It may be a significant week on the Flat with the bet365 Craven Meeting over at Newmarket, but we’re not done over the Jumps just yet.
We’ve still got a couple of weeks of the Jumps season left just yet, and with plenty of issues still left unresolved, we sent Nick Seddon to review the first day of the April Meeting and speak to the winners on the day …
SKELTON TIGHTENS GRIP ON JOCKEY’S TITLE
The main talking point of the day was the ongoing battle for the Jump Jockeys title and Harry Skelton came into today’s meeting with a lead of two winners over the current champion Brian Hughes, after recording a treble at Southwell on Monday.
Skelton was as short as 1-5 for the title this morning as a consequence and he finishes the day in an even stronger position, after recording a double on Faivoir in the Join Racing TV Now Novices' Hurdle and Proschema in the Kingston Stud Handicap Hurdle.
Both of those winners were trained by Harry’s older brother Dan, who remained philosophical about the title race as a whole – insisting that the pair were taking things one day at a time.
He said: “Yesterday was a big day for Harry. On the Monday we went to Huntingdon and drew a blank off what I thought was a bunch of good chances. I didn’t contribute yesterday, he had three winners from everyone else so I’ve got to pull my finger out!
“The worst hope is false hope – don’t get your hopes up as it’s a competition until the end. There’s a fierce competitor in Brian Hughes, who’s used to having six rides a day, that’s bread and butter for him and he’s always riding lots of horses for different people.
“This title race will ebb and flow. They all add up, they all count, but false hope is not good for you. We’re watching everything, there’s no point pretending that we don’t and I’m sure Brian’s team will be doing the same.”
HUGHES STILL HOPEFUL AFTER FIRING IN A WINNER
Skelton was slashed in price to as short 1-8 for the title after his double, but Brian Hughes hasn’t given up hope just yet, and booted in a winner himself with Domaine De L'Isle in the penultimate on the card, the Weatherite Handicap Chase.
The deficit stands at three winners for Hughes with 10 days of the season to go, but the current champion is hopeful that next week will hold more fortune – with a host of meetings in the north to aim at.
He said: “It was a good performance. I rode him at Newcastle last year and he won nicely, he beat a decent horse in Sam’s Adventure that day and then he won at Ascot after and then he lost his form. Sean (Curran)’s done his wind and he’s always held the horse in high regard, so he’s done a great job to get him back to this level again.
“This week was always going to be difficult for me with the meetings being in the midlands and the south. That’s the way it goes, winners round here are hard to find for northern jockeys so it was good to get one.
“The advantage is with Harry now, but we’ll be chasing him and hopefully we can keep him honest. Next week favours me more with there being meetings in the north every day, so it’s not over yet and we’ll give it our best shot.”
TWISTON-DAVIES OFFERS A HELPING HAND!
The main talking point from the Weatherite Handicap Chase was of course Brian Hughes’ vital victory on Domaine De L'Isle, though James Davies certainly sent a few pulses racing on board The Mighty Don.
The nine year old jumped the second last with a narrow lead over Coo Star Sivola,, though Davies’ saddle slipped upon landing, forcing Sam Twiston-Davies to rather think on his feet.
Twiston-Davies pushed Davies safely back into the saddle before riding Coo Star Sivola into second and Brian Hughes, who was behind the pair at the time on the eventual winner Domaine De L'Isle, said: “James’ saddle slipped and I think Sammy was giving him a helping hand.
“It was a bit of a mess, they sort of drifted over into my path and then drifted back, but luckily Sammy saved the day so to speak! In those situations it can be nasty.”
Meanwhile, the hero of the hour Twiston-Davies added: “It was a bit of an interesting one! Poor James’ horse jumped right into ours and then I think his tack moved a bit, so it was one of those moments where you’re not really sure what’s happening or what to do, but luckily everyone is back safe and sound and the horse has run well. It happens from time to time and as long as everyone’s back safe that’s the main thing.”
LAVELLE FINDS KEY TO MANOFTHEMOUNTAIN
Emma Lavelle believes she has finally found the key to Manofthemountain, after he powered to a four and a half-length success in the feature Grade Two Ballymore Silver Trophy Handicap Chase.
The eight year old has been lightly-raced so far this term and Lavelle revealed that she was happy to have found her gelding’s niche – having dropped him back to two and a half miles.
She said: “It was a good performance today. We came into it as a fresh horse and there’d be quite a few who’ve had a long enough season, so it’s one of those where I couldn’t be happier with him but some of the others may have had enough for the year. The ground is key to him and I’m quite happy we’ve found his niche.
“I know he’s been running over three miles, but even the day he ran against Frodon here (in October), he travelled away with him and looked to have a chance but just didn’t stay up the hill.
“We’ll see how he is now, there probably isn’t much left to go at this time of year, but we’ll have a look to see what’s out there because he had a lovely winter break. I think he is a horse who likes to be fresh, but he’s clearly got plenty of ability.”
HARRISON RIDES OUT HIS 7LB CLAIM WITH A NOTABLE WINNER
It’s long been something of a cliché that apprentice and conditional riders hold onto their claims for juicy rides in big handicap races and that certainly rang true with Liam Harrison, who made use of his 7lb claim to win the Jockey Club Cheltenham And SW Syndicate Handicap Hurdle on Ask Dillon.
The eight year old hadn’t been given any rest from the handicapper having held his own in a string of tough assignments this campaign, but his young jockey’s claim was used to good effect as he recorded a one and a quarter length success.
Harrison rode out his 7lb claim in the process – moving down to a 5lb claim after his 20th winner – and he revealed that he was delighted to do so for his boss Fergal O’Brien.
He said: “That was good and probably everything panned out similar to how I was expecting. He’s on a tricky mark, but he’s been consistent all year and it’s definitely been a deserved success.
“Having a 7lb claim is a massive advantage, but it’s something I’ve been holding on to for a little while really with a horse like this in mind.
“I’ve only been riding for Fergal, he’s my boss and he’s been great to me, and I wanted him to exploit that seven the best he can. We’ll look onto next year now and hopefully I’ll keep riding winners as best as I can.”
SHERWOOD RECORDS FIRST CHELTENHAM SUCCESS SINCE THE LATE MANY CLOUDS
The Oliver Sherwood team only tend to come to Cheltenham if they feel they have a success, so it was probably a tip in itself that Jersey Bean lined up for the Arkells Brewery Nicholson Holman Chase.
The eight year old has enjoyed a good first season over fences, winning twice in the early months of the campaign, and this six and a half-length success proved to be a poignant one – as it was the yard’s first since the late Many Clouds’ gutsy victory in the 2017 Cotswold Chase.
And Sherwood credited Henrietta Knight for bringing the gelding alive over the bigger obstacles this campaign. He said: “I've got to thank Henrietta Knight, we sent him over there early on in the season as his jumping was average over fences. She suggested blinkers and I was loathed to do it as he's such a genuine horse. It's helped him concentrate and his jumping has been exemplary all season.
“It's all down to Hen. He's been a revelation and it's great to have a winner at Cheltenham as it's been a tough second-half of the season. He'll have a holiday and we'll have a bit of fun in the spring (next year). He'll get further and we'll dream about things over the summer.
“It was a long time ago (Many Clouds). We haven't had too many runners here since, and I'm not a big one for coming here with novices unless they're top-class. Having runners with a chance is always nice but getting winners is a bonus. I can't wait for next year when the crowds are here.
“His owner is in Jersey - hence his name - as he lives there but I might ban him as this horse has won three times when he hasn't turned up!