At Carlisle yesterday a horse as yet unheralded in this country but rather better-known across the Channel took the latest step up his personal ladder as he made his first run over fences a winning one in the two-mile beginners' chase. Four-year-old Tidal Fury jumped beautifully for Leighton Aspell as he came nine lengths clear of two well-regarded fellow-debutants, Akilak and Regal Heights, but perhaps the only surprise should have been his starting price of 10-1. He was, after all, Jumps Horse of the Year in France last season.
Yes, top French lepper, ahead of Cyrlight, of Princesse d'Anjou, of Mid Dancer, Innox, Foreman, L'Ami. He was the first foreign-trained horse to win the title not even Dawn Run did so back in 1984, when she notched the historic Prix La Barka-Grand Course des Haies double and the first juvenile.
He owes his success, certainly, to the circumstances that caused the early abandonment of his Flat career. Early last year he twice failed a stalls test and was sentenced to six months off games until he could learn to behave. But fate also decreed that he was in the hands of a man who could recognise and maximise the opportunity thrust upon him. Tidal Fury is trained in Newmarket by Jonathan Jay, once assistant to Myriam Bollack-Badel at Lamorlaye, Chantilly's jumping outpost.
"He was a big, strong horse, right from a yearling," said Jay. "He'd been bought as a Flat horse, but with one eye on the possibility of jumping. The decision was rather made for us but instead of waiting until three-year-old hurdles in the autumn here, I knew that the French programme began much earlier in France.
"I suggested to his owners that we went down that route and, to be honest, going to Paris in the spring was never going to be a hard sell. I found a race at Auteuil in April and said if we could even get placed it would pay for the trip, the prize-money is so good there. And the rest is history."
It could be said that Jay proceeded to make haies. Tidal Fury won, as he did on three of his next four visits to the Paris track, culminating in victory in the prestigious Grade One Prix Cambacérès, a year ago yesterday. Shrewd placing has earned the 10-strong syndicate whose colours he carries more than £200,000.
Flat-bred Tidal Fury, a son of Night Shift, cost 28,000 guineas as a yearling and though he showed some promise when fourth at Thirsk on the second of his two juvenile runs, jumping became an increasingly likely job as he failed to stop growing. "He's pushing 17 hands and built with it," said Jay. "And I think his size caused his problem in the stalls.
"He was an excellent jumper from the start and so slick over the big hurdles at Auteuil that he'd gain lengths every time. I think that's why he was only third on his only run over hurdles here, he didn't adjust. But his experience in France meant he was always likely to jump fences here and I was really pleased with this performance. At least I think I was; I've not had anything to judge it against." Yesterday's success was not only Tidal Fury's first run in a chase, but also his trainer's first runner in one.
"We're not going to get carried away yet," added Jay, based in one of the Warren Place yards. "It's not like we're a big outfit with a load of young chasers. He's the only bullet in our chamber and we'll take it step by step and if he's good enough for Cheltenham, so be it."
* Sheikh Mohammed's brilliant three-year-old Bernardini, whose unbeaten run of six came to an end at the hands of Invasor in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday, will not race again. The son of A P Indy will start his stud career at Jonabell Farm in Kentucky next year at a fee of $100,000 (£53,000).Reuse content