If last week’s Cheltenham Showcase marked the psychological start of the season, yesterday was when the serious business began. With meetings in England, Scotland, the North of Ireland and France, there was no shortage of races to grab your attention.
The season’s first Grade 1 on either side of the Irish sea took place at Down Royal. Gigginstown was represented by four of the seven horses contesting the JNWine.com Champion Chase and achieved first and second, with Outlander and Road To Respect- I suspect it might be easier this year to back a Michael O’Leary winner than it will be to secure a seat on one of his planes. The odds on favourite, Our Duke, finished last after the veteran Carlingford Lough unseated Mark Walsh.
There was a competitive card at Ascot. Harry Fry who took a quartet, would have been disappointed not to come away with a winner, but managed two second places. The attention was rightly focused on sixteen year old James Bowen who rode Exitas to victory by seven lengths in a Listed Handicap Chase. The expression fresh-faced could have been invented for this young man, who looks to have a promising future.
The feature race at Wetherby was the Charlie Hall Chase, where all the pre race talk had focused on the Cue Card/Coneygree, heart vs. head debate. As it turned out neither finished, with Coneygree being pulled up and Cue Card falling, both jockeys citing low sun as being the issue. There will be questions about whether the eleven year old Cue Card should continue racing, but he looked to be travelling well before the fall and appears to have emerged unscathed. None of this should distract from Daryl Jacob’s impressive victory on Bristol De Mai. Nigel Twiston- Davies’ other runner, Blaklion, ran in second and after his treble at Cheltenham last Saturday the duffle coated trainer has every reason to be upbeat.
Bristol De Mai is still only six and like James Bowen, the best may lie ahead. Overall yesterday seems to have been a triumph for youth over experience.