Racing: Farmer Jack mows down Kempton field

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The Independent Online

Richard Johnson maintained his remarkable harvest in the Racing Post Chase with victory yesterday on Farmer Jack, his fourth success in the valuable Grade Three contest in six runnings. But for a supposedly competitive handicap, the race was remarkably free of incident, even excitement. Well-in horse wins, not many fall.

Even the gelding's trainer, Philip Hobbs, seemed slightly underwhelmed. "The only worry was that slight mistake he made three out," he said. "Otherwise, it went to plan." The Minehead-based handler was more chuffed with his 18-year-old daughter Katherine's point-to-point winner at Holnicote earlier in the afternoon.

Although Farmer Jack, the 5-1 second favourite, carried top-weight, he was the best-treated of the 16 runners, carrying 11lb less than his future rating. Such good things do not always oblige, but that this one would was apparent for most of the three miles. The nine-year-old jumped past the leader, Banker Count, at the final open ditch, six from home, and, revelling in the easy ground, had only to be kept up to his work from that point to come home six lengths clear of the staying-on Iznogoud.

The veteran Banker Count, a length-and-three-quarters third, acquitted himself gallantly for a 13-year-old, with Tikram fourth. Twelve of the 16 runners finished; the only faller, two out while behind, was the gambled-on favourite Colonel Frank, backed from 11-2 to 4-1 on-course.

Cheltenham is in most sights right now, but Hobbs is likely to eschew the sport's holy-grail meeting with Farmer Jack, even though the improving son of Alflora has established himself this season as being not far short of the very best; as when, two weeks before yesterday's effort, he accounted for two Gold Cup contenders in Strong Flow and Celestial Gold at Newbury, his first venture over yesterday's distance.

But the two blips in his jumping came at Prestbury Park. "I think he seems best on a flat track," Hobbs said, "so we'll probably wait until Aintree." There is another tempting target on the horizon in the shape of the world's most valuable chase, the Nakayama Grand Jump, in Japan in April.

"The only trouble is, the ground is usually fast there, which does not suit," said Hobbs. "But it is worth £450,000 to the winner."

Farmer Jack was Hobbs's third winner of the race, after Dr Leunt in 1999 and Gunther McBride three years ago. Johnson brought his hat-trick up on the last-named, who was preceded by Young Spartacus and Gloria Victis. "He can get into such a good rhythm on a track like this," said the jockey of his latest winner. "He's a very good jumper when he does, and settles very well. He's grown up this season, become a real professional."

With a three-and-a-half-length defeat of Monet's Garden in the Rendlesham Hurdle, Crystal D'Ainay confirmed himself as the best of British in the staying division, but that, in the eyes of the layers at least, is damning him with faint, Henman-like praise. He was cut a couple of points for the marathon crown at the Festival to 6-1, but the French-trained favourite, Baracouda, also hardened, as low as evens in most lists.

Crystal D'Ainay sported a first-time visor as a result of his lacklustre fourth behind Patriarch Express - himself only fourth yesterday - in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, but his trainer, Alan King, was disinclined to attribute the turnaround in fortune entirely to the new concentration-inducing headgear. "He seemed lifeless beforehand at Cheltenham, when I was saddling him, and just didn't fire at all in the race," he said, "but he was like a bull in a china shop in the parade ring today and Gary Mews, who rides him at home, told me during the week he'd never felt him bigger or stronger."

Robert Thornton settled the six-year-old, who has twice finished within a length of Baracouda this term, behind the pace set first by an increasingly reluctant Quick, then taken over by the favourite, Royal Rosa (who finished third, and sore, and is unlikely to run again this season), and swinging into the final straight it was clear he was travelling best. He jumped the last between the struggling Royal Rosa and progressing Monet's Garden, and came readily clear. "Possibly the visor has helped him a bit," added King. "It was something Choc [Thornton] has been mentioning for a while. I don't particularly like using them, but I suppose we daren't take it off now."

Following the news of Kieren Fallon's appointment as Ballydoyle's No 1, Frankie Dettori has hardened as favourite - 4-7 with Coral - to take this year's jockey's title. Darryll Holland is second in the list at 9-2 with Robert Winston and Ryan Moore, two of the early names in the frame to replace Fallon in the Sir Michael Stoute yard.

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