Cooper’s Cross on his way to a big victory in the SkyBet Handicap Chase (JTW Equine Images)
By Tom Williams
Cooper’s Cross and jockey Sam Coltherd were justified winners of the feature race on Town Moor, the SkyBet Handicap Chase, staying on the strongest of all to win for trainer Stuart Coltherd (also Sam’s father) and owner Mr J. Fyffe.
In typically tough Town Moor conditions, the duo had cruised throughout the race, staying out of trouble and popping every obstacle that came their way. As would befit a top handicap chase, there was a fierce early battle for the lead, with 8 horses all wanting to take the early lead, the battle eventually being won by Tea For Free and Lilly Pinchin. The jumping at this stage was measured and efficient from the field, with no major issues to report. Undersupervision, going away from the stands towards Rose Hill, was the one runner in the race who lost his position noticeably.
As the field turned the bend with a circuit to go, it became a test of who had the biggest stamina, with Cloth Cap battering his chance away after belting a couple of the fences rounding Rose Hill. Tea For Free was not very high at the 12th fence, Cap Du Nord and Demachine beginning to make moves at this point. 4 out, Cooper’s Cross was absolutely cruising, with his young jockey Sam pulling double, and over 3 out, the duo were very much going the best. Despite jumping to their right slightly at 2 out, the pair had a good advantage over Ga Law and the rest of the field, as Tea For Free and jockey Lilly Pinchin took a crashing fall. Whilst the horse was quickly up, Lilly suffered a suspected broken collarbone; a huge shame given her recent excellent form. Undersupervision unseated his rider Sam Twiston-Davies, and going to the last, it was between Cooper’s Cross, Ga Law and the staying on Cap Du Nord.
At the final fence, Ga Law was too low (as he was at a fence early on in the contest), but whereas previously he had stayed om his feet, this time it was one mistake too many, and he crashed out of the race, giving Jonathan Burke a heavy fall. Thankfully, both horse and rider were OK, Ga Law running away loose, and Jonathan taking a couple of minutes to gather his thoughts, before rising to his feet and walking away. He was however stood down for the rest of the day.
The winning connections were undoubtedly thrilled by Cooper’s Cross’s performance. Jockey Sam commented that “he jumped and travelled off a strong pace today… first time at 3 miles 4 out at Doncaster and I’ve come there travelling. If I had got beat it would have been a silly ride, but the horse has put his head down and won nicely.”
“We (him and his father Stuart, trainer of the winner) are just a small operation in the south of Scotland (Selkirk) and to get a big winner on a Saturday is great. We put cheekpieces on him to make travel behind the bridle, the race has fell apart, but he never missed a beat at all, he 100% got there on merit.”
“Jimmy Fyffe the owner likes to have horses run over the big fences at Aintree so we maybe have a Grand Sefton Chase kind of horse.”
Stuart Coltherd added that “we are a small operation of 28-30 horses, we went for the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock originally but that was abandoned so we came here instead.”
“I haven’t the faintest idea where we will go next, but we shall see. We were sure he wanted better ground, but he won on soft at Carlisle so that gave us hope he would stay. I have been training for 20 odd years, we’ve stuck our heads down and worked hard.”
When asked by the writer if he envisaged maybe a Scottish National or an Eider Chase for the horse further down the line, Stuart responded that they were possibilities, but he remained open to any options.
A review of the rest of the action
In the first of the feature contests of the day, Tommy’s Oscar and Danny McMenamin reversed form with Since Day One and lowered the colours of Wayward Lad scorer Boothill to take the Grade 2 MND Association Race for Research Lightning Novices’ Chase for owner Mr Ian Hamilton and trainer Mrs Ann Hamilton.
Always travelling well throughout on the inside, the winner tracked leader Since Day One, who was low at some of the fences in the early stages. By the time the race was hotting up turning for home, Boothill’s jockey Jonathan Burke decided to take closer order on the outside, but Tommy’s Oscar had the move covered, instead sending Ganapathi and Sam Twiston-Davies further back. As the field came up the home straight, it was a straight duel between the eventual first 2, and despite Tommy’s Oscar jumping right at the final fence, he was clear of Boothill, who ran on well for second. Cormier was a late unseat, thankfully Ross Chapman was quickly up, both him and horse fine.
Speaking to Sky Sports Racing’s Luke Harvey, Danny commented that “he jumped a lot better than the last day, where he was jumping to his left… he travelled and jumped well. All credit to the team! He’s a very good horse in our eyes… it’s great to win a race like this.”
Owner Ian Hamilton stated to David Carr of the Racing Post that Cheltenham was not an option, with Aintree being more suited for the son of Oscar. “He’s not a Cheltenham horse… you tell me where there is another race (when asked about whether he would go straight to Aintree), there’s no races for him, he had to run in that novices’ handicap chase at Newcastle giving them 2 stone on heavy ground.”
The Grade 2 Sky Bet Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle went the way of Epatante and jockey Nico de Boinville, for trainer Nicky Henderson and owner Mr J. P. McManus. The 2020 Champion Hurdle winner, 2021 third and runner up in 2022 in the same race at the Cheltenham Festival, cruised along throughout, and when Galice Macalo led the field into the home straight, as she had done throughout, Epatante switched to the inside of Martello Sky, having tracked them throughout. Pulling to the outside of Galice Macalo approaching the second-last, she cruised by, abd scored in a canter, popping the last hurdle and running home on the bridle to score by an easy 6 ½ lengths, from Salsada, who ran a screamer at 28-1, and Martello Sky in third.
Jockey Nico de Boinville said after the race that the daughter of No Risk At All “felt fantastic today, she ran really well, and Aidan (Coleman, retained rider for J. P. McManus in the UK) said she felt great all the way at Kempton in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle (2nd to Constitution Hill), and it’s nice for her to pick one up like this.”
“The team have got her in fantastic shape today, and her regular rider Rachel has actually sustained an injury in the field, she had the top of her finger bitten off the other day; the joys of war sometimes! Peter looks after he every day, and it’s great for Seven Barrows to have a winner of course.”
Maximilian and Champion Jockey Brian Hughes took the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett River Don Novices’ Hurdle over 3 miles ½ furlong for trainer Donald McCain and owners The Owners Group 099 Syndicate. Although the son of Adlerflug lost his position going away from the stands with a circuit to go, and was last of the 10 runner field, but kept on going in the stamina-sapping conditions to prevail from Stay Away Fay and Hurricane Bay, at odds of 13/2. At the final hurdle, it was any one of the trio who could have won it, as Hurricane Bay had put in a huge effort to lead for so long.
Speaking after the race, jockey Brain Hughes felt that on the gelding’s previous run at Sandown last month, things had just not been right for him. He had bled after the race, with Hughes adding @he lost a shoe the last day, didn’t happen in sticky ground over 2 and a half miles going right handed… he gave the last a foot and when he gets to the lead now he just thinks he is done.”
“We thought a mark of 128 was insulting for him, and we always thought he was up to this level.”
Trainer Donald McCain remarked that Aintree was more likely for him and “he jumps like he jumps a fence, and does not want to be there at the front too soon… he seems to have bottomless stamina. He has his own mind, but he just has it in him to run the way he does.”
“Not finishing second is a bonus at the moment. The team has absolutely worked their socks off and never missed a day, we have had a lot of seconds, so we are gathering up a nice bunch of young horses now.”
“It’s not a quick process to go out and get them (good horses), but when you have one like him, you hope he’s like he is.”
In the opening 2 contests, where the “Happy 60th Birthday Neil Young” Handicap Hurdle over 2 miles and 3 and a half furlongs was split into 2 separate contests, Good Bye and Philip Armson taking the first, and Give Me A Cuddle and Nico de Boinville taking the second division.
In Div 1, the eventual winner and third place Fringill Dike were in the first 3 in a race that did not really change much in complexion until the turn for home. Could Be Trouble tried to stretch them in the home straight, but their effort petered out, with Good Bye streaking clear in the clearly soft going (although the going was officially described as Good) to win quite easily in the end. Headscarf Lil stayed on under Brian Hughes for second, and Emma Smith-Chaston guiding Fringill Dike into third.
Div 2 saw Give Me A Cuddle and jockey Nico de Boinville be involved in a 4 way fight for the win at the last with Gilbertina, Norley and Vintage Fizz, before pulling away on the run in. Supporters of Big Bad Bear were given not much to shout about, as he did not negotiate the first bend with any sort of aplomb, before fading in the stamina-sapping conditions turning for home. Norley and jockey Beau Morgan looked the most likely winners approaching the last, but Give Me A Cuddle and Nico came surging through to join them, and 2 others, at the final hurdle. This was the beginning of a double on the day for Nico, with the aforementioned star mare Epatante winning the Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 2).
The penultimate race saw Sam Twiston-Davies guide the Dr Richard Newland-trained Taste The Fear to success for owners the In It For Fun Partnership and the trainer himself. In an eventful race, where many horses either unseated or fell, Taste The Fear was game on the run-in to prevail from Tim Pat, who was aiming to give Brian Hughes and trainer Donald McCain a double on the day.
That particular aim was completed in the finale, as the same jockey and trainer combination of Hughes and McCain demolished the field in the Good Luck Beep Beep Burrow Open National Hunt Flat Race, as Dino Bellagio gave owners Nick Brown Racing a day to remember. With all of the focus on the favourite Go West and Beep Beep Burrow, owned by The Good Racing Company, Dino Bellagio upset the scriptwriter, surging clear halfway up the home straight to win by 8 lengths, from Go West and Balcomie Breeze.
It was not to be the fairytale debut for Beep Beep Burrow; the owners The Good Racing Company help raise funds for Motor Neurone Disease (MND) research, via the Rob Burrow Seven Discretionary Trust and MND Association. Rob Burrow is the ex-Leeds Rhinos Rugby League Team number 7, who was tragically diagnosed with MND in December 2019, just 2 years after ending his playing career.
It was a privilege, and an honour, for ourselves at JTW Equine Images to witness Rob’s fighting spirit in action, defying his illness to ensure he watched the horse named after his nickname run at Doncaster. A staying on 5th, Beep Beep Burrow has plenty of adventures ahead of him, and with the support from everyone at Doncaster Racecourse on SkyBet Chase Day, so does Rob.