Friday 30 September 2016

Race for trainers' title going down to wire

Greg Wood

Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30

Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies (left) steers Vicente to victory in yesterday's Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies (left) steers Vicente to victory in yesterday's Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

The count had reached nine-and-a-half in the British National Hunt trainers' championship as the field lined up for the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr yesterday, with Willie Mullins ready to celebrate the first success for an overseas trainer since the 1950s. Eight minutes later, Mullins and Paul Nicholls were back on their stools and preparing for a final round at Sandown Park next Saturday, after Vicente's victory in the feature race wiped out Mullins's six-figure lead and put Nicholls back in front by £25,000.

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The trainers' title has gone down to the final card of the season in the past, but never after a race for the championship which has veered so wildly from one side to the other. Mullins was an 8/1 chance at Christmas, when Paul Nicholls, the champion in nine of the last 10 seasons, seemed unassailable, but long-odds on by the end of the Cheltenham Festival in March and 1/10 after last week's Grand National at Aintree, where neither Mullins nor Nicholls came close to the huge first prize.

Mullins had the joint-favourite for yesterday's big race in Measureofmydreams, but the 8/1 chance got no further than the third fence.

Mouse Morris, successful in both the Irish National and the Aintree equivalent in recent weeks, was represented by Folsom Blue in an attempt to record an extraordinary treble, but he departed six from home.

Vicente, however, was always travelling smoothly for Sam Twiston-Davies towards the head of the field, and it was clear with a circuit to run that he would be involved at the finish barring a fall. Seeyouatmidnight struck for home in the straight, but Twiston-Davies had him covered and Vicente stayed on strongly and beat Alvarado.

The result left bookmakers unsure who to make favourite for the title, with Paddy Power retaining Mullins as favourite at 8/11 with Nicholls at even money. Hills, however, offered Nicholls at 4/6 and Mullins at 11/10, while Betfair simply quote 10/11 each of two. "That was a result," Nicholls said afterwards. "Brilliant ride. Just what we needed, perfect."

Vicente's 14/1 success put Nicholls £25,904 ahead of Mullins before next week's valuable card at Sandown, when the prizes include the Grade One Celebration Chase over two miles, worth £125,000, and the £150,000 Bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase. The win also completed a 316/1 treble for Nicholls on the card, following victories for Vivaldi Collonges and Le Mercurey.

The considerable logistical effort that went into switching a valuable meeting from Berkshire to Essex at less than 24 hours' notice was rewarded at Chelmsford City racecourse, as the Greenham Stakes card rerouted from Newbury produced several good finishes.

Just three horses went to post for the Greenham itself, but the result was in doubt until the final stride as Tasleet held off the challenge of Knife Edge by a short head.

Meanwhile, trainer Kevin Prendergast is hopeful a change of venue will not be too much of an inconvenience for Mohaayed as he goes in search of Listed honours in the Heritage Stakes at Navan this afternoon.

The lucrative contest will be run over the slightly shorter trip of a mile, after being switched from Saturday's cancelled fixture at Cork. A winner on his final start as a three-year-old at Gowran Park in October, Mohaayed was well-beaten on his seasonal reappearance in last month's Irish Lincolnshire, but Prendergast expects his course and distance winner to raise his game this weekend.

"It's back to a mile now, but we're going to run him anyway, and we hope he runs well," he said. "He ran a nice race in the Lincoln without showing, he finished ninth, but he's fitter now and we hope he gives a good account of himself. Cork is a heavy old place on testing ground, but I'd suppose it'll be stiff enough at Navan."

Dermot Weld and Pat Smullen have farmed this race in the past, with the likes of Tian Shan (2008), Famous Name (2010, 2011 and 2012) and Fascinating Rock (2015) all on the roll of honour.

Those victories all came at Leopardstown, but now at Proudstown Park their bid for honours is through the Moyglare Stud-owned filly Joailliere. The daughter of Dubawi comes up against the two that finished ahead of her when she was third at the Curragh two weeks ago in the Group Three Gladness Stakes, Onenightidreamed and Flight Risk.

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