Wayward Prince has chance to provide new high

DOUGIE Costello has already experienced great highs and dreadful lows with Wayward Prince, the well-handicapped chaser tilting for Hennessy Gold Cup glory.

The high? An eyecatching victory in Wetherby’s Towton Novices Chase in early February when the Ian Williams-trained gelding confirmed his rich potential.

The low? A sickening fall two days before the horse’s appearance at the Cheltenham Festival that saw Costello watch the RSA Chase from his hospital bed as Wayward Prince, with AP McCoy in the saddle, finishing a very close third to Jessie Harrington’s victor Bostons Angel.

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“It was agony,” says the jockey as he recalls the pain in his right ankle that had to be pinned back together – and the sight of the 16-times champion jockey battling out the finish on the horse that could have provided Costello with a first Festival winner.

That anguish, however, will be dissipated if the second-season chaser – one of the favourites for Newbury’s prestigious three-and-a-quarter mile chase – prevails in a race dominated by the mighty Denman in recent years.

Costello – stable jockey to Malton trainer John Quinn – is full of confidence; he has already ridden 21 winners since his comeback and could still beat the career-best 57 successes that he recorded last season before his campaign came to a shattering end at Stratford.

That it is also the rider’s rookie appearance in the Hennessy, steeplechasing’s most enduring handicap, does not perturb Costello – racing’s most travelled jockey who warmed up for today’s test by riding at Taunton on Thursday and Musselburgh yesterday.

This frenetic schedule is, in part, because Costello is now one of racing’s most sought after horsemen. As well as Quinn, he rides for Cumbria-based Nicky Richards, Neil Mulholland’s Devon yard and the West Midlands stable of Ian Williams, the trainer behind Wayward Prince.

“I cannot wait,” says the 28-year-old. “He’s fit, he’s well and he’s fresh. The Hennessy is a tremendous test, but I wouldn’t swap him for the world.

“The form is rock solid. Bostons Angel was going well on his comeback at Down Royal when he unseated. I’ve sat on Wayward Prince five or six times. He’s a big horse, but he’s normally better with a gap between races. His first run is normally his best and he always tries his hardest.”

Both Costello and Wayward Prince will have to be at their best in a wide open Hennessy.

David Pipe is confident stamina will not be an issue for Great Endeavour when the grey goes for a big race double.

Drying conditions have given the Nicholashayne trainer further cause for optimism as the David Johnson-owned seven-year-old tackles a trip fully six furlongs further than when he won the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham a fortnight ago.

Paul Nicholls, meanwhile, is triple-handed with top-weight Neptune Collonges, ante-post favourite Aiteen Thirtythree and Michel Le Bon as the champion trainer attempts to land a fourth Hennessy – he won with Strong Flow in 2003 and twice with Denman in 2007 and 2009.

“Neptune Collonges is a bit older and slower now, but, saying that, he’s a year younger than Kauto (Star), so you never know,” says Nicholls. “He’s run well in Gold Cups and ran well in the Argento Chase last year. He’s got a lot of class.”

Costello’s potential rivals do not end here. Grand National-winning trainer Donald McCain saddles Wymott who has winning hurdles form over Wayward Prince before pulling up in the aforementioned RSA Chase.

He is an eyecatching ride for Ferdy Murphy’s stable jockey Graham Lee – McCain’s rider Jason Maguire rides novice chaser Peddlers Cross at Bangor before flying to Newcastle for the Fighting Fifth Hurdle where in-form Overturn tackles the 2010 Champion Hurdle winner Binocular who is on the comeback trail.

A competitive Hennessy field also includes Scottish National winner Beshabar and Fair Along, a dual winner of Wetherby’s John Smith’s Hurdle.

And while victory for the veteran Neptunes Collonges would be a fairytale for 17-year-old conditional rider Harry Derham, who is the nephew of Nicholls, Costello would certainly be the most popular winner.

One of the most respected riders of his generation, the only omission from his CV is a big race – and there are few more illustrious than the Hennessy.

“It’s like the Grand National, it’s one of the races every jockey wants to win,” explains Costello. “To win it, it would mean a lot. As a child, you watched the race and Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s commentaries.

“You’re also never sure how you will come back from any injury – me included. I watched the RSA in hospital with the morphine drip pressed fairly hard. I had had the fall on the Monday, dashing my Cheltenham dreams, and the op on Wednesday morning – the ankle was plated, pinned and a wire put through the main joint.

“I’ll be honest; you want to see the horse win but it would have been very hard to watch someone else win on him. The champ AP McCoy is a great person. So, too, the owner and the trainer, but these are the races that I want to be winning.

“It’s a bit like your wife – you never want to lose her to anyone else. Well I don’t.

“Racing is a confidence game. If you feel you have the right people behind you, it helps tremendously. And Mr Quinn has been fantastic – I knew that I’d have his horses to ride. He’s a great boss and he has great owners.

“That I’ve also retained my association with the likes of Neil Mulholland, Ian Williams, Nicky Richards – that has made a difference. They all have good horses and it would be good to repay the faith they have shown by winning the Hennessy. As I say, I wouldn’t swap Wayward Prince for anything. Anything.”