Scottish trainer Lucinda Russell landed one of the biggest races of her career when One For Arthur turned the £60,000 Betfred Classic Handicap Chase into a one-horse race at Warwick’s richest meeting of the season on Saturday, writes David Hucker.
With 2013 winner Rigadin De Beauchene setting a strong pace from the off, this three mile and five furlong contest proved a real test of stamina, with a number of fancied runners calling it a day well before the end. With the leader giving way to Goodtoknow at the third-last fence, it looked like a close finish was on the cards but, in behind, Derek Fox was making relentless progress down the outside on One For Arthur.
Hitting the front at the penultimate obstacle, they drew right away from their toiling rivals to score by six lengths, setting up a challenge for the Randox Health Grand National, for which Paddy Power introduced One For Arthur into the betting at 40-1.
There was an impressive weight carrying performance in the opening Betfred ´Goals Galore´ Novices´ Handicap Hurdle when 6-1 shot Celestial Magic collared long-time leader Wildmoor Boy after the last flight to defy the burden of 12-0 in the testing ground.
Jockey Noel Fehily is having a good season, coming into the meeting with 70 winners on the board. He had six booked rides and added to his tally on the first of them when Overtown Express led approaching the final fence and came right away from his rivals to land the Betfred ´January Sale´ Edward Courage Cup Handicap Chase.
Champers On Ice, who has two possible targets at the Cheltenham Festival in March, was all the rage with punters in the Betfred Mobile Hampton Novices´ Chase (Listed Race), shortening from 5-2 to go off the 15-8 favourite. Settled in behind the leaders by Tom Scudamore, he was caught flat-footed as Noel Fehily upped the pace on American to stretch the field.
Apart from one untidy jump, Amercian flew the five fences down the back straight to turn for home with a commanding lead and, although Champers On Ice tried to close the gap, there were still four and a half lengths between them at the line.
The win brought up a double for Fehily and trainer Harry Fry, with American earning a quote of 12-1 for the RSA Chase at the Festival from William Hill.
Only one of the 19 winners of the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle Final at Cheltenham had taken a qualifier en route to the final, so it will be interesting to see how Tobefair fares this year. This was the sixth win on the trot for Debra Hamer’s stable star, but he could be in for a hefty rise in the weights for this success and will find the competition much hotter in future.
With the first eight finishers all eligible for the final at Cheltenham, one that caught the eye was Bon Enfant who, wearing blinkers for the first time, stayed on well to be third. Unlucky horse of the race was Barney Dwan who, despite a mistake earlier on, was still in contention at the last hurdle, only to unseat jockey Paddy Brennan.
Willie Mullins dominated the 2016 running of the Grade 2 Neptune Investment Management Novices´ Hurdle (Registered As The Leamington Hurdle) saddling the first two home, but he was without a runner this time as Peregrine Run, trained in County Kildare by Peter Fahey, flew the flag for Ireland.
Looking to extend his winning sequence to five, Peregrine Run was starting to tire when making mistakes at the last two flights as he tried in vain to reel in Willoughby Court. Having led from the start, Willoughby Court ran out a good winner in the hands of David Bass and was quoted at 14-1 to follow up at the Cheltenham Festival.
With none of the fourteen runners in the concluding National Hunt Flat Race having seen a racecourse before, the form is difficult to evaluate, but the first three home pulled clear of the rest, with 50-1 outsider Point Of Principle sticking his neck out to beat Paisley Park, with long-time leader Sir Egbert back in third.