There is likely to be a big party back at the The Strand Inn over in Dunmore East when connections of Whacker Clan arrive home after the tenacious gelding turned his syndicate’s dream of having a Cheltenham winner into reality in the Epic Jumps Season At William Hill Handicap Chase this afternoon, day two of The Showcase.
Owned by a syndicate made of 39 family members the Henry de Bromhead-trained seven-year-old pulled out all the stops in the three miles and one furlong contest to secure a victory that connections described as one that has made their year.
Having been out in front from the flag fall the son of Westerner looked set to be collared by eventual runner-up Twig, who moved up onto his shoulders after the final fence having worked his way quietly into contention.
However, it was not to be as the 12-1 chance found more when required under Darragh O’Keeffe before taking victory by three lengths to give triumphant trainer de Bromhead a 194-1 double following the success of Dancing On My Own in the opener.
Louise Foyle, of the Whacker’s Clan Syndicate, said: “We’ve been coming here for years and to come here and own a horse by all our family, is great.
“Our uncle John Halley brought the horse from Tipperary in honour of our grandmother who was nicknamed Whacker.
“There are 12 of us here today but in total there are 31 grandchildren and eight uncles and aunts. We all love racing, and we love a party. It has made our year to have a winner at Cheltenham. We could not be happier.
“Our family business is The Stand Inn in Dunmore East. Henry is our local trainer and a good family friend so we wouldn’t give the horse to anyone but him.
“He ran at Tramore, and won in Tramore. It was not a super hot race so we didn’t expect too much here in a Class Two. We didn’t have our hopes super high but he has given us some hope and joy egging him on.
“One hundred per cent this is our biggest success. That is the dream to come back here for The Festival but we will wait to see what Henry says as he is the boss.”
Looking further along the line de Bromhead earmarked the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase back at the Cheltenham Festival as a possible target.
De Bromhead added: “That was brilliant, and I’m delighted with that. He is really hardy, and it was a super ride from Darragh (O’Keeffe) and he stays really well. He gave him a brilliant ride and he was able to slow it up all the way around. He was super on him.
“I kind of felt once we got over the last we would stay, but whether he would stay well enough who knows, but he really battled then in fairness to him. He doesn’t do much in front.
“He is just progressing in fairness to him. He is a hardy fellow. It is great he has shown form around here and there is a chance he might get into a Kim Muir in time. He has been busy, so we will back off him fairly soon.”
Syndicate organiser David Sumpter was left fighting back the tears after finally celebrating his first ever Cheltenham success in 35 years of trying following the victory of Hyland in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.
The Turgeon gelding booked his name on trainer Nicky Henderson’s team sheet for the Cheltenham Festival in March after backing up his comeback success at Warwick 23 days ago stepped back up in trip to three miles.
Having patiently worked his way into contention the 9-1 chance moved on past longtime leader Flight Deck after jumping the last before holding last time out Kelso winner Judicial Law at bay by two lengths under Nico de Boinville.
Sumpter said: “I’ve been running syndicates since 1988. Everybody wants Cheltenham winners, and I’ve had lots of winners over the years and believe it or not that was my 99th, but to get one here is great. He will be back for The Festival.
“I’m overwhelmed by the whole thing. It was getting too soft as he likes top of the ground, but he handled it superbly. That was just great.”
Although the Cheltenham Festival is still more than four months away Seven Barrows handler Henderson admitted he is now likely to work back from the Pertemps Final which he was introduced at 25-1 for by Paddy Power.
Henderson said: “They have cut it back (the Pertemps Final) to only four qualifiers so he has got himself qualified and he will turn up for the Final whatever happens.
“We were going to jump fences, but I suspect we will put that on hold. He was very good at Warwick, but this is a different kettle of fish and I thought he wanted top of the ground.
“He does stay, and he stays and jumps. Once you have qualified for it, you might as well go for it and he will get in.”