Though jockey Gavin Sheehan said there were “plenty of positives” to be taken from the second-place finish by the 2015 World Hurdle winner, Greatrex was perplexed in the unsaddling enclosure – he must have been tempted to light up a cigarette after finally kicking the habit.
With the diminutive, front-running Cole Harden, winner of the 2014 West Yorkshire Hurdle, slightly ponderous at his obstacles, and not attacking them with the zest anticipated by connections, Ian Popham seized the initiative on the Dan Skelton-trained It’safreebee, who was a deserved winner.
The victor is no slouch – this was the horse’s second win from three chase starts – but Cole Harden laboured up the home straight, even being passed by Harriet Bethell’s rank outsider Newberry New, on the run to the last, before Sheehan’s mount rallied on the run-in.
“Gavin is more bullish than I am,” Greatrex told The Yorkshire Post. “I thought it was work in progress. I didn’t think he was as fluent as he should be.
“The winner is a fair horse, but he was third best going to the last when the outsider made a mistake. I’m probably being harsh on him, but we’ll have another go around Christmas and go up in trip to three miles.”
As well as the two-mile-three-furlong trip being shorter than ideal, Cole Harden’s best form in the past has been on better ground.
There was some consolation for Greatrex and Sheehan when Boite rattled home to win the handicap hurdle. A high class Flat performer, he could step up in a class and clearly relished the soft ground. “At least the drive home will be bearable,” added the Lambourn-based handler.
The meeting began with Nicky Henderson’s Baden winning the novice hurdle for Andrew Tinkler. “He’s still a big baby,” said the Malton-born jockey, who is now riding as a full-time freelance as he seeks further riding opportunities with the likes of Martin Keighley and Jonjo O’Neill in order to progress his career.
It was a good day for Malton– trainer Brian Ellison took the concluding two races courtesy of Apterix and Shearling.