Flame burns brightest for Kennedy but whip ban mars Kempton heroics
Just when it looked as if Will Kennedy's season was taking a turn for the better in Kempton's William Hill Lanzarote Hurdle, the jockey was brought back down to earth after receiving a seven-day whip ban and having to forfeit his prize money.
The eloquent Kennedy has already dusted himself off from his unceremonious removal from classy chaser Time For Rupert, and had taken personal satisfaction from a strong ride on Swincombe Flame to claw back the £25,000 handicap from Featherbed Lane and the inexperienced James Best.
Nick Williams' novice, a well-backed 9/2 favourite, had been passed by Featherbed Lane at the second-last but Kennedy galvanised her up the stands rail to steal a nose advantage on the line. Excessive use of the whip has re-emerged as a controversial topic this week with amateur Robert Cooper and Flat rider Robert Winston receiving heavy bans.
The Irishman was aware he had transgressed the rules, but said in the winner's enclosure: "I'm not really one for hitting them but I missed the last and what do I tell the owners?
"I either hit her two more times and win by a nostril or I don't and I get beaten. Who can say I would have won without those two hits? It's disappointing. I've had some ups and downs but Nick has been very supportive and given me some good rides. It's nice to get some loyalty and I won the race for him last year on James De Vassy so hopefully I can do it next year too."
However, on learning the punishment, which runs from January 28-February 3, Kennedy later added: "The last slap before the line went short (in the wrong place) and I've got seven days. It's black and white so there's probably nothing to appeal against, but I'll get someone to look at it. You work your backside off and lose two and a half grand. You sometimes wonder why you bother."
Owner Malcolm Yeo said Williams, who dashed off to his sister's wedding as soon as Swincombe Flame passed the line, had earmarked a mares' race at Sandown on the Saturday before Cheltenham.
Philip Hobbs, trainer of Featherbed Lane, had earlier winners with Menorah and Sadler's Risk but bookmakers took contrasting views of their Cheltenham Festival prospects.
Big-name horses often need only to pass the post in front to be shortened in the ante-post markets but the race sponsors went as far as to push Menorah out two points to 16/1 for the Arkle after a fitful round of jumping in the Bet With williamhill.com On Your Mobile Novices' Chase.
Champion Hurdle fifth Menorah (4/7 favourite) certainly has the potential to be a valuable a commodity over fences but remains rough around the edges at this stage. He again stepped in too close to several obstacles, despite having too many gears in reserve for Kumbeshwar.
"He was careful at one or two and jumped a bit left early on but the second-last fence was the only real mistake," said Hobbs, one of many to be grateful the track was finally frost-free after three inspections.
Hobbs won his first Arkle with Captain Chris last year but already had two Triumph Hurdles to his name and felt Sadler's Risk -- now Paddy Power's 6/1 clear market leader -- bore favourable comparison with 2004 hero Made In Japan.
Sadler's Risk was rated 100 on the Flat for Mark Johnston and was sent off the even-money favourite for the William Hill - Home Of Betting Juvenile Hurdle, but this amounted to little more than a test drive for Richard Johnson as he coasted 17 lengths clear.
At Warwick, meanwhile, John Ferguson took his burgeoning second career as a National Hunt trainer to a new level when Cotton Mill produced a performance with 'Cheltenham' stamped all over it in the Neptune Investment Management Leamington Novices' Hurdle.
Sheikh Mohammed's racing advisor might be a new name to the trainers' roster, but he has made a sensational start with Cotton Mill completing a hat-trick and taking Ferguson's strike-rate to over 40 per cent.
The gelding's gutsy triumph over Ambion Wood means Ferguson has sent out 18 winners from 42 runners and all roads now lead to the Festival for the 11/2 winner.
"All through the winter we've been walking through his paddock saying to ourselves we hope he gets to the Festival, but the burning question now is which race?" Ferguson said.
Hey Big Spender became the first horse to win the Classic Handicap Chase after running in the Welsh National on its previous start when wearing down Strongbows Legend at the final fence of the Betfred-sponsored marathon.
The nine-year-old fell at Chepstow and in spite of possessing endless stamina he does not convince trainer Colin Tizzard that the Grand National would be the route to go down.
After welcoming back his son Joe on the 14/1 winner, which held outsider Fredo by three-quarters of a length, Tizzard snr said: "He was travelling well in the Welsh National when he fell and he's had a few issues with that side of things."
Sunday Indo Sport