It was honours even at Sandown yesterday between jump racing's arch-rival trainers. Paul Nicholls took the prestige with a victory in the Tolworth Hurdle for his exciting young prospect Noland, and Martin Pipe took the money as handicapper Desert Air scored in the afternoon's most valuable contest, the Ladbroke Hurdle.
Noland, a powerful five-year-old, established himself as a prime candidate for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham with his five-length romp in the two-mile Grade One race that has spotlighted such luminaries as Desert Orchid and Best Mate. Christian Williams bided his time off a steady pace in testing ground, waiting until the second-last to challenge the trailblazing Whispered Promises.
A bold, accurate leap at that obstacle sent Noland into the lead and a fiddly, but safe, one at the last kept him there before he forged clear, ears flicking, up the remainder of the hill.
Noland, the latest high-class bearer of John Hales's yellow silks, is already more than proficient over hurdles, but it is over fences that his long-term future lies. "He jumps so well," said a delighted Nicholls. "He is going to make such a lovely chaser."
The white-faced bay coped well with underfoot conditions, which were not to his benefit. "I was really concerned about the ground," added Nicholls. "The frost came out of it and the rain and snow got in, and it was horrible. He will be much more effective on better ground.
"He's still a big, green baby and will be much better in a more competitive race off a faster gallop. He was looking about a bit, but it's a long way from the last bend to the winning post and he galloped up the hill nicely."
Although Noland looks every inch a chaser, that was not his destiny when he was planned. He is from a bloodline that has reached the highest heights on the Flat, but his progress through life is a fine example of the vagaries of thoroughbred breeding.
Half a century ago Queen's Statute, a filly of humble origins, was foaled. Unraced, she was exported to Canada, where she produced 13 foals to race, two of them champions. One of her lesser winners, Royal Statute, took the dynasty to glory in Europe, through her daughters Awaasif, who won a Yorkshire Oaks and produced Snow Bride, herself dam of Lammtarra, and Konafa, who finished second in the 1,000 Guineas and produced 11 winners including Korveya, dam of the Classic-winning Bosra Sham, Hector Protector and Shanghai. But among Korveya's lesser offspring was Yemanja, who failed to win and, despite consorting with the best stallions, did not come up to scratch as a broodmare. Her best offspring was the handicapper Robandela, by Kingmambo. Woodland Park, by Woodman, ran over hurdles, and Molakai, by Nureyev, managed just a second in a four-runner Leicester maiden.
Molakai was given her chance at stud, but not for long. Her first foal, a colt by the top-class Flat sire Machiavellian, showed nothing. Her second was Noland, by Machiavellian's less talented but more handsome brother Exit To Nowhere. Molakai has since been sold for just 14,500 guineas, while Exit To Nowhere is now a jumps stallion in Northern Ireland.
Noland was culled from John Hammond's yard as an unraced three-year-old for just €2,500, shrewdly bought at a French auction by the former jumps jockey Mark Dwyer, whose success as a talent spotter can be gauged by the fact he traded him back to Nicholls and Hales for 70,000gns seven months later.
Williams, who is deputising on Nicholls's best prospects for the injured Ruby Walsh and had been booked to ride Desert Air, was denied a feature-race double by the persistence of Tom Scudamore, who overcame officialdom's red tape to ride. Injured in a fall eight days previously, Scudamore's legitimate claim to fitness was almost scuppered by the closure of the Jockey Club's offices for the New Year holiday. "I kicked up a stink," he admitted, "and eventually got an appointment to see a doctor yesterday, and passed. And it was worth all the fuss."
Desert Air held on dourly for a length and a quarter success from another 25-1 shot, Nathos. After a bleak December it was a welcome turnaround in fortunes for the Pipe stable and the £57,000 prize leapfrogged him over Philip Hobbs and back into second place in the trainers' table, behind Nicholls.Reuse content