The post-Cheltenham, pre-Flat vacuum was filled yesterday when a stupendously ordinary afternoon at Hereford was enlivened by the opportunity to become a millionaire. The Tote jackpot pool, unclaimed during the last three days of the Festival, Uttoxeter on Saturday and Fontwell on Sunday, had grown to £1,501,478 by the time the 17 competitors lined up for the opener. It matters more when there's money on it? You bet your sweet patootie it does.
A Class 4 three-and-a-quarter mile conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle is probably not the ideal opportunity for life-changing and, sadly, so it proved. The combination of Venetia Williams, Liam Treadwell and a horse off a fair mark on suitable ground seemed so sensible and there was a flicker of a heartbeat of hope as the beast, Heron's Ghyll, moved through to take second place before the final turn. That thing in front is bound to stop, isn't it?
Damn. The party poopers were young Tom Messenger and the 14-1 shot Witness Time, who conspicuously failed to grind to a halt. Bang went £1,465,425-worth of tickets. A locally trained course winner, blinkered first time? How did we fail to spot that? At the back, unnoticed save for those who had put him in their lines, came old Amberleigh House on his final outing before the Grand National, last of the 13 finishers but staying on.
So, £36,053 of hopes transfer to the selling hurdle. Never can so much brainpower have been applied to such a horrible contest; was there one good enough to win? Nearly not, as it turned out. The two well clear at the last, the favourite Mickey Pearce and second market choice The Wife's Sister, almost took each other out on the run-in as they swerved towards each other and collided quite violently.
The supporters of third-placed Silverpro (who invested £391) might have had a case for the disqualification of both on the grounds of risible incompetence in a finish by their conditional riders. But Mickey Pearce, who came out best in the shoulder charging, kept the spoils, though 5lb-claimer Steven Crawford was banned for four days.
The next, the four-year-old hurdle with an odds-on shot, should have been easy. And was, with Philip Hobbs-trained Bureaucrat earning a tilt at the big Aintree four-year-old hurdle with his 20-length saunter under Richard Johnson. There were clearly savers put in along with the banker, but £8,693 of £11,730 survived.
For those involved with Nazimabad (to the tune of £1,697) and Misty Dancer (£1,261) the two-mile novices' handicap chase was a behind-the-sofa affair. Misty Dancer made rapid, eyecatching progress to take his trailblazing rival off the final bend and jumped the last in the lead with his ears pricked. But close home Christian Williams regalvanised Nazimabad, surged a good neck up and appeared to think job done. Misty Dancer's last-gasp rally got him back to within a short-head of victory.
No horse went unsupported in the penultimate leg, a moderate handicap chase, so there was going to be a finale, no matter what. The bottom weight Valley Warrior carried £216 onwards.
And so to the bumper. At least nothing is going to fall. Had either Dark Rosalina, Global Party, Miss Millfield, Intra Vires or Jillnory succeeded, the whole thing would have rolled on to Exeter today. But as it was, those with faith in Tony McCoy on the favourite, Dancewiththedevil, his only ride of the day, collected.
And even the second-biggest jackpot in history was, in the end, holiday-, rather than life-altering. With £105-worth of winning tickets, the dividend was £10,152.
"It was mostly syndicates, which would have invested bigger stakes," the Totesport spokesman, Paul Petrie, said, "but we are aware of one winner in Brechin who put up just £18." The biggest pool was another gathered post-Cheltenham, the £2,050,652 of 11 years ago today, which paid an £11,933 dividend.
Nap: Olney Lad (Warwick 3.40)
NB: Fabulous Jet
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