O'Brien rounds off year with his first Grade One
Naunton trainer Fergal O'Brien finished what has been a terrific 2017 for him by saddling his first Grade One winner when Poetic Rhythm won the Betfred Challow Hurdle at Newbury yesterday.
O'Brien, who used to be head lad to Nigel Twiston-Davies and now rents his old second yard, has sent out 46 winners this season, the vast majority ridden by Paddy Brennan. It was Brennan who slowly reeled in the front-running outsider Mulcahy's Hill at the last but then had to withhold his renewed effort to win by a hard-fought short-head.
"Paddy knew what he wanted to do," explained O'Brien. "This horse is so tough and honest. He was in the vets with colic three weeks ago. He's been fantastic. He only cost £30,000 and was the first horse I bought with Sally [his partner]. He looked like a hat-rack then but the owners have given him time."
The Betfred Mandarin Chase, worth only £18,000 these days, is not the great race it once was but it nevertheless produced a thrilling finish. Daklondike finally got the better of the extravagant front-running grey, Grand Vision.
Tom Scudamore more than worked off his Christmas pudding on the winner, who needed a reminder with a circuit to go. But David Pipe's five-year-old finally responded when it mattered most after the last to go on to win by three lengths.
"He's one of those horses you have to keep pushing and kicking and hope it comes right," said Scudamore. "He's a great character and has already improved 19lb over fences. Long term he's a National horse."
The horse to take out of the meeting, however, could well be Saint Calvados, who made his chasing debut in Britain for Harry Whittington and owner Andrew Brooks. He beat the only other finisher, Remiluc, by nine lengths but winning jockey Aidan Coleman was impressed enough to suggest the Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown as a suitable next step.
Meanwhile, Joe Tizzard feels Thistlecrack is still capable of winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup after his encouraging run in the 32Red King George VI Chase on St Stephen's Day.
Assistant to his father, Colin, Tizzard felt last year's King George winner jumped and travelled with all his old enthusiasm, but the race - his second since his return from an absence of 307 days - took plenty out of him and whether he runs again before March remains to be seen.
"It was another step forward and we are getting there. It was another strong run and if hadn't clouted two out he might have been close to being second," said Tizzard.
"It was a solid run, but he was a tired horse the next day. He was laid down in his stable when I went to feed him.
"We haven't decided yet what we are going to do. The plan was we would like to get another run into him as he has only had the two so far. Whether or not one comes too soon, we will have to decide.
"On bare visual evidence, on the way he travelled and jumped in the King George, I do think he can win a Gold Cup.
"It is a job to gauge him at home, to be perfectly honest. You would like to think if he stepped forward as much as he did from his first run to his second run and if there is a bit more to come it doesn't put us too far away.
"The way he jumped and travelled he certainly looked like the Thistlecrack of old."
Sunday Indo Sport