West Balboa, who landed the Coral Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle on her latest appearance at Kempton Park in January, was back in the winner’s enclosure on her first start since in today’s Village Hotels Handicap Hurdle at Aintree.
Dan Skelton, the winning trainer, said: “We’ve ridden our bad luck, to be honest with you, all meeting. We’ve had a few fallers and nothing’s gone well, but that is the nature of sport. You’ve got to keep your head up and keep going. But you’re in a lucky position when you’ve got a big team; you’ve always got a horse to run.
“She was a fresh horse - that counts for an awful lot. She looked fabulous, the step up to three miles was always going to be a positive, and we always knew we had a very good mare on our hands. The Lanzarote proved that. Going back to when she was second to Stage Star in the Challow - only a good horse could have done that. We felt that this year could maybe be an intermediate year before you step up to the Graded mares’ level, and she looks like she is more than capable of doing so.
“The mares’ hurdle at Cheltenham this year was so, so strong - there was no point competing in that to be sixth. I think next year she could step up and be a player in all those races, but know when to hold your hand and when to play it, and I wasn’t going to overplay this year. The Lanzarote was £100,000; this was a valuable, important race today. She’s had a fabulous year and she’ll step up on it.”
Harry Skelton, rider of West Balboa, said: “She was a jockeys dream to be honest as she was running away with me everywhere. It was just a matter of keeping her covered up. I had the horse then to basically go where I wanted and the gaps just opened up. She has had three runs this year and it is great planning by Dan.
“She won the Lanzarote and the owners were very keen to know where we were going and he said you will have to be patient as we are going to Aintree next so it was a long old wait. We are lucky to be in a good position and the mare is going the right way.
“I always thought she would get the trip as she has plenty of stamina about her in her pedigree. Bridget (Andrews, wife) would have told me off if I got beat as she probably did a better job the last day on her when she won.”
Toni James, owner of runner-up Pounding Poet, said: “That was fantastic. He had a break to freshen up and was always being aimed here. We hoped he might win, but second is great. That might be it for him over hurdles. He’s going chasing and we are very excited about that.”
Nicky Henderson, trainer of the third-placed Mill Green, commented: “He doesn’t know how to run a bad race. It’s amazing, he’s now finished third in consecutive renewals of this race and the Pertemps! I’d have thought we’ll give him a rest now, there’s nothing left after this now. He’s a homebred and it’s lovely, he’s been an absolute star and hasn’t missed a dance.”
Tony Martin, trainer of the fourth-placed Good Time Jonny, said: “He ran a blinder. He’s as honest and straightforward a horse as you’ll get. I’m absolutely thrilled with him, both horse and rider came back safe and more days ahead hopefully. He just got a bit tapped for toe a touch turning in and wasn’t quite good enough on that ground but he showed his heart and stayed on great. We’ll see how he is and make a plan, he’s so well at the moment that you’d be tempted to hang on with him but I don’t know what for.”
Village Hotels Handicap Hurdle (Premier Handicap) 3m½f
1 West Balboa 9/2F
2 Pounding Poet 50/1
3 Mill Green 14/1
4 Good Time Jonny 11/2
22 ran Time: 6m 4.60s
Distances: 5l, nk, ¾l