De Rasher Counter brings home the bacon for Jones
Ben Jones completed a month that would qualify as a good year for many of his weighing room colleagues when he steered De Rasher Counter to victory in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury, by far the most important of three valuable wins for the 20-year-old jockey since the start of November.
It was a smart, confident ride that secured the spoils for Emma Lavelle's chaser. West Approach, the 13-2 favourite, did not make it on to the second circuit having unseated Robbie Power early on, but there were still plenty of fancied runners queuing up to challenge as Jones left the home turn in front.
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The Welshman immediately grabbed the initiative by kicking another length clear, and while The Conditional and Elegant Escape - last year's runner-up - did their best to close the gap, Jones had just enough left to hold them off and win by a length and a half. De Rasher Counter is owned by a small syndicate named the Makin' Bacon Partnership.
"This horse is so game," Jones said. "I thought I might have got there a bit early, but luckily he kept galloping and jumping. I can't thank Emma and the team enough, just to trust me to ride this horse in the race, let alone do what I've done."
Lavelle, who took Friday's Long Distance Hurdle at the same track with Paisley Park, put Jones's confidence down to the "innocence of youth", adding: "That's probably the wrong word, but when you are young and you don't know what can go wrong at this stage of your life, you are just riding at the top of your game. That's what he was doing.
"There were a few sore heads after yesterday. I can't imagine what it will be like after today. It is just magical when it comes off, as so often, it doesn't."
The most significant market mover for the Cheltenham Festival on yesterday's card was Paul Nicholls' Danny Whizzbang, who was the outsider of three for his chasing debut in the Grade Two John Francome Novice Chase but made short work of Reserve Tank, the odds-on favourite, after hitting the front at the third last.
"I thought I was chucking him in at the deep end," Nicholls said. "He must be very good. I thought he would finish third and run in a beginners' chase over Christmas and go on from there. Harry [Cobden] said he felt like he was riding a hunter all the way round, then he turned down the straight and took off."
Danny Whizzbang was cut to around 14-1 for the RSA Chase in March and could now step straight into Grade One company in the Kauto Star Novice Chase at Kempton Park on St Stephen's Day.
At Newcastle, there was a major shock in the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle as Cornerstone Lad, at 16-1, made all the running and held off the dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'Air, who started at 2-13, by a short-head.
Barry Geraghty, on Buveur D'Air, gave Cornerstone Lad plenty of rope but Henry Brooke, on the winner, also deserves plenty of credit for seizing the initiative from the off. Buveur D'Air had at least five lengths to make up turning in but was closing steadily when a mistake at the second-last cost him precious momentum, and he could not force his nose in front as Cornerstone Lad stayed on tenaciously from the last.
It transpired that Buveur D'Air suffered an injury at the penultimate hurdle. Veterinary staff at the Gosforth Park track had to remove a piece of wood from the runner-up and jockey Barry Geraghty later confirmed: "He picked up a little cut on his coronary band - just between the hoof and the hair. He's sore, so we'll just have to see how he is. Hopefully he's OK. I only discovered it (the cut) after I pulled up. I was happy through the race and I thought I'd win jumping the last, but I just struggled in the last 100 yards."
Floressa put in a near foot-perfect round of jumping to get her career back on track in the Ladbrokes "Where The Nation Plays" Mares' Novices' Hurdle.
Having gone down by a short head to Silver Forever at the course earlier this month, the Nicky Henderson-trained four-year-old exacted revenge on her last-time-out conqueror to claim Listed honours and add to her debut victory over hurdles at Worcester.Observer
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