Weird Al supplies magic for McCain
The new jumps season moved up a gear here, but it was an old name who was being toasted as Donald McCain sent out Weird Al to take the Charlie Hall Chase on the horse's first start for the stable.
Less than two months since his owners decided a change of scenery might benefit the talented but fragile winner and moved him to join McCain from Ian Williams, the 7/1 chance travelled powerfully throughout under Timmy Murphy and outsprinted Time For Rupert to take the first big steeplechase in emphatic style.
He supplied McCain with the trainer's first major success since the death last month of his father, Ginger, whose name will always figure in the sport's history, thanks to his connection with Red Rum.
"I don't want to say too much about it, but I paid him a visit yesterday and this is very special," he said. "So much of everything I achieve will be down to him." Despite the absence of Diamond Harry, who suffered a minor injury when stabled overnight at the racecourse, this was still a fine renewal of a race whose roll of honour features some of the best-known names in steeplechasing, though recent runnings have lacked quality.
Given Weird Al's long list of training problems -- he was last seen in public when breaking a blood vessel in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March and also suffered a fractured cannon bone early last year -- McCain was reluctant to look far into the future.
"I'm still learning about him," he said. "We'll take him home and see how he is. He might be the a horse that wants to have his races spaced out.
"He's had his problems, as everyone knows, and he hadn't had a proper race since the start of last season so this was just the first step. It would be wrong for me to take all the credit. He looked a million dollars when he came to me.
"Ian's been a help. Timmy's given him an absolute peach and said he picked up well but was just idling in front a bit."
Time For Rupert jumped superbly and took the measure of the front-running Nacarat from the home turn, but the favourite had no answer when the winner swept to the front coming to the final fence.
"He'll tighten up a hell of a lot for that," said the runner-up's trainer, Paul Webber. "But you have to say that the winner was giving us 3lbs and a beating, so he must be a good horse."
On an emotional afternoon, Robin Dickin was wiping away tears of relief after Restless Harry dominated the John Smith's Hurdle by 20 lengths. "The sky is the limit for this horse over fences," said the trainer. "I've been in racing for 42 years and I've never seen a staying hurdler like Big Buck's, so to get within the same breath as him last season was good enough for me.
"But this horse has always schooled electrically over fences and the only reason why we ran over hurdles today was the ground has been too fast at home to get him over fences. That'll be where we go next, though." Paul Hanagan and Silvestre de Sousa tasted victory in their battle for the jockeys' championship -- Hanagan extending his advantage to four winners when riding a double at Ayr compared to De Sousa's solitary success at Newmarket.
Despite the narrow gap, the advantage is firmly with the reigning champion, as De Sousa will not be in action until Wednesday. He was expected to fly to Australia last night to partner Fox Hunt in the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday.
Both men were given five-day bans for their first breaches of the strict new whip rules yesterday. Hanagan earned his in victory at Ayr while De Sousa was punished for a half-length defeat at Newmarket.
The bans will start after the turf season ends next Saturday, when the champion jockeys' title will be decided.
Sunday Indo Sport