It looks set to be all systems go to the Grand Annual Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival for the improving Brave Seasca (4-5 Favourite), who picked up a third straight victory over fences when pulling clear of the smart Sky Pirate to win the Alder Demain & Akers PMS Oxford Edward Courage Cup Handicap Chase (2m) at Warwick this afternoon.
That rival went on to win the Grand Annual after taking this race 12 months ago and Brave Seasca set up a tilt at that feat with a smooth victory here, pulling clear of the closing Sky Pirate after a smooth jump at the final fence to win by seven lengths.
His trainer Venetia Williams was pleased with what she saw from the seven year old son of Brave Mansonnien. She said: “I’m very happy. You can’t get too carried away as we were getting lumps of weight from Sky Pirate but you have to be pleased with the way he’s progressing. I must admit I was saying ‘get after him’ to Charlie in the straight as he had a Pirate hunting him down! The Grand Annual has to be of consideration now you’d think, we’re very pleased with him.”
Brave Seasca is owned by the Chairman of Huntingdon Racecourse and long-time owner Julian Taylor, who declared him to be best he has ever had when speaking after the race.
Taylor said: “I couldn’t be more thrilled with that, when you’re the odds on favourite you always think the worst is going to happen, but that was the best and he won impressively – and it’s great to be doing it on a Jockey Club Racecourse and take some prize money off Warwick!
“After today you’d have to think that this one is definitely the best I’ve owned, I had a nice one around 10 years ago with Venetia Williams called Brick Red who got up to about a 150 rating, but I think this one could go higher.
“I’m very grateful to Andrew Brooks who gave this horse to me as a 60th birthday present three years ago and what a present that’s turned out to be! I’ve been in the game as long time as an owner and this is exactly why you do it. These days are very special and they don’t happen to me very often.
“Funnily enough I thought after his win at Ascot that this could be a Peterborough Chase horse and I think he would suit Huntingdon’s chase track – if he could win that it would be the absolute pinnacle. I don’t know what I’d do if that happens!”
lsewhere on the card was the Grade Two Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle (2m 5f), which was won in good style by the Archie Watson-trained Stag Horn (100-30) – who looks to be an exciting recruit to this sphere.
The five year old was a winner off a rating of 103 on the Flat and he certainly looks to have transferred his ability over to hurdles, travelling well into the contest before holding off the attentions of the closing Gentleman At Arms and Scipion for a cosy two length success.
And winning rider Nick Scholfield commented: “He’s a dude of a horse. His exploits on the Flat are well known and he got a rating of over 100.
“I knew what I was sitting on after speaking to Gavin Sheehan - who rode him last time - and Archie this morning and you wouldn’t find a horse with a bigger heart. I asked him some big questions a long way from home and he answered every single one of them. Sometimes those high-class Flat horses don’t always take to hurdling but he loves it.
“To jump like he did is a real testament to Archie and everyone knows how good he is. Brodie Hampson has done a lot of work with him, as has Gavin Sheehan, and for a horse to jump like that is just electric.
“As Brodie said to me this morning, when Hollie Doyle rode him on the Flat she could never go quick enough. I was thinking down the back straight have I gone hard enough but on that ground he just kept picking up and as good a horse as he is, he has an even bigger heart.
“Archie is just brilliant. He needs no introduction as to how good he is on the Flat. I am very grateful for the ride and Brodie has done all the hard work. I’ll leave plans to Archie, he’ll know exactly what he’s doing but I wouldn’t be surprised if he heads to Cheltenham.”
Another winner on the card was the classy Sporting John (3-1), who added to his Cheltenham Festival options when showing his class to win the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (3m 1f) for the Philip Hobbs team.
And winning rider Aidan Coleman commented: “The form was in the book and the race worked out well, they didn’t go very fast so I was able to travel the whole way and he ended up being well-placed turning in. Everything went like clockwork today and to be fair to the horse he did it nicely.
“He was impressive at Cheltenham first time out and didn’t run badly first time out and that was a lovely opportunity for him. It was made for him the way it panned out and on ratings he was one of the class horses in the race so he’s done that nicely.”
The opening race was the Start Your RacingTV Free Trial Now Novices' Handicap Hurdle (2m), which saw Punctuation (15-8 Favourite) make a winning start for the Fergal O’Brien team with an impressive four and a half-length success.
The five year old was rated as high as 89 on the Flat for Andrew Balding two years ago and although he struggled in four starts over timber for Charlie Longsdon last term he was able to put everything together here, travelling well into the race and putting matters to bed with a good jump at the final flight.
And Fergal O’Brien’s assistant and partner Sally Randell was pleased that everything had come together for the son of Dansili – who looks to have a bright future in this sphere.
She said: “We’re delighted. We’ve spent a lot of time with him at home getting him right, so to do that first time out means a lot. He’s a confidence horse and it all had to come right today for his future, so it was just a case of keeping him calm and today it all worked out a treat.
“I’m not sure what we’ll do next, I think we just needed to get today out of the way so we could make a plan going forwards. Nobody looked to the future at all, it was all about today in the hope we see what we see at home. Thankfully it’s all come together so nicely.”