The highlight on the card, certainly for Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls was the running of the three-mile listed British EBF William Hill Gold Castle “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle. Nicholls saddled the winner Threeunderthrufive the 15/8 second favourite who won with some ease under Adrian Heskin despite making a rick at the last. In doing so Nicholls set his personal best tally of winners for a season hitting 172 after equalling his previous best at Kempton on Monday.
After the race, the trainer’s daughter Megan appeared bullish that total would increase before the season ends tweeting ‘Record officially broken but I know for a fact we won’t be stopping yet… 3 days left!! Take a bow Paul Nicholls. The winning rider said that there had been too much hustle an bustle for his mount at Cheltenham adding that he’s got a big engine but still very green concluding that a fence will be where he comes into his own and that chasing will make a man of him.
Another trainer with reason to celebrate on day one was Olly Murphy who enjoyed a double on the card. 5/1 chance Jetaway Joey got up on the line to land the opening Remembering Tim Hardie Maiden Hurdle under Aidan Coleman to get the ball rolling. World Trip did it somewhat easier winning the penultimate Division One of the NHS Tayside Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle by 13 lengths under Mr Luke Scott at odds of 11/2.
Earlier on the card jockey Max Kendrick rode out his claim when making it 101 for the season for trainer Fergal O’Brien. That for winning on 10/3 favourite Hunny Moon in the Follow @williamhillracing On Twitter Mares’ Handicap Hurdle. He had to work hard for it though, defying Brian Hughes on 6/1 chance Bellaney Gem by just a short-head in the final stride.
Nigel Hawke made the 972 mile round trip from Stoodleigh in Devon pay off by landing the William Hill Pick Your Places Handicap Hurdle with 6/1 shot Historic Heart by a very easy seven lengths under David Noonan.
Nicky Henderson hit his century of winners in the feature Thank You Phil Nelson River Tay Handicap Chase when Pistol Whipped did the business under Nico de Boinville. Despite being easy in the market, drifting from 13/8 out to 2/1 at the off. The gelding made short work of his field with 6/4 favourite Defi Sacre 14 lengths back in second with the third a further 18 lengths away.
The winning trainer wasn’t at Perth but speaking to Racing TV at Warwick he told them, ‘It hasn’t been the easiest season I must admit, because it started a bit late and we then had a difficult time after Christmas, so it’s nice to have got that done anyway. It’s testament to what everybody’s done because it’s been a tough year to be fair, things haven’t gone according to plan. Cheltenham was very good, Aintree was good and there were two English horses that managed to win graded races at both and they were Shishkin and Chantry House. A lot of our other guys have been brilliant. They were a bit out of sorts after Christmas and we had to sit and suffer for a while, but all’s well that ends well. Considering it has been a short season it’s nice to get to the hundred and they’ve all done well. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s a nice thing to have got to.’ He concluded, As I say, we’ve had easier years ,but we’ve got as good a lot of horses as we have ever had and some very smart youngsters. so next year is going to be different.’
The only outright winning favourite on the Thursday of the William Hill sponsored festival was in the Fonab Castle Handicap Hurdle (Div 1) where Wor Verge justified being supported from 3/1 into 11/4 leading two out and quickening away after the last for Susan Corbett under Nathan Moscrop. Earlier on the card Brian Hughes rode Richard Hobson’s Fanzio to win the williamhill.com Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap Chase having been backed from 4/1 into 10/3 joint favourite. The combination finished 11 lengths clear of the runner-up Sao also returned 10/3.
The third and final day of the festival saw Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville strike again when Morning Vicar beat his three rivals in the Balnakeilly Chase. The gelding returned the 7/4 favourite eventually won comfortably after being pushed along three out. His cause wasn’t hindered by the runner-up and market rival Fire Away hanging right on the run-in but would have won anyway.
The 3m 6 ½ furlong William Hill Highland National Handicap Chase (For The Julian Llewellen Palmer Memorial Trophy) saw Devon trainer Sue Gardner’s Tea Time On Mars sent off the 5/1 favourite. Sadly for connections they had to settle for fifth place, the £350 prize money would have gone some way to cover the diesel for the trip back to the Westcountry. Up at the business end of the race we witnessed current champion jockey Brian Hughes displaying how he earned that title. He did so with a masterful ride on the Matt Sheppard trained 12/1 chance Cyclop to get up to win on the run-in. We can only guess the winner was popular off course with an unusual number of Tote players paying just £10 for the win and £3.30 for the place.
Only four went to post for the most valuable race of the last day, the William Hill Fair Maid Of Perth Mares’ Chase (Listed). Punters were treated to an excellent race none the less. Backers of 5/4 favourite Zambella would have been feeling quite pleased with their investment until she started to struggle approaching the last. That’s when 4/1 chance, but I’m guessing bigger in running, Chilli Filli who had been under pressure three out, started outstay the jolly going on to win by 2 and ¾ l under Richard Patrick for Henry Daley score.
Although plenty of horses and trainers still made their annual jaunt up to Perth this is it’s possible that it wasn’t quite the fun that’s it often rumoured to be. As the ever-popular Fergal O’Brien twitter account tweeted before setting off for home. ‘Another glorious morning in Perth If you haven’t visited Perth Racecourse before, you really should #PerthPints (outdoor) available soon’.
I’ll drink to that, how’s about a trip up there next year, hold that thought.