Waiting Patiently a poignant winner
Good-news stories abounded here, as Waiting Patiently won the Ascot Chase for his new trainer, Ruth Jefferson, on the day after she said a final farewell to her father. Cue Card ran a mighty race to be second and will take his chance at the Cheltenham Festival once more, while Bryony Frost continued her amazing run of Saturday successes by landing the Reynoldstown on her beloved Black Corton.
Emotion was running high. Frost came close to tears, as did Colin Tizzard, vindicated in his view that Cue Card is still a top-class chaser at the age of 12. But Jefferson kept her cool, even as she became perhaps the first trainer ever to land a Grade One only two days after her first winner.
In this respect, she is clearly her father's daughter. Malcolm Jefferson, whose funeral took place on Friday, was, for decades, among the most level-headed of trainers and Ruth is no less clear-eyed and practical in her approach.
"Dad would have loved to be here," she said, "and he'd have loved nothing more than to see this horse remain unbeaten. He did say, it would probably do him good to get beat, just to lower everyone's expectations. I'm glad it didn't happen today when it was his first run in my name, because I think there would have been a few people blaming me.
"He would be thrilled because he had a lot of belief in the horse and he rated him very highly. No one would have been shouting louder as he came over the line."
Aged 36, Jefferson Jr has known nothing but the life of a racing stable and wishes for nothing more. "As a child, I used to cry when he went racing without me," she said of her father. "I think I've ran round after him for more years than I want to count. I did other jobs as well but I've always come back to this. I just like horses. You can't get away from them, can you? Blooming things."
Waiting Patiently's odds for next month's Ryanair Chase were halved from 8-1 but Jefferson's pragmatism showed in her resistance to the idea of going there with a horse thought to need soft ground and time between his races. "There's plenty other races bar Cheltenham. Everyone else is obsessed, except us. We're not that fussed." Surely the most important target for him will be the King George on St Stephen's Day.
The right race for Cue Card is once more a subject for discussion after this return to something not far short of his best. Tizzard will talk it over with the owner but options will surely remain open until nearer the Festival. If the Gold Cup begins to look winnable, Cue Card may yet have a third tilt at it.
Frost will wish she had restrained the third-placed Frodon a bit further behind what proved to be a hectic early pace. But she was exemplary on Black Corton, who was cut to single-figure odds for the Festival's RSA Chase.
"As soon as you just get a little bit low and put your heels into him and click in his ear," she said. "He just opens up and it's the best feeling in the world, coming out of those last two fences like that, in perfect isolation, looking up at the screen and thinking, you're going away, little man. And this is meant to be your prep run."
Meanwhile, Yala Enki, the only horse not entered for Aintree, won the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock.
Blaklion, ante-post favourite for the main event, was a yawning distance away in second, finding the concession of lumps of weight in the very testing ground just too much.
He was eased out to 12-1 from 10-1 by the sponsors after a race in which only three of the eight runners completed.
With a mile to run Wild West Wind hit the front with Venetia Williams' Yala Enki and the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Blaklion still in touch. At the fourth-last Wild West Wind began to go clear and the rest looked to have a tall order, but from seeming sure to win Wild West Wind stopped abruptly and was soon pulled up.
That left Yala Enki (8-1) and Charlie Deutsch in front and the Haydock regular had 54 lengths to spare from Blaklion, who was sent off the 9-4 favourite. Mysteree was the only other finisher.
Clive Hitchings, owner of Yala Enki, said: "He loves that ground, I couldn't believe he fell at the first last week (at Haydock) as he's never fallen in his life before. Venetia was keen to come here. We've been saying that he needed a longer trip, but we weren't sure as he can get excited at the start.
"He was able to go steadier today on his own terms, without the throttle out. He loves this ground."
Sam Twiston-Davies, who has been allowed by his boss Paul Nicholls to maintain the partnership with Blaklion in the National itself, reported a combination of factors contributed to his defeat. He said after dismounting on the course: "He just got very tired. Carrying that weight in that ground took its toll and we just took him straight back to the stables."
Donna's Diamond (7-1) provided Chris Grant and jockey Callum Bewley with the biggest winner of their careers when gamely holding off the odds-on favourite Agrapart in the Rendlesham Hurdle.
The grey had returned from a lengthy lay-off with a course and distance win last month but that was in a handicap off a lowly mark of 129. Put into Grade Two company he was taking on a real standing dish in these types of races in Agrapart, but Lizzie Kelly was sending out distress signals going down the back straight.
To his credit Agrapart kept himself in contention but when Boite fell early in the straight the race changed in complexion and it became a question of whether Donna's Diamond could keep going. "When David Armstrong (owner) said he wanted to come to Haydock I thought he meant for the handicap," said Grant.
Sunday Indo Sport