Into Overdrive on his way to victory in the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase (JTW Equine Images)
By Tom Williams
Sometimes racing delivers fairy tales and stories that go down into the annals of history. And on a cold winter’s day at Wetherby, the sport produced yet another to warm the cockles and the hearts of everyone present at the West Yorkshire course.
Into Overdrive needed to do exactly his namesake to repel the persistent challenge of Sounds Russian, to land the William Hill Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase under Jamie Hamilton for trainer Mark Walford and owner Mrs Wendy Hamilton.
Sent off at 4/1, he came into the race on the back of a second-place finish in the Rehearsal Chase last month to L’Homme Presse, and he received market support after that rival from Gosforth Park had gone into favouritism for the Grade 1 King George VI Chase at Kempton Park the very same day.
Whereas it didn’t quite come off for the winner that day, Into Overdrive showed that his form was no fluke as he stayed on stoutly at the end of 3 gruelling miles, to fend off all challengers and come home by half a length.
Favourite Shan Blue was coming back after a 261-day absence to try and somewhat repeat his effort in the Charlie Hall last season, only to come down at 2-out with the race at his mercy. Unfortunately, there was more disappointment in store for him as he never travelled with any fluency, jockey Sean Quinlan pulling him up with just under 3 quarters of a circuit to run.
By contrast Into Overdrive was always up at the front of the field, cutting fractions with Aye Right at the head of the contest.
Whilst others such as Windsor Avenue, Zanza and Sporting John were crying enough rounding the final turn, Into Overdrive was scooted clear by his jockey towards 4 out, clearing it by 3 lengths. Chantry House took a heavy looking fall at 3 out, but thankfully he got up fine afterwards.
Between the last two fences Into Overdrive had shrugged off Aye Right, but whilst the gap was increasing to his aforementioned rival, a final challenger in Sounds Russian had scythed his way in between and came charging after the leader.
Fortunately for the supporters of the leader, he proved his stamina by repelling the efforts of the last challenger to him, and prevailed at the line by half a length, with Fanion D’Estruval staying on into third.
Speaking afterwards to the assembled media, trainer Mark Walford was full of praise for the son of Court Cave, who is readily rising up the ranks and turning into a serious flagbearer for the yard.
“More experience ( has helped ), he’s getting better and better.”
“He had a great run in the Rehearsal, and today that was just good enough.”
The winning owner, Mrs Wendy Hamilton, had her son Jamie aboard to guide the son of Court Cave to victory, and it made a fitting story.
“His Grandad ( William Hamilton ) trained Earls Brig to be third in a Gold Cup ( 1985 renewal ), and the owner has had the dam for a long time”. The dam in question is Lady Brig, who is related to the 1985 winner through the sire New Brig.
The trainer reflected on the occasion, and how wonderful it was for the owners to land a big prize with a horse firmly on the upgrade.
“It’s great for a small family operation to have a winner in a race like this!”
The next port of call may well turn out to be the Sky Bet Chase on 28th January at Doncaster, but the trainer would not indicate firmly the next port of call until his charge has recovered from his exertions today.
“We will see how he is”, he reported afterwards. “He’s had a hard race and put everything in, so we will just get him home and see how he is”.
“It’s not inconceivable that he could be a National horse next year”
Reflecting on the performance further, he was full of praise for jockey Jamie Hamilton.
“Jamie has given him a lovely ride, just kept it simple off the front end”.
“I’m delighted. It’s a great team effort at home, superb!”
“The Eider would be an option as he stays very well, but we will get him back, see how he is and make a plan from there”.
Winning owner Mrs Wendy Hamilton was in absolute disbelief at what her pride and joy had just accomplished, when interviewed afterwards.
“If you had told me last year that we would be standing here after winning the Rowland Meyrick I would have said don’t be so silly!”
“We were delighted with the run at Newcastle ( Rehearsal Chase ) because of L’Homme Presse ( who unseated in the King George at Kempton minutes later ), who is a serious horse, so I’m delighted!”
“You are always hopeful, but he’s my little horse who was born in the field at home and my boy is riding him”.
“You just don’t dream of these things! We bred the jockey, the horse, everything!”
Future plans in the immediate are up in the air, but a plan to go to Cheltenham for the Festival will need a rethink, after the success of the current 142 rated winner, who will naturally go up to around 150 after their performance in Yorkshire.
“Our son Tom was hoping to ride him in the Kim Muir ( 3m 2f for Amateurs on the Thursday of the Festival ), but I think he won’t go there as he will be too high in the handicap for the Kim Muir”.
Even the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day next month could be a potential for this smart prospect, who may well be contesting leading staying chases next season, on the way towards a bid for Aintree glory.
For now however, the Hamilton Family and all the team at Mark Walford Racing will be celebrating a festive winner with a new potential flagbearer for the yard.
This time of year is always full of magical stories, and the story of the Hamiltons and their “little horse” is another for the fireplace and a warm drink.
The festive period produces yet another fairytale for the ages. Long may it continue.