Wakanda could now head for Wetherby

PATIENCE COULD be the key to Wakanda’s future plans after trainer Sue Smith’s stable star recorded a gutsy win in Newcastle’s At The Races Rehearsal Chase.

GOLD TRIUMPH: Smad Place ridden by Wayne Hutchinson clear the last fence before going on to win the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. Picture: PA

This is a three-mile chase with an illustrious history; its past roll of honour includes 2012 Grand National hero Neptune Collenges.

Yet, with the Ray Scholey-owned horse still only six-years-old, Smith’s husband Harvey, the former show-jumper, hopes Wakanda is not crucified by racing’s handicapper in light of this heart-warming success.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

A stirring race, Wakanda –- ably assisted by jockey Danny Cook – confirmed the well-being of the in-form High Eldwick stable by repelling Virak from the yard of champion trainer Paul Nicholls.

That Virak had beaten Wakanda by 13 lengths at Doncaster last year is testament to the Yorkshire horse’s improvement – he carries the light blue and yellow colours associated with 2003 Gold Cup runner-up Truckers Tavern.

“You’ve got to give him time to develop,” said Smith, who ruled out a tilt at the Welsh National. “You’ve got to treasure today’s win. As long as the handicapper doesn’t go mad, he’ll be a nice horse.

“Hopefully, he can win a nice little race somewhere next time because he’s had a very hard race there.”

Smith said “you can’t go to the well too often” or horses lose their enthusiasm and desire to win.

Yet, with Wakanda due another rise in the ratings, Smith may be forced to consider a race like the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day – Wakanda is already a course winner following his success at the track at last month’s Charlie Hall meeting.

The aforementioned Cook, who was recording his fourth win from four stars on Wakanda, paid tribute to the horse’s courage. “He’s going from strength to strength. He keeps finding more,” said the winning rider.

The Cook and Smith team were completing a double after Smooth Stepper, another exciting prospect, took the novice handicap chase. After a frustrating run of seconds at the beginning of November, the stable has now sent out seven winners in the past fortnight.

There was another Yorkshire win of note at Gosforth when Caraline took the handicap chase for Middleham trainer Micky Hammond and Sheffield-born jockey Joe Colliver, who is back riding with confidence following a frustrating summer on the injury sidelines and then a slow start to this campaign.

Newcastle’s Grade One feature – the Fighting Fifth Hurdle – went to Ireland after Identity Thief survived a last-flight blunder under Bryan Cooper, who was riding at the track for the first time. From the yard of Henry de Bromhead, the victor will be trained with next March’s Champion Hurdle in mind.

As for the grey Smad Place, who won Newbury’s Hennessy Gold Cup with a breathtaking round of jumping from the front, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the main objective.

Unlike last year, Alan King’s horse benefitted from a prep run and the win came at the end of a traumatic week for the yard which began with stable lad John Goggin losing his life in a car crash.

The rest of the card was dominated by 2013-14 champion conditional Gavin Sheehan, who recorded a treble courtesy of Arzal, Ibis Du Rheu and Royal Guardsman – this is a young jockey who is a quite brilliant judge of pace from the front.

The one blip was Sheehan’s horse of a lifetime Cole Harden – the Ladbrokes World Hurdle winner could not be seen at his best on testing ground and was a battling third to rising star Thistlecrack, from the yard of Colin Tizzard of Cue Card fame, and who was the beneficiary of an inspired Tom Scudamore ride.

However, Sheehan and trainer Warren Greatrex were phlegmatic – the winner could be top-class and Cole Harden’s number one objective for the season is a successful defence of the World Hurdle next March.

Like Harvey Smith, they, too, know that patience is a virtue.