Class came out in the £25,000 Timico Mixed Open Gold Cup at Cheltenham’s evening meeting when the Phil Rowley-trained Barel Of Laughs landed the prize for the second year running.
At the finishing post he was in control, yet that outcome looked far from certain as the field descended the hill to the final bend, where leader Asockastar was freewheeling under Bradley Gibbs and apparently with reserves in hand.
Cheltenham’s final climb in the home straight can be a race-changer and one that brings out the best in 12-year-old Barel Of Laughs. With his regular partner, Alex Edwards, in the saddle, he produced a faster jump than Asockastar at the second-last fence and was narrowly ahead at the final jump before asserting authority on the run-in.
Sent off the 1/2 favourite, Barel Of Laughs beat Asockastar (50/1), and there was another 20 lengths back to Pentiffic (33/1), who finished third of the 11 runners. It was another gallant effort by 14-year-old Pentiffic, and immediately after the race his rider, Lucy Turner said: “That’s it, he’s been retired. He ran an amazing race in this company and it’s a great note to end on.”
Edwards had been unseated in the previous race when his horse swerved to avoid a faller at the fence at the top of the hill, while in Timico’s race the departure at the same jump of Abricot De L’Oasis almost had the same result. The winning jockey said: “I had a real sense of déjà vu, but luckily we got round him. My horse took a bit of winding up, but I knew he would run on going up the hill. His jumping was amazing the whole way round – absolute precision.”
Bradley Gibbs, who rode runner-up Asockastar for owner/trainer Daniel Bourne, said: “I knew Barel Of Laughs would be chasing me at some point, but when I looked over my shoulder I saw Alex was struggling and so I kept kicking. The winner is class, and he got me in the end, but it’s a great result for Dan. This is his first horse, he provided him with his first runner and winner [when landing a Timico mixed open point-to-point at Chipley Park in January] and now he’s come to Cheltenham and finished second.”
Rowley, who trains near Much Wenlock in Shropshire, was full of praise for both his horse and the sponsors, saying: “Barel Of Laughs has been in this winner’s enclosure four times, winning the Timico Mixed Open Gold Cup twice and having been placed in two Foxhunter Chases. This race became the goal after the Festival, but his owners, Peter and Trish Andrews wanted it to be right.
“It’s marvellous to win this big prize again – Timico have been very generous sponsors and long may it continue.”
The winning owners know a good horse, for they also owned Smad Place, the Alan King-trained grey who ran seven times at the Cheltenham Festival, took part in three Timico Gold Cups and was placed twice in the Stayers’ Hurdle and once in the RSA Chase. He won nearly £493,000.
Paying tribute to Barel Of Laughs, Trish Andrews said: “He’s our Smad Place of the hunter chase world. Coming back here as a 12-year-old I thought he had it all to do, but he loves this place and he loves his job. Phil Rowley has made the horse what he is – he keeps all his horses happy by working them in a comfortable place so they enjoy what they do.”
Rowley is heading towards his first point-to-point trainers’ championship, and saddled five more winners (all ridden by Edwards) in that sphere over the Bank Holiday weekend – at Eyton-on-Severn on Monday he ran four horses and they all won.