Sunday 18 March 2018

Scholar too clever in November test

Keith Hamer

Art Scholar swooped late to claim the final big race of the British Flat season, the Betfred November Handicap, at Doncaster yesterday.

The Michael Appleby-trained five-year-old (20/1) was a spare ride for Franny Norton, who produced his mount to perfection inside the final furlong to beat Communicator by three-quarters of a length.

The runner-up looked like he would win after himself hitting the front late on, but Norton's mount showed a smart turn of foot to seal matters. The fancied First Mohican never got on terms and was done no favours by his wide draw.

Norton, standing in for Darryll Holland, said: "He travelled round sweetly. Mr Appleby said to hang on to him and don't get there too soon. I got him there ready and thought it was still a bit early but he's come through with his run and kept it up.

"I knew nothing about the horse. It was a late spare ride. I spoke to the people before the race and he came into with alive chance. It's been a good year. I got a lengthy ban, we got over that and it's ended with a bang."

Newark-based Appleby was celebrating his biggest success in two-and-a-half years as a trainer, and his 37th of the year.

"I'd been watching him at Brighton in April last year when he was behind one of my horses over seven furlongs. On breeding I thought he'd stay a mile-two and a mile-four," he said.

At Wincanton, Zarkandar (100/30) fuelled his claims for the Champion Hurdle and surprised trainer Paul Nicholls when outpointing stablemate Prospect Wells in the Elite Hurdle.

Fifth in last season's Champion and a faller when previously seen in action at Aintree, the diminutive Zarkandar showed under Daryl Jacob that, in a tight situation, class will out. It was a perfect start to the campaign for Jacob, who because Ruby Walsh is expected to ride Hurricane Fly throughout the season is set to be aboard Zarkandar for all his races.

Despite giving his rival 17lb, Zarkandar cruised up to join Prospect Wells still on the bridle two flights from home, and buckled down on the run-in to resist the latter's final thrust under Walsh by a neck.

Nicholls was all praise for the winner, which William Hill cut to 10/1 from 12s for the Champion.

"He's done well, real well, and I never had him looking as good as this for the whole of last season," he said. "Zarkandar will now go for the Bula (International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December) and we're right back where we want to be with him. The Bula is the race we've been training him for."

Elsewhere, Overturn made the perfect start to life over fences when leading all the way to land the Bet On Today's Football At Beginners' Chase at Sandown.

Jason Maguire's mount soon had a sizeable advantage and jumped fluently from the off, pinging the Railway fences and finishing full of running despite his eagerness to get on with things in the early stages.

Sent off the 3/10 favourite, Donald McCain's eight-year-old -- runner-up in the Champion Hurdle -- finished 14 lengths clear of Thanks For Coming. Bookmaker reaction was swift, with William Hill cutting the gelding to 10/1 from 12s for the Arkle at Cheltenham behind 3/1 favourite Simonsig.

At home, Jezki made it two wins from as many starts over obstacles when enjoying little more than a stroll in the Fishery Lane Hurdle at Naas.

Eighth in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in March, the Jessica Harrington-trained four-year-old was a cosy winner of a maiden on his hurdling debut at this track last month.

That hinted at much better to come and he duly delivered in this Grade Three event, travelling smoothly throughout in the hands of Barry Geraghty.

Still under a tight hold, the 13/8 favourite improved on the run to two out and it was only a matter of standing up as he took over at the last. He cantered clear from there, with Geraghty having barely moved a muscle in scoring by eight lengths from Un Beau Matin.

"That (the Royal Bond) is his next port of call. I know he was getting loads of weight off Hisaabaat but he still had to do it," said Harrington.

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