Navanman and Now Ben won the final Timico Mixed Open point-to-points ahead of next week’s Cheltenham evening Hunters’ Chase meeting.
A highlight of that card, and its most valuable contest, will be the £25,000 Timico Mixed Open Gold Cup, the conclusion of a series of point-to-points backed by the sponsor, specialists in managed cloud service for businesses.
A race at Buckfastleigh in late March held the key to Timico’s four-mile mixed open at Flete Park in Devon on Saturday, for the first two from the earlier contest once again finished one and two – although Navanman swopped places with the mare Whenharrymetsally. She had beaten him by a neck on their previous start, when he conceded 7lb to her, while at Flete the concession was just 1lb. Navanman duly took the honours, beating Whenharrymetsally by a length, with Say My Name a distant third of the 14 runners.
The winner holds a special place in the affections of the Heard family, who farm near Okehampton. Jump jockey Michael Heard’s comeback ride after breaking his back was on Navanman at Wetherby in February 2016. That was the horse’s third hurdle win on the trot for trainer David Pipe, but injury problems then intervened, and 18 months’ later Michael and his father John were on hand to buy the horse privately with a view to running him in point-to-points.
John, who now trains the horse at his sheep and cattle farm, says: “He’s a proper professional horse, but we had decided to change the way we train at the season’s start, and do a bit more speed work. After two races we realised he wasn’t quite getting home, so we went back to doing plenty of long steady work on the hills and he seems to have thrived on it.
“He was beaten [a neck] by Whenharrymetsally at Buckfastleigh, but the result might have been different if the final fence hadn’t been dolled off because he jumps so well. He was in great nick for the race at Flete Park, and he’s giving the syndicate which leases him a lot of fun.”
Rex Dingle rode Navanman, while Alex Edwards took the reins on Now Ben in a five-runner Timico Mixed Open at Brampton Bryan on Sunday. Now Ben’s stablemate, the Phil Rowley-trained Barel Of Laughs, won the inaugural Timico Mixed Open Gold Cup at Cheltenham, and he remains the yard’s key hope for this year’s race, which takes place on Friday evening next week.
Rowley says: “Now Ben is doubtful to run at Cheltenham, and is more likely to have another run in a point and then go to Stratford [in June]. He is not an easy horse to place because he keeps getting double weight penalties [for past victories].
"Barel Of Laughs is better than ever - he's in tip-top form."