It wasn’t just the sunshine putting a spring in our step at Haydock Park – there was some competitive action on a seven race card too. The feature race was the Tim Molony Handicap Chase, and a thrilling renewal went the way of Chef D’Oeuvre for trainer Sam England.
With the action continuing behind closed doors while COVID-19 restrictions remain in place, racing fans are having to make do with enjoying the coverage on Racing TV. We sent Nick Seddon to review the action and speak to the winners on the day...
CHEF’S VICTORY PUTS SCOTTISH GRAND NATIONAL ON THE MENU
Although only five runners went to post in the feature race, the Class 3 Tim Molony Handicap Chase over three and a half miles, the field was a strong one, featuring a Devon National winner (Samuel Jackson), a Sussex National winner (Christmas In April) and a rapidly improving mare (Destinee Royale).
The last-named was a well-supported favourite for the Venetia Williams team and looked to be in control three fences from home. But both Boyhood and Chef D’Oeuvre battled gamely to the line, with the latter prevailing in a thrilling three-way photo.
It sealed a second victory in four trips to Haydock Park for the useful winner – who also has a victory in the 2018 The Last Fling Chase under his belt – and his jockey Jonathan England would not rule out a tilt at next month’s Scottish Grand National at Ayr.
He said: “It was nice to get him back to winning form. He had a wind operation before his last run at Doncaster and my brother (David England) rode him and just gave him his confidence back.
“He’s won round here before and run really well in the Grand National Trial so we were hopeful today of a big show, it was just a case of hoping that he still had it in there. I didn’t want to hit the front too soon today, and I thought jumping the last I may have just thrown it away, but he really stuck his neck out and did it well.
“Our lad has got a touch of class and in theory he was quite well handicapped on his old form, so if anything he should hopefully improve for that today. He’s got an entry for the Scottish National, so we’ll just have to see what the handicapper does and see if he can get in.”
GLASS PRODUCES POLISHED PERFORMANCE IN THE BUMPER
Paul Nicholls is known for shrewdly finding the right races for his runners and Mr Glass was found a good opportunity to pick up a second career success in the finale, the Hermitage Green Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
Up against just two rivals, Mr Glass was a long odds-on favourite to get the job done, but it wasn’t all plain sailing and jockey Megan Nicholls had to keep her inexperienced partner up to his work throughout.
The five year old was a comfortable winner in the end, however, and it was difficult not to be taken with the comments of his jockey, who is already looking ahead to next season.
She said: “He’s still a big, raw baby. The first two times he’s run he’s had cover and he’s been able to go in amongst them and learn a bit, and today was a bit of a different job and he’s probably learned more again.
“He’s got unbelievable amounts of ability and to be honest I kept him up to his work because he keeps everything to himself – I think there’s an awful lot left in him and he’s a really exciting horse for the future.”
SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE FOR HENDERSON’S FABLE
Although his squad for this year’s Cheltenham Festival was without any novice hurdlers, Nicky Henderson hinted that he had several nice prospects with whom he was taking his time with back at Seven Barrows.
Based on his performance here, Fable looks a promising stayer, winning the Racing TV Mares' Novices' Hurdle in good style and with plenty to spare.
The six year old opened her account at the second attempt at Huntingdon last month and seemed to relish the step up to three miles here, controlling matters from the front and showing plenty of speed to win by eight and a half lengths.
It was a performance that pleased jockey Nico de Boinville. He said: “She did that really nicely. She’s appreciated the step up in trip, the ground was probably slightly on the lively side for her, but it was a good performance.
“She’s going the right way, we brought her along really nice and slow and we’re reaping the benefit now. It’s just really nice to see her go from race to race, and I’m sure she’ll be better for a fence as well."
CADDYHILL HELPS RALPH LAND A DOUBLE IN PHOTO FINISH
Things haven’t always gone the way of Caddyhill this season, but there is no doubt that he has plenty of ability and he was able to show it with a game success in the opener, the Join Racing TV Now Maiden Hurdle.
The six year old certainly has the form in the book to be winning races, going down a battling second to the subsequently smart Benson on his British debut at Hereford in October. And he needed all of his resolution to score here, prevailing in a three-way photo finish under Ciaran Gethings.
That race was a qualifier for next month’s Novices' Championship Hurdle Series Final at Sandown Park and his trainer Alastair Ralph – who would go on to enjoy a double on the day with Seymour Sox winning race five - wouldn’t rule out a trip to the Esher track if his charge remained in good nick.
He said: “He’s been running well through the winter and probably enjoyed that better ground today. It’s nice to get his head in front, he got beat half a length by Benson at the start of the season when we first started with him, so the form was in the book and it’s just nice it’s all worked out today really.
“He kind of fluffed the last and Ciaran said he didn’t actually use his whip in the end, he just got in tight and he’s held on well. We could perhaps go for the final next – we’ll just see how he comes out of it and take each day as it comes.”
ROCKY LANDS KNOCKOUT PUNCH FOR PATIENT OWNER
Trainer Jonjo O’Neill and his team have had to demonstrate patience with Ey Up Rocky, but he showed he retained plenty of ability when making a return from a two-year absence at Ludlow last month and he was able to build on that here with a battling success in the Every Race Live On Racing TV Handicap Hurdle.
It was a performance which delighted jockey Jonjo O’Neill Jr, who praised the eight year old’s owners Martyn and Elaine Booth. He said: “He’s always been a fair horse, he’s had his troubles though and it’s credit to Martyn and Elaine Booth who own him.
“They’ve been patient with him and that’s been rewarded and they’re good supporters of ours. He’s had loads of different problems, just niggly problems, so he’s done really well to win there.
“Between two and two and a half miles will suit him and hopefully there will be some fun races over fences for him as well.”