The first big race of the Jump season, the £160,000 Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham today, went the way of Ga Law (5-1) for owners The Footie Partnership, trainer Jamie Snowden and jockey Jonathan Burke. It was a first success for all connections in the famous two and a half-mile Premier Handicap Chase.
Approaching the third last, most of the 14-strong field appeared to hold some sort of chance. It was Irish raider French Dynamite that appeared to have taken a decisive advantage at the last but a less than fluent jump halted his momentum and Ga Law came with a strong late challenge to get up and take the honours by three-quarters of a length.
The winner was a Grade Two winner as a novice back in 2020 and after missing last season the six year old Sinndar gelding had made a promising reappearance in the Grade Two Jewson St Helens Old Roan Handicap Chase at Aintree last month.
Successful trainer Jamie Snowden said: “He stayed really well and they obviously went pretty hard early on. It took him a while to get into a good jumping rhythm but in fairness it’s only his second run out of novice company. It was his first big-field handicap and with that comes the unexposed nature of the horse, but inexperience counts as well. He was probably a little further back than we ideally wanted, but once he found his feet he galloped and stayed and stamina has won at the end of the day – so he definitely wants every yard of that trip.
“It’s right up there. We were very lucky to have a Festival winner at an early stage – our third ever winner at Cheltenham was at The Festival – but these big days are what it’s all about. We’ve got a great team of horses in the yard that we’ve built up and hopefully we’ve plenty more to come back at the Festival in March. He’s certainly not the finished article, he’s only a young horse and he made a few jumping errors early on, so hopefully there’s a few things to brush up on and who knows how good he can be. Let’s enjoy today first!
“The partnership was set up for a chap called ‘Footie’ - Nick Foot who died of cancer. There was a group of six of them who always came racing to Cheltenham and they set up this partnership with the idea of coming here and hopefully winning a big race at Cheltenham. Here it is and it’s all credit to this wonderful team of five guys. Nick Foot would have had a grandson yesterday I think it was, so it came together lovely.
“All credit must go to my head girl (Kate Robinson) who rides him out every day and nursed him back from injury, he had 600 days off with a tendon problem so she’s done a great job alongside the vets to get him back. He ran a lovely race on return in the Old Roan at Aintree last time and stepped forward to win that there so it’s lovely.
“We were third in this race a couple of years back with Present View after he’d won at the Festival that year, so hopefully this chap can follow suit by winning at the Festival next year.
“Big Saturday winners are what it’s all about, but the everyday winners count for everything. We’ve been lucky enough to have a Festival winner in the past and there’s nothing like Cheltenham and these big races, it’s a wonderful team performance to get him back.
“He’s very lightly-raced and it’s only his second run out of novice company, his first run out of that was in the Old Roan and he’s stepped forward from that. He was off a mark of 142 so it was obvious he had to come down the handicap route, so we’ll enjoy today and see where tomorrow takes us but you’d think after that you’d be wanting to go up in trip.
“When he got injured, which was before the spring festivals in his novice year (2021), I said to the guys ‘don’t worry about it, we’ll win the 2022 Paddy Power!’ It’s all very well saying that then, but to nurse him through that and get him back fit and through the prep run – we knew off 142 this was the year to do it – thankfully it’s come together.”
Johnny Burke, the successful jockey, said: “At first he wasn’t really jumping or travelling great but as the race went on he got better and better and finished up strong.
“When we landed after three out I felt I had plenty left and I as wary of getting to the front too soon on him, but the second last and the last didn’t really help me as he missed both of them and he’s done very well to recover and come out on top.
“He’s so tough and they’ve done very well to get him back so hopefully it’s onwards and upwards now.”
Michael Wainwright, who is a member of the winning ownership partnership as well as Managing Director of Cheltenham Gold Cup sponsor Boodles, said: “The wife is just behind me but winning this beats the wedding day!”
Mouse Morris, trainer of runner-up French Dynamite, said: “He is a nice horse to look forward to for the season. Where we go I don’t know but he didn’t disgrace himself.
“He just missed out the last a bit and lost his momentum as he just caught the top of it but I’m not making excuses. He was second that is it. He is only a pup and he is 17 hands. He will get me out of bed in the morning.
“I’d probably say he will end up going over three miles at the end of the season but he has enough toe for that trip today. That is only his first handicap in fairness. Here around Cheltenham they have never won until they are past the post and I’m well used to that now.”
Dan Skelton, trainer of third-placed Midnight River, said: “If he is alright we will come back for December Gold Cup, if not we will wait until New Year’s Day. He needs the ground a little slower than it was today, but that is not an excuse as to what got him beat. However the ground would be more suitable if it was a bit slower.
“I was happy with the way how he equipped himself in a competitive handicap field like that. He made a couple of mistakes on the way round which weren’t race-losing by any stretch. He could be a little smoother but that is the first time we have took the wraps off him over fences and said you are on your own now and he acquitted himself well. There is definitely one of these races in him. He is a young horse that is progressive. He has got that experience under his belt now and he is only seven. If horses like him can’t be progressive, which ones can?”
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Il Ridoto (4th) and Simply The Betts (7th) said: “He (Il Ridoto) ran really well for a five year old first time out. I’m very pleased with him and he will come back here in a month’s time. The stiffer track might suit him a bit better and they went quick enough on that ground for him. He has learnt a lot today so I’m very pleased. He made a mistake two out but the three in front of him all had a run. Whether that made a difference I don’t know but I wouldn’t have thought so.
“Harry (Cobden) said he was flat out all the way. It was a good run for a five year old. He was relaxed today and last season he was always a bit too keen. It probably helped with the speed they went today. I’m thrilled with him. It probably is his best run. Today he has settled well and jumped fantastic. Okay, he didn’t have a great run early on and he had to pull him wide but he was bang there at the right time but just wasn’t quite good enough on the day. For a five year old we can only build on that.
“Simply The Betts ran well. One minute he was there then the next moment I don’t know where he was. He finished around the same place as last year but David (Maxwell, owner and rider) will have had a lot of fun on him.”