Olofi finally gets just rewards
Racing:Olofi was finally rewarded for a string of solid efforts in valuable handicaps when he took the Racing Post Hurdle at Cheltenham. Tom George’s grey had made steady progress in this very race, building on his fifth in 2010 when second last year, aside from a near-miss in Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle.
Owner Max McNeill was due further compensation himself, witnessing Walkon come up just a little short after a heroic performance in Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup, and the IT solutions expert was punching the air with glee after the 8-1 shot galloped two and a half lengths clear of Cash And Go.
It had not been a straightforward race for Paddy Brennan, whose patience has been regularly tested by Olofi, but he escaped being penned in by Bothy approaching the final flight before clearing away.
Bothy’s rider Danny Cook was given a two-day careless riding ban (December 2-3) for his troubles.
“He had no luck last year, but it’s all come right for him today," George said. "He’s a very, very talented horse. He was only beaten four lengths by Zarkandar last year (Betfair Hurdle, Newbury) and everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. Last year you could have run him in the Champion Hurdle and he’d go with anything until the second-last.
“It’s a long shout to go for the Champion, but he’s obviously improving.”
Brennan said: “He’s got me so many rollickings this horse, giving him too much to do, but, by doing that, that’s how we’ve had the finished article today.
“It was just a case of trying to keep him under control and out of the race. The brilliance was always there. It was just getting him to use it. I thought I might be on the floor at one stage, but I was lucky enough to have a horse who was willing and tough enough to get me out of the situation.
“He’ll have to improve to make it to the very top, but you never know.”
The withdrawal of Sprinter Sacre due to the soft ground robbed the Shloer Chaseof its big draw, but Wishfull Thinking still managed to produce an impressive performance to get his career back on track.
Philip Hobbs’ gelding, who can appear untouchable on his day, had scattered spectators with a horrific fall in front of the stands on his previous visit to Prestbury Park in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. But, aside from a poor jump at the first, the 8-11 favourite never looked in much danger from his market rival Doeslessthanme.
“The main problem for a long time has been his breathing — he’s had three breathing operations,” said Hobbs. “But this season he has been better with his breathing. We had a scare at the first fence, but he did it well. The Peterborough Chase (Huntingdon, December 13) is now the obvious race. I think two and a half miles is his best trip.”
Sprinter Sacre’s trainer Nicky Henderson still decided to give Captain Conan some match practice and it was a worthwhile exercise in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial Novices’ Chase.
Last season’s Tolworth Hurdle winner (11-10 favourite) looked a natural over fences and found an extra two lengths to foil Sire De Grugy on the run-in.
“I think he’s a two-miler — he’s got a lot of speed,” said Henderson. “I don’t think he touched a twig but I would have been disappointed if he had. I looked after him last season and we didn’t take him to Cheltenham (in March) because this is what we had been waiting for.
“We’ve got Simonsig to come and those are the two (Arkle horses).”
There was an emotional victory for Coneygree (8-1), who was bred by the late Lord Oaksey, as the half-brother to Hennessy hero Carruthers took the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdlein the front-running style of his sibling.
Jockey Mattie Batchelor said: “He’s got a long way to go, but he’d almost give you a better feel than Carruthers.”
Trainer Mark Bradstock said: “He’s a completely different stamp of a horse to Carruthers, who is only 16 hands and struggles to carry a big weight, whereas you’d hope this fellow could as he looks a proper chaser.
“Cheltenham is where you want to be, and I’m sure John (Oaksey) is looking down on us.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies provided a local winner with Double Ross (14-1) in the Paddy Power Intermediate Handicap Hurdle, while there was another Irish success in the Cheltenham-sponsored bumperthrough the promising Anonis (25-1).
It was a first course victory for trainer Mags Mullins, who said: “I think he’s very nice and it’s up to the owner but he could either go for the bumper at Leopardstown over Christmas or start hurdling.”