Midnight Shadow claimed the spoils in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham after last year’s winner Coole Cody fell at the second-last when leading the field.
Midnight Shadow was one of those in close pursuit and jumped the last in front – but he made a mistake there and was all out up the hill to hold the late challenge of Protektorat to land the prize for the Grand National-winning partnership of trainer Sue Smith and jockey Ryan Mania.
The eight-year-old was just three-quarters of a length in front at the line to strike at odds of 9/1. Protektorat (11/2 favourite) was half a length ahead of Lalor (7/1) in third, with Dostal Phil (16/1) a length back in fourth place.
There was a strong pace from the start, with Coole Cody getting into the lead once the field settled down. Simply The Betts was prominent in the early stages, as was Al Dancer while Midnight Shadow was fairly handy.
Paint The Dream took closer order as the tempo increased, but his challenged petered out. Coole Cody looked certain to take a hand in the finish, only to make a dramatic exit at the tricky penultimate obstacle.
Smith – whose finest hour came with Auroras Encore and Mania in the 2013 Aintree spectacular – said: “I probably get more emotional these days because I’m that much older!
“It’s special, it’s special for everyone because we’re only a small yard and northern trainers don’t get to do this very often, so it’s lovely.
“I’ve probably got about 45-50 in training, but they are not all Midnight Shadows! I probably had a few more in when we won the National, but these are once-in-a-lifetime horses, the same as Auroras Encore was – and he’s still in the field looking very well now.
“He was bought at Doncaster by Harvey (Smith) and he was bred by Mr Smith-Maxwell who actually runs the horse ambulance service here.”
Smith revealed an ambitions target for Midnight Shadow at Christmas.
She said: “I think the plan could be to go to Kempton for the big race – the King George.
“We’ve been thinking of stepping him up to three miles for some time so we may as well do it then, if you don’t try these things you don’t know. Eventually he will get three miles, I’m sure.
“You don’t often come across a horse like this, so it’s amazing to have him in our yard – he’s obviously the best horse in our yard.”
Third Time Lucki
Dan Skelton was able to breathe a sigh of relief having watched Third Time Lucki maintain his unbeaten record over fences in the From The Horse’s Mouth Podcast Novices’ Chase.
Sent off the 2/5 favourite, Skelton had seen classy stablemate My Drogo start at a similarly prohibitive price on Friday – only for him to slide to a halt and part company with Harry Skelton at the second-last.
There were no such worries this time, although Third Time Lucki was not quite as exuberant as he had been when winning on his chasing debut last month.
“Harry said he felt fantastic and that he’s a horse with a lot of natural pace,” said Skelton.
“During my apprenticeship with Paul (Nicholls), Ruby (Walsh) always used to say there’s a difference between speed and pace and in a race pace is so important because you can go your speed very comfortably, which is what he can do.
“Going down the hill Harry started getting him under control, and then from three out to two out also. After the last he pricked his ears and got lonely, it was harder work today visually and while it is trainer chat he was actually fitter for the first day than today.
“I did a lot with him for the first day because I didn’t want to have him too fresh, so I pressed him a bit. I trusted him between then and now and I think he jumped the last and just had a blow.”
As for future plans, Skelton may now have a change of heart.
“Originally the plan was to go to the Henry VIII after this, but whether that will happen now, I don’t know. I need to talk to Mike (Newbould, owner). I could wait for Kempton, which I know is a Grade Two and Sandown a Grade One but the ground will have a big bearing – he won’t run on soft or heavy,” said Skelton.
“We could even wait for Doncaster (Lightning Novices’ Chase) and then come back here. Appreciate It is top of the (Arkle) market and we’ve got to see what he does. We want to go to the Arkle and hopefully it all works out.
“I was set in my mind to go Sandown and Warwick (Kingmaker) after today, but having watched that I just like the idea of him super fresh. I can do loads with him at home and the best route might be Kempton and then here. Maybe.”