Twelve times champion trainer Paul Nicholls ended his 366 day wait for a Cheltenham winner in emphatic fashion by landing a 14-1 double in the first two races on the third and final day of The November Meeting.
Yala Enki went one better than 12 months ago when claiming the Grade Three Jewson Click and Collect Handicap Chase over an extended three miles and three furlongs. The 3-1 chance made all the running under Bryony Frost and saw off all challengers, coming home a length and a quarter to the good over 5-2 joint-favourite The Mighty Don with the other joint market leader, Empire De Maulde, another two and a quarter lengths adrift in third.
Nicholls said: “We had the plan to go a good gallop and then stack them up a bit and then at the top of the hill to go and stamina won the day.
“He is 11 years old carrying 11st 12lbs first time out and to win like that is fantastic. It is probably a career best and it was a fantastic ride by Bryony. We planned what we were going to do from the start which was to go a good gallop and try and stack them behind and kick from the top of the hill.
“You think of the hard races he has had to come back and produce what was probably a career best with that weight just shows what enthusiasm he has for the game.
“If you saw him at home working every day he is like a four year old. He loves what he does. He is a year older than Politologue and it just shows you that those older horses still love what they are doing.
“You have got to have them cherry ripe when they run. He hasn’t been for a gallop or anything - we have just put him right at home. It was a fantastic performance and a great ride. He will probably have an entry in the Welsh National which he has run in the last couple of years but the race for him is the Portman Cup at Taunton in January. Three and a half miles around there in a conditions race is made for him. That is his Gold Cup.”
Winning jockey Bryony Frost added: “It was my mistake here last year as I wasn’t aggressive enough off the top of the hill to go and grab the race by the scruff of the neck.
“There’s an endless tank of diesel in there for you to keep using. The stamina is in abundance and I’ve never ridden a horse like him. Midway down the back you start to feel like you’re running on empty and he just responds to your every ask.
“It’s a relief for me because I’ve finally got a big one for himself as a horse and the owners. I’ve knocked on the door a few times and messed up a few times on him and it’s taken me time to click with his characteristics.
“It is a brilliant training performance off top weight. It is fantastic and I’m so pleased to get this one for him (Paul Nicholls).”
Earlier Threeunderthrufive got the ball rolling for the Nicholls team when claiming the mallardjewellers.com Novices’ Chase, the opening race on day three of The November Meeting.
The McNeill-family owned six year old made pretty much every yard of the running in the extended three-mile contest and at the finish the 11-4 chance had four and a quarter lengths to spare over 2-1 favourite Does He Know.
Nicholls said: “It was good. A nice jumping performance and a nice staying performance. He’s improved enormously from his first start at Chepstow and I thought we could beat Kim’s horse (Does He Know) today just on the fact we needed a run that day and he proved that the other day.
“I was slightly nervous that 12 days after Exeter was soon enough, but we’ve got small fields here so we’ll try and support it and he’s going the right way.
“I just said to Max (McNeill, owner) that he would be superb for the old four mile race and something like the Reynoldstown in the spring would suit him. I wouldn’t be thinking about the Brown Advisory as they’d go too fast for him and the National Hunt Chase would be absolutely superb. He’s a real strong stayer as you can see - he jumps and stays and you can ride him handy so we’ll have a look at that.
“Clifford (Baker) my Head Lad just said to me that he would run well in a National one day and he might well be right, but that’s a long way down the line and he’s just a lovely staying horse who’s learning all the time and probably improving all the time. He’s got his ears pricked and he’s got plenty in the locker and for just his third start over fences that was brilliant.”
Speaking about his 366-day run without a Cheltenham winner, Nicholls said: “It’s been frustrating but I didn’t even think about it until yesterday! It’s just the way it goes sometimes, it’s nice to be back in the winners’ enclosure after hitting the crossbar over the last few days. It’s tough when the ground is still quite quick, so we’ve just got to try and run a few.”
Winning owner Max McNeill added: “We were worried about whether this would come too soon for him but he just galloped them into submission. There are sexier novices around – Third Time Lucki and My Drogo – but this lad is under the radar!”