerly the Hennessy – since Rondetto in 1967.
Running in the colours of the late Alan and Ann Potts, and ridden with more restraint than the early pacesetters, who fell away on rain-softened ground, the emphatic victory was dedicated by Scudamore to his late grandfather, who was laid to rest the previous day.
“I lost my grandad two weeks ago, my mother’s father, and it was his funeral yesterday, but I wasn’t able to go (because of racing),” said the winning rider, who had won the corresponding race 10 years ago on Madison du Berlais.
“Those are the sacrifices you make and I was so sorry that I wasn’t able to be there, but he was with us today. He was a tremendous man, and he helped a lot of people. This one is for him.
“Sizing Tennessee has always been a good horse – I have said that all along and I really fancied him. Even though he is 10, I felt that he was slightly under the radar. I didn’t expect to win quite that well.”
The Welsh National is the obvious target for Sizing Tennessee as he looks to replicate the Newbury and Chepstow big-race double that Native River – now the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup champion – pulled off in 2016.
At Newcastle, Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air put up a sublime performance under Barry Geraghty to land the Fighting Fifth – the first Grade One hurdle of 2018-19 – from champion novices Samcro and Summerville Boy. Owned by JP McManus, Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day is the next target.
However, the outcome was a bittersweet one for McManus after his Bleu Et Rouge, trained at Middleham by Ben Haslam, suffered a fatal fall at the fourth last flight.
A quality card saw the Rehearsal Chase go to Lake View Lad, who was making a first start for leading owner Trevor Hemmings under Middleham jockey Henry Brooke. Trained in Scotland by Nick Alexander, the Grand National will be the long-term objective for the eight-year-old grey.
“It’s a nice way to start for Trevor anyway – and he’s still a young horse,” said Alexander.