Bet365 Celebration Chase (Grade 1)

SATURDAY was a day of crowning champions, with Brian Hughes, Kevin Brogan, J.P. McManus and Paul Nicholls getting awards, and Nicholls was the one to make the most of the occasion, saddling five winners, with Harry Cobden riding four of those, and missing a landmark century when choosing wrong in the other.

There were other highlights to end an intriguing season, with Hewick’s win in the big handicap a great result for Shark Hanlon, and the Josh Gifford Handicap Chase going to Gifford’s long-time stable jockey Richard Rowe. Rowe saddled Up The Straight to land the race in a fashion reminiscent of Gifford’s last winner, Skycab, who landed the corresponding event 19 years earlier.

The Grade 1 Celebration Chase was won for a second successive year by Greaneteen (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden), and while he had to work to beat the mighty Altior 12 months ago, this time it was plain sailing for the 11/8 market leader.

Cobden sent Greaneteen to the lead at the third fence, with market rival Nube Negra (Dan/Harry Skelton) setting off in pursuit, and the race looked in the balance when Greaneteen made his only error at the first of the railway fences.

He winged the Pond fence, however, and it was clear that he was going much the best, with Nube Negra beaten when propping badly on landing at the last, leaving Sceau Royal (Alan King/Daryl Jacob), to finish a 12-length second.

Nicholls has seen his spring plans scuppered by soft ground, and he was delighted that the weather played ball this time. “The ground was too soft for Greaneteen in Ireland, but we knew he was ready for today. He keeps galloping, and you have to jump around here, which he does well, and he stays on strong,” he said.

“Harry was really impressed today - he just keeps on improving - and he never gets the credit he deserves. He is a very smart horse on his day.”

Shark scores with another bargain buy

BARGAIN-buy Hewick has been a regular visitor on British soil, winning the Durham National at Sedgefield in October, and he caught the eye after a break in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter last time.

Building on that luckless run, he provided Shark Hanlon and Jordan Gainford with victory in the Bet365 Gold Cup, beating Musical Slave (Philip Hobbs/Tom O’Brien) and Kitty’s Light (Christian Williams/Jack Tudor) by eight lengths and half a length. Taking over from long-time leader and eventual fourth Step Back just after the Pond fence, 16/1 chance Hewick soon went clear, and although the second and third kept plugging away, the pursuit was fruitless.

This was Hanlon’s first graded success of the season, but Skyace landed a Grade 1 win at Fairyhouse last April, and both prove that The Shark can produce the goods even from the most unlikely sources. It’s stunning to think that when owners are prepared to pay half a million for a jumps-bred gelding, that Skyace and Hewick together cost less than €1,500, or as the big man himself put it, “the price of a cow”.

Hanlon paid €600 for Skyace out of Willie Mullins’s yard, while partner Rachel O’Neill was the successful bidder when Hewick was knocked down for €850 as a two-year-old.

Confident

Hanlon was confident that Hewick could atone for the Midlands National, when the loose Achille carried him across the track when he was going strongly in front: “We were a bit unfortunate at Uttoxeter. I thought we had the winning of the race and the grey horse carried him out. Jordan said sorry and that he thought he’d have won and I replied, ‘don’t worry, we’ll win at Sandown.’

“My own young lad Paddy has been out riding the horse for the last three days and it was all good rides. Paddy’s pony racing at the moment and rode 10 winners last season. I asked him whether he’d like to ride this horse up the hill in this race and he said ‘it would be a dream for me, dad’ – so we’ll have to get back here someday.”

Shark Hanlon features in the Big Interview on pages 12-13.

Calvados takes advantage of strange start

SAINT Calvados has been frustrating since moving from Harry Whittington to Paul Nicholls, looking the best horse in the King George before failing to stay under an aggressive ride, and he bled when well beaten in the Ascot Chase before racing too freely in the Melling Chase.

Most trainers would have been inclined to draw stumps, but Nicholls produced him in fine fettle to make all for a facile in the Grade 2 Oaksey Chase under Harry Cobden.

All the incidents in the race happened in the first couple of seconds, as main rival Mister Fisher (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville) shied away from the tape, hampering both Erne River and Nuts Well, and allowing the even-money favourite to poach the easiest of leads.

Saint Calvados simply never looked like giving any of the ground back, and jumping very well out on his own, cruised to a 16-length win, with Mister Fisher never jumping well enough to throw down a telling challenge, but faring best of the others.

Kauto Star target for McFabulous

THE Grade 2 Select Hurdle saw all four runners with a chance in the straight, but once again the race went to a front-runner from the Paul Nicholls yard, with Lorcan Williams benefiting from Harry Cobden’s decision to ride Scaramanga in preference to McFabulous.

The latter faced a stiff task in the Liverpool Stayers’ Hurdle on his previous start, and benefited from the return to a shorter trip on his preferred sound surface to get back to winning ways, rewarding backers at a generous SP of 4/1.

Jumped boldly

The eight-year-old jumped boldly in front, and although hard pressed from two out, he kept finding a bit more, and passed the post in front of Indefatigable (Paul Webber/Rex Dingle) and Fusil Raffles (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob), with the distances a length and the same.

The winner deserves some extra credit for conceding weight all round in a race where all four were closely matched in handicapping terms.

“A race like today is made for him,” said Nicholls. “He will be an exciting chaser. He’ll be turned out now and probably turn up at Chepstow in the autumn. He will get three miles, and would be a great one for the Kauto Star at Kempton next season; it would be our aim to work back from that as long as wasn’t too soft.”