Trainer Martin Keighley celebrated success in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase on day one of The November Meeting with Back On The Lash, then declared: “You wouldn’t find a tougher racehorse.”
The seven year old needed every yard of the three miles and six furlongs as he battled on gamely under Sean Bowen to take the contest by just a neck from Irish raider Singing Banjo.
Keighley, who trains just a few miles away from the track, said: “That was very good. Obviously, we’ve had lots of success here with Any Currency and he’s been here and schooled here a couple of times and was an absolute natural, so we thought we’d give it a go even though he’s a novice.
“He’s just so tough, we were worried about the trip but he’s got it well and we’re really pleased. You wouldn’t get a tougher racehorse. He’s just so tough and has won here over hurdles and he gives you everything for all that he’s not very big.
“The finish was like Any Currency all over again! Talkischeap was running a nice race too and Tom (Bellamy) just came out of the side door, so they’ll both probably be back.
“We’ll come back for the handicap here next month and then hopefully we can come to The Festival with him. He’s only a novice chaser so you’d hope he’s still improving, but Sean said he was just electric around here today and if anything he ran a bit too free - thankfully he got the trip.
“Touch wood, we seem to have a lot of luck here and it’s where everybody wants to have winners, so hopefully we can keep it going.”
Winning jockey Bowen added: “He was very tough but he is a tough horse. He will be better for the experience as he was landing so sharp at a few early on. As he got further he got better. He is very tough and loves winning. We’ve been here twice schooling but as you know schooling is different to having a run around here.
“I actually thought he was keen early on and I thought he was doing too much the whole way but once I filled him up and went for a run he really picked up. I thought two out ‘how far will I win by?!’, but then turning in the grey horse (Diesel D’Allier, the eventual third) picked up again.
“I jumped the last and he got his second wind and he finished up the hill well. I’ve had one ride over these fences before and it is my second ride over them. Riding that (around the cross country course) is completely different to anything I’ll ever ride in.
“The Grand National is unique but that out there is very different as you are turning, jumping, turning again, going the other way round. It is so different but good fun on the right one.”
Bowen went on to reveal that partnering Back On The Lash to success at Cheltenham today was extra special, given he was acquired as a young horse by his mother Karen.
He continued: “Mum got him as a foal and he is related to one of dad’s favourite horses (Brunico). He got sold before we ran him but luckily I got back on him. It is brilliant that mum has picked out a good one.”
Karen Bowen added: “We brought him as a foal at Doncaster and sold him as a three year old. The reason we got him as a foal is that he was related to a good horse we had called Brunico.
“We had planned to name him Bru Ni Co but he hadn’t run before we sold him and his name was then changed. I’m so pleased that Sean has been able to ride him and win on him. I said to Sean that he has done plenty of loose schooling as a baby so he will be okay over the Cross Country fences.”
The second Irish success of the afternoon came in the Grade Two Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (2m 5f 85y) as Blazing Khal (9-2) stayed on strongly to score by two and three-quarter lengths from Gelino Bello.
Winning trainer Charles Byrnes said: “He is a three mile horse and the softer the ground, the better. He is not slow either though and his jumping might have sharpened him. We will run him again at home and make a plan then. He is a right battler and when it comes to a battle he won’t be beat
“We had high hopes today. He was the best of them the last day and we thought he would come on plenty for it. The plan if it was going to be a decent gallop was to sit in and if it wasn’t to then sit up there. He jumped okay but it was a bit sketchy at times. He is a three mile horse and he finds a lot at the end of his races. We are thinking of the Albert Bartlett and that looks an obvious race.”
Winning jockey Donal McInerney was enjoying a first Cheltenham success and said: “He was a lot more settled today. He was a bit sticky early on with his jumping but still a bit novicey.
“We got a bump off Harry’s (Cobden) horse (Gelino Bello) coming into the dip and there was plenty left, it was just a matter of getting the gap. He galloped all the way to the line after that and was always doing enough, he’s got a smart winter campaign ahead of him.
“This is my first winner at Cheltenham and it was just unreal. I used to watch this as a kid at home and to finally do it today is fantastic. It might not be The Festival but it will do me!”
Further Irish success came in the last when 33-1 hope Mc Alpine took the honours by two and a quarter lengths in the Valda Energy Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.
Partnered by James O’Sullivan, the fourth jockey to enjoy a first Cheltenham winner this afternoon, the seven year old made smooth headway to from the final bend to win a shade cosily in the end.
An emotional winning trainer, Philip Rothwell was reduced to tears as he enjoyed a first winner at Cheltenham since Native Jack landed the Cross Country Chase at The Festival in 2006.
Rothwell, who went close to success earlier in the day when Singing Banjo was the narrow runner-up in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase, said: “It’s nearly been a really good day!
“Everybody makes mistakes and I brought him here two years ago for the 2m 5f race and he just didn’t quite see it out. With Covid happening last year we didn’t get to travel, but he won his handicap at Listowel this year on the way back and I thought he was on the way up, so this is very special. They went a good gallop in front and we fancied him strong, so it’s good. I’ve been shouting for two of them today so it’s great.
“This is special. Fifteen years ago I won the Cross Country here and I didn’t think it would take 15 years to get back here. I love it and it means so much, it’s my favourite place in the whole wide world.
“I love standing on the front and get a huge thrill out of it. I’ve been second a few times and obviously had the Festival winner here, I’d love another one. We’re a small yard and to have a winner today is very special. I know it was 15 years because two days before the Cross Country victory my daughter was born! It’s very special.
“He’s 8 or 9lbs higher over here, but he was progressive at home and 9lbs seems to be the standard over here. I’ve seen some of the English horses that had run in Ireland previously and I felt with the benchmark that I had the measure of them and the Irish horses coming over.
“I just thought that the race would suit him well and all of my friends, owners and clients were told that I thought this lad would go very close, so I put plenty of pressure on myself! That’s it now for him. He’ll be back home now and will probably go novice chasing.”
O’Sullivan, who was winning his first race at Cheltenham on just his second ride at the course, said: “He jumped off and we sort of said we will ride him for a bit of luck as we knew there would be an awful lot of pace on. Going to the fourth last I was happy to sit away and fill him up everywhere. They got racing plenty early enough in front of me and it opened up between the second last and the last.
“In fairness, he did it well and he is a nice horse going forward and he feels like a horse that will jump a fence in time. He has been on an upward curve this season but he has had a few little niggly problems and he has got them sorted. He had a good win at Listowel then he went back to Wexford and ran a rock solid race again.
“It is indeed my first Cheltenham winner and it is unbelievable and it makes all the bad days, sweating and driving up and day the country all worthwhile. He is one of those that horses that are improving and I thought he would run into a place.”