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Saturday, 19 January, 2019

Rockerfeller hangs tough to reward grateful owners with special Ascot triumph

Trevor Whelan and Lil Rockerfeller win the Coral Hurdle
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The four men who own Lil Rockerfeller love Ascot but perhaps not as much as Lil Rockerfeller loves Ascot, where one of racing's best four-legged advertisements displayed his trademark resolution to post his second Grade 2 victory.

Not everyone walked away from the Coral Ascot Hurdle happy. While the victor's camp were ecstatic and runner-up L'Ami Serge's trainer, Nicky Henderson, was more than happy, connections of Defi Du Seuil were left to ponder what on earth had happened.

For when Lil Rockerfeller passed the post in front there were nearly 18 lengths back to last season's superstar juvenile, who had much ground to make up entering the final mile but lost even more, trailing home a soundly beaten fourth.

Lil Rockerfeller (centre) takes the final flight of the Ascot Hurdle with Defi Du Seuil already well beaten

While the 10-11 favourite went through his previous campaign unstoppable, mopping up on all seven of his starts, Lil Rockerfeller – second in this contest 12 months ago – didn't win a single race. It was not for the want of trying.

At Cheltenham he was collared in the final yards of the Stayers' Hurdle, but this time, brought on by a reappearance outing at Wetherby, he battled bravely under Trevor Whelan to fend off last season's French Champion Hurdle winner L'Ami Serge and 50-1 outsider Wakea.

In five Ascot outings Lil Rockerfeller has now won twice, finished second twice and third once. He thrives at the royal racecourse, as does the Hong Kong Vase-bound Danehill Kodiac, who in October bagged the Cumberland Lodge Stakes for the quartet in whose colours the 9-4 winner runs.

"We've had some great days here," said part-owner Andy Smith, who will soon be off to Hong Kong. Rocky will not, but is instead due back at Ascot on December 23 for the JLT-backed Long Walk Hurdle.

"Lil Rockerfeller has been such a great servant," said trainer Neil King.

"I thought Defi Du Seuil was unbeatable and felt we could run very well and finish third. I wouldn't say he's improved but he has come back to the level of last season. He loves an uphill finish and his record here is impeccable.

Lil Rockerfeller battles to the line in front of eventual third Wakea

"This is very special. We keep being runner-up in these big races, so it's nice to win one."

To win his next one Lil Rockerfeller will need to again beat L'Ami Serge.

"I was absolutely delighted," said Henderson. "Nico [de Boinville] thought he'd win at the last but then the lack of a run told. The Long Walk will almost certainly be next."

Plans are presumably up in the air for Defi Du Seuil, who came out of the air at the wrong time when making a bad mistake at the third flight, although Barry Geraghty felt that had not mattered.

Trainer Philip Hobbs said: "Barry was happy enough coming out of Swinley Bottom but when he turned into the straight he was beaten. It's obviously very disappointing."

Coral Hurdle result

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This is very special. We keep being runner-up in these big races, so it's nice to win one
E.W. Terms
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