Down the Hatch: beers flow after super Splash
Alastair Down finds Newbury invaded by a rowdy bunch of celebrating Scousers
First published on Sunday, February 9, 2014
There may be something of a mid-life training revolution occurring at Nigel Twiston-Davies' Naunton lair high on the Cotswolds. For many a year the trainer has been master of the staying chaser, winning a Gold Cup, two Grand Nationals, a couple of Welsh equivalents and three Nationals in what may soon be Salmondland.
But this season his headline horse has been two-mile ace The New One, joint-favourite in some books for the Champion Hurdle, and yesterday he took another notable two-mile hurdle when Splash Of Ginge won a pot of gold in making virtually all at 33-1 in the Betfair Hurdle. Twiston-Davies is clearly going down the speed road and come June we can expect him to have one geared up for the Vodafone Dash.
When Splash Of Ginge and Act Of Kalanisi blitzed into the lead from flagfall at a fair old lick given the heavy ground, my immediate thought was the two claimers on top had let the occasion get to their heads and would never last home.
But while Act Of Kalanisi hit the wall three out Ryan Hatch, belying his 7lb allowance, had judged it to a nicety and, having smuggled a bit of a breather into his mount at the top of the long straight, was in command going to the last. Splash Of Ginge landed in front and never looked like being caught.
Hatch won the Kim Muir on Same Difference at last year's Cheltenham Festival, beating the great amateur Derek O'Connor on Super Duty by a head. As Super Duty was my main bet of the festival, I was rather hoping the opportunity might arise to run Hatch over in the car park after racing, but no such luck. In all fairness, he rode a blinder that afternoon back in March and was even better here, so good luck to him.
Splash Of Ginge is owned by a fizzingly enthusiastic Scouser called John Neild, who should be part of any marketing campaign to promote the joys of jump racing.
Earlier in the day the Liverpool-Arsenal game drew a crowd of 44,701 at Anfield, but I can assure you Neild bought as least as many Liverpudlians with him to Newbury and they gave Splash Of Ginge a terrific reception, no doubt helped by the fact 33-1 winners can put something of a gloss on the day/week/month or even year.
Neild was born half a mile from Aintree and is a jumping nut. Ginge was his dad's nickname and the Neild family are marbled through with many a redhead.
"I rang Richard Osgood on Friday and said I had people coming from Spain, Ireland and Scotland and that if the meeting was off it would cost me a fortune," said Neild. "He said we'd be fine, but if the worst happened we could all go to lunch at his house."
Osgood had a lucky escape – with the crowd that welcomed in this winner he'd have needed to take off the front door and install a turnstile.
Splash Of Ginge is the first horse Neild has owned outright and it was the Twiston-Davies Aintree record that made him opt for Naunton.
He added: "Nigel told me this week Splash Of Ginge was miles better than a handicapper. And other than his love of Aintree the thing that made me pick Nigel is that he can't tell a lie – you can see that just from looking in his eye when he talks to you. What's more, he puts up with loads of us invading his place to watch the horse work."
When last sighted Neild was marshalling his troops for a mega-celebration and hinting that several dozen taxis would soon be making their way out of Liverpool to meet up with the triumphant Newbury contingent on their way north.
There will be some business done in the pub where this happy band landed with pockets bulging from a never-to-be-forgotten day.
Neild, who lit up the place with his enthusiasm, is in the renewable energy business. He may well be in need of some of that on the morning after.
Harry Topper landed the Denman Chase by a wide margin, thus giving Kim Bailey another decent staying prize following the recent success of the The Rainbow Hunter at Doncaster.
Last time at Cheltenham Harry Topper jumped indifferently and, having schooled little better earlier this week, Bailey got Jason Maguire to take him over five fences yesterday morning - the first time that ploy has been used by Bailey since the day Master Oats won the Gold Cup.
Bailey has never hidden his affection for Harry Topper, but he was splendidly matter of fact about his limitations and said: "He's not a natural jumper and never will be. Nor is he a fast horse and he was flat out from the word go. And he must have soft ground - if the word good is in the festival going description there would be no point in running in the Gold Cup - he'd get lapped.
"But he is special to us because he really tries. He might need a crack to tell him, but he's as tough as they come."
Bailey is one of few trainers who, having slipped from some very lofty heights, has grafted his way back from barren years. What's more, when things weren't going great there was never a whine or the slightest hint of poor me. He just got on with the job and clawed his way back with a touch of class.
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