The Rest of the Action on Doncaster Grimthorpe Handicap Chase Day

March 5, 2023

Gentle Frank headed towards a maiden-breaking score (JTW Equine Images)

By Tom Williams

Gentle Frank finally got his maiden tag shredded by taking the opener on Grimthorpe Chase Day at Doncaster, the VirginBet “Best Odds Daily” Novices Hurdle under Lee Edwards for trainer Henry Oliver and owner Mrs. Sue Howell.

The 7-year-old son of Gentlewave, a beautiful chestnut, looked to be in trouble going over the hill away from the stands, flattening a flight in the process. However, he made great progress in the final 5 furlongs of the 2m 3.5-furlong contest, taking closer order to long-time leader Park Hill Dancer and sweeping past him at 2 out.

A slightly squiffy jump at the last was not enough to stop him from scoring by over 10 lengths, much to the delight of a rapturous crowd at Town Moor, who were roaring him home every step of the way down the home straight.

Calico made fine work of a 1-pound rise in the weights to fend off the tenacious Pay The Piper in a thrilling finish to the Virgin Bet “ Cheltenham Festival Money Back “ Handicap Steeplechase under an equally enthralling ride from Bridget Andrews.

Coming here after a match race in the Kingmaker at Warwick with Jonbon, in which he gave the winner a fright and a run for his money, he benefitted from a determined ride, showing grit and resolve to win by barely a nose for trainer Dan Skelton and owner Mr. John J Reilly.

Calico was always prominent, jumping with fluency, whilst at the opposite end of the field Mackenberg seemed to have forgotten how to, belting the first when getting too low and doing the same ay the water jump, taking time to warm up it would have appeared under Champion Jockey Brian Hughes.

Turning in, the challengers began to build behind Calico, with Gold DFes Bois and Pay The Piper making sweeping moves to look to challenge. Xcitations began to feel the pinch and dropped back at 3 out, whilst at 2 out it became clear that it was only between two as Gold Des Bois finally began to cry enough.

The very handsome Calico after his victory (JTW Equine Images)

A fine set of leaps at the last two fences meant that it would be sheer determination, guts and who wanted it more to find the winner. Pay The Piper threw down his challenge under Ross Chapman, but Calico, vitalised by a hands and heels ride by Bridget, would give no quarter and maintained the gallop and resolute drive, to score at the line and just hold off his gallant pursuer.

They were clear of Mackenberg, who has seemingly come over the top of his other rivals as they tired out and managed to score an unlikely at one moment third.

Speaking afterwards, a somewhat surprised Bridget Andrews made a note of the limitations she had when guiding the winner to victory.

“We came very close on the run in… I couldn’t use my stick the way I wanted to”, referring to how she had to use only hands and heels on her mount as she was boxed in between rail and the tenacious Pay The Piper.

“He responded really well”, she added. “I’m surprised he battled back, to be honest!”

“He felt like he was crying out for a lead, going away from the stands, but fair play to him!”

“I wanted the race to go forward, but I suppose he was just filling himself up the whole time”.

“He sees this trip out really well, but he’s got that speed early on to get him to the front, so I’m really delighted with that”.

“At either 3 or two out I thought I was on my limit and thought “God, how many of these have I got left?!”, but he was very good and battled down well”.

“Dan ( Skelton, trainer ) is great, and when the opportunity is there he’s not afraid to put me up, so a big thanks to him and the owners”.

The trainer’s representative, Nick Pearce, was equally glowing of their charge.

“It was a great performance, Bridget’s gave him a peace of a ride!”

“She got trapped going away from the last, so she couldn’t pick up her stick, but that probably helped him a little, a bit of cajoling”.

When asked about future plans, it seems that the connections may have already decided his target, at a meeting they do enjoy.

When asked if they would swerve Cheltenham and head to Aintree, he stated “Possibly”.

“There is a very good meeting ast Ayr a few weeks later ( Scottish National ), and as he likes this ground, I would say he will be kept busy at the height of Spring”.

When asked if he will remain at 2 miles or go up in trip, the response was “I imagine so”.

“They are nice problems for Dan to worry about!”

“This is track we do very well at, we always have done.”

“We don’t mind coming up North if we have winners on the wagon going back!”

Whizz Kid (outside) headed towards a win (JTW Equine Images)

Whizz Kid got the better of the evergreen Sergeant Wilson on the line in a pulsating finale to the Virgin Bet “Fives” Handicap Hurdle under a determined ride from Luke Scott to take the race for trainer Dr Richard Newland and owners Foxtrot Racing.

The 5/2 joint favourite was grateful for the 7 lbs coming off his back from the jockey, meaning he was only giving 3lbs to the runner-up, and it proved vital as he managed to overhaul the long-time leader at the line, scoring by a head from the brave front runner who has attempted to make all.

The drop in grade and easement by the handicapper of a pound certainly added to the success of the winner, who had been racing in some serious company of late, including a run in the Lanzarote Hurdle in January at Kempton, followed by a second behind the talented Homme Public at Huntingdon.

Sometimes, it pays to take a step back. Certainly so here!

Apple Away and Patrick Wadge survived a last hurdle blunder when taking the Virgin Bet “Daily Price Boost” Mares Novices Hurdle for trainer Lucinda Russell and owners Old Gold Racing.

Sent off 9/4 after taking a 3-mile handicap hurdle at Aye recently, she was in the process of making an immaculate round of jumping when she blundered at the last, an audible gasp from the assembled crowd at Town Moor greeting this mistake.

Thankfully for the supporters of the Arctic Cosmos mare, the partnership of horse and jockey remained intact, and they continued on to an almost 5-length triumph over the useful She’s A Saint, who was bidding to give her jockey Bridget Andrews a double on the day.

Peter Scudamore, assistant trainer and partner to Lucinda Russell, was delighted afterwards with a horse he has as a “stamp of a chaser”.

“We are all so honoured to have a horse of this ability, I have to pinch myself sometimes”.

Apple Away makes a bad mistake but still goes on to triumph (JTW Equine Images)

“We are a team. Stephen McQueen, Patrick, he knew, well he was unlucky to get beaten at Haydock as he said he wasn’t quick enough on her on the day, but he knew what to do”.

“My fantastic team work so hard at home, I wouldn’t be anywhere without them”.

Jockey Patrick Wadge was inundated with grateful connections thanking him for his ride, and also for the sit that saw them cemented as first place.

Speaking afterwards, he was grateful to his mount for her tact and talent, that helped the partnership stay intact.

“She pretty much saved my life”.

“I could hear Skelton’s ( She’s A Saint ) on my heels and I was getting worried, I just kept asking her to go forward, she sorted her legs out, I don’t know how she survived it!”

“A nice horse, with a lot of luck”.

“She’s won that well, and probably wants it softer”.

“I would say she will be a better chaser in time, one to watch”.

“It’s amazing to get these rides in these races, and it’s all down to Lucinda and Scu giving me these opportunities, I can’t thank them enough!”

Sweet Will and Conor McNamaramade it a voyage to remember as the Irish raider took the Virgin Bet “Daily Money Back” Handicap Hurdle for trainer Gavin Cromwell and owners the In Bounds Syndicate.

Having scored already at Fairyhouse and Cheltenham this season in similar handicap hurdles, the 6-year-old son of Dragon Pulse made it a third win of the season when getting better of The Newest One to score by 1 and a quarter lengths.

Sweet Will victorious (JTW Equine Images)

Prairie Wolf has been unlucky this season in places, and that luck was again cursed as they just failed to wear down the challenge of Galahad Threepwood in the Virgin Bet “Daily Extra Places” Handicap Hurdle, with the latter going on to hold out against the renewed challenge from the last to score for trainer Ben Pauling and owners The Megsons in a thrilling finish under jockey Kevin Brogan.

Prairie Wolf has shown promise since being fitted with cheekpieces, but they were not enough to deny the 6 year old son of Nathaniel, who opened his account over hurdles in belated format after being similarly unlucky themselves in recent races.

These two were some distance ahead of the opposition, and perhaps an extra furlong or so would benefit the runner up, who was in the process of regaining the lead he has lost up the home straight, only for the post to come just too soon.

It was vindication and welcome relief for the winner however, as they had looked to be finally opening their account last tine out over course and distance, however they departed 3 out when running well.

Galahad Threepwood (JTW Equine Images)

The trip back down to Naunton will feel wonderful for connections, this time around.

The final race of the day, the Virgin Bet Open National Hunt Flat Race, went the way of the 2/5F favourite Willmount, who maintained his unbeaten record and made it two wins from two starts under rules to go with his sole Point To Point win from February 2022.

The 5-year-old son of Blue Bresil won in good style under Sam Twiston-Davies for owner Mr O.S.Harris, with the trainer Neil Mulholland suitably impressed with the performance. However, the trainer felt that it was not his optimum ground today, which showed his character to win in unfavoured conditions.

“He would want more juice in the ground, he’s a big horse”.

“He’s travelled well, and all he did was grind away the last day, he could not do any more”.

Willmount (JTW Equine Images)

When asked on if the next step for him was Aintree, he replied with simply “Possibly, we’ll take a look”.

However, he did note that he “would like a bit of rain”, referencing the eerie mini-drought the UK is experiencing at the moment.

“We don’t have to run him again ( this season ), the owners very patient”.

“He’s two from two, so if we can put him away we put him away. We don’t have to run”.

“It would be Aintree or put him away”.

“He had to do the hard work today, up there in front. Sam’s only had to hit him once. And the other horse came up to him, and people may say he wasn’t as impressive today but the ground’s faster.

He was giving away 22lbs today ( to Alan King’s horse Broomhill Road, who finished second ). His horse will probably win next time out, as on that form, he should do, it’s good form”.

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