Somersby back in King George frame
THE search for something to challenge Long Run for top chasing honours this season, which began in earnest when Weird Al and Time For Rupert left their rivals behind at Wetherby last Saturday, continued yesterday at Kempton, with a long-overdue victory for the talented Somersby, and will do so again this afternoon at Exeter, where Arkle Trophy hero Captain Chris is among a clutch of last term's talented novices returning to action.
No horse was welcomed more warmly into the winner's circle yesterday than Somersby, which provided a timely boost for trainer Henrietta Knight and her partner Terry Biddlecombe, currently recovering from a stroke. It was the near-black gelding's first success for nearly two years and only his fifth in all, a record that belies his talent.
Somersby, owned by Camilla Radford, plied his trade as a two-miler last term and came closest to a win when he ran Master Minded to a short-head in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot.
Yesterday's step up to two and a half miles clearly suited him well and he has a further increase in distance pencilled in, the three miles of the King George VI Chase back at the Sunbury track next month. He is rated at 20/1 shot for the St Stephen's Day feature.
With Dominic Elsworth in his saddle for the first time since the 2009 Cheltenham Festival, the seven-year-old shadowed Hennessy Gold Cup-bound Aiteen Thirtythree until the home straight, where his slicker technique through the air and superior speed on the ground took him smoothly three lengths clear.
"I was very pleased with the way he jumped," said Knight. "Last season, going that bit faster over the shorter trips, he always seemed to make one error.
"Today he jumped with much more confidence and I'm sure he'll stay three miles. He's much stronger this year, physically and mentally. I think he's finally grown up.
"The King George is definitely a possibility as I think he will get three miles and he appears to like Kempton. He's run here twice and won twice, but anything can happen between now and Christmas, so we'll have to see."
Knight, Elsworth and owner Tim Radford had earlier found the target in slightly more fortuitous circumstances with 11/4 favourite Loch Ba.
The five-year-old looked to be struggling to get on terms with Autumn Spirit approaching the final fence in the London Irish Novices' Handicap Chase, but she crashed out, leaving Loch Ba to come home 17 lengths clear.
This afternoon's Haldon Gold Cup has a fine pedigree, and one Knight actually knows well, having won it with Best Mate (it was the race in which the triple Gold Cup winner launched his senior chasing career and also, sadly, lost his life), Edredon Bleu and Impek.
Since Best Mate's success 10 years ago the roll of honour also includes talents such as Azertyuiop, Monkerhostin and, two years ago, Planet Of Sound.
The two and a quarter-miler, with a purse of £60,000 the richest race run in Devon during the season, has today attracted a select field of seven, including Planet Of Sound's Philip Hobbs stablemate Captain Chris, currently vying for second favouritism with Master Minded for the King George.
Racegoers will also be treated to the eagerly awaited chasing debut of another Hobbs inmate, the high-class hurdler Menorah, and, as a bonus, some of Paul Nicholls' celebrities, including Kauto Star and Big Buck's, will gallop on the course after racing. (© Independent News Service)