Tufto shows spark on 186th start with third-placed finish
There is life in the old boy yet. That was the message from course specialist General Tufto, who relished the return to his favourite track with an eyecatching third in division one of the mile handicap.
Connections have had to be a patient with a reduction in all-weather fixtures at Southwell this year, but on his 186th start and 98th course visit, he showed some sparkle when slicing through the field late on to suggest a 15th Southwell win and first since January 2015 might not be far away.
"That was brilliant," said his trainer Charles Smith, smiling as much as anyone in the winner's circle. "He loved it and I'm pleased for the old boy – there will be easier races than this for him."
Officially rated 76 at his pomp, the 11-year-old has slipped to an all-weather mark of just 37 and was racing from out of the handicap here, but proved he can still be competitive at Southwell.
Smith added: "He loves coming racing, and as long as he continues to love it, we will continue."
Stablemate Alpha Tauri, another with a penchant for Southwell's sand, capped a memorable day for Smith and owner John Theaker when going two better than 'The General' to win the 7f apprentice handicap.
Not quite at his stablemate's level yet, this was a ninth course win on Alpha Tauri's 56th course start and he is now just five runs away from his century.
"He's rated 38 on turf but just loves it here," said Smith, enjoying just his third win of the year. "That was unbelievable and I'm very lucky – both are a pleasure to train."
He added: "We've only got five horses but Southwell is only 20 minutes away so I was disappointed with the cut in fixtures. These two horses love it here but don't act on the other all-weather surfaces."
Shaw stuns rivals
Derek Shaw was another trainer delighted to see racing at Southwell return to the Fibresand after a summer break and hit the target with Stun Gun in division two of the mile handicap.
Another horse with an affinity to the track's unique surface, Stun Gun was registering his fourth course success under Tony Hamilton.
"It's horses for courses," said Shaw with a chuckle. "He's not the best traveller and we're only 40 minutes away from Southwell so it really suits him. As long as there are the right races he'll be back."
The winner carried the colours of Hong Kong-based owner John Saville, who despite being in the country still missed the win.
Shaw explained: "Whenever he comes over we always try to make sure he has a runner or two, but he had a business meeting in Harrogate today and has missed out.
"We've entered another of his horses, Polarbrook, here next week so hopefully he'll get to see that one."
Thought for the day
The return of all-weather racing attracted 15 on-course bookmakers, who were all smiles to be back on sand, especially after only one winning favourite obliged.