Although it will have pleased the sponsors and underlined the reasons why most bookmaking firms put their relatively meagre prize-money contributions into handicaps, a 33-1 winner of the betting feature is never going to be cheered home to the eaves. But just what riding outsider Thesis to victory in the £100,000 Ladbroke Hurdle here yesterday meant to one man was apparent in the aftermath. "Even to get a ride in a race like this, televised on a Saturday, is a bonus," said the victorious jockey, Brian Crowley. "To win it is a feeling second to none."
A mechanic's son from Ballinhassig, Co Cork, Crowley, 22, is the sort of journeyman who would normally be found round the gaff tracks, one of the legion who make up the unsung backbone of the weighing room. But the recent enforced retirement of Norman Williamson, formerly first choice rider at yesterday's winning stable, that of Venetia Williams, has thrust his young compatriot more into the spotlight. "We wondered what life after Norman would be like," a delighted Williams said. "Now we know."
Crowley kept Thesis, a five-year-old still in his novice season, quietly handy in the pack as customary front-runner Benbyas took the field of 16 along at a strong enough gallop considering the rain-softened ground. The trailblazer still held the call going to the final turn but was soon floundering, along with the rest of the peloton, as Saintsaire, followed by Thesis and Sud Bleu, went past him and clear. The three leaders were in the air together over the final obstacle and Thesis, the one in the middle, found most on the run-in. Sud Bleu (7-1), who had been travelling with conspicuous ease under Ruby Walsh, was two lengths adrift at the line with Saintsaire (Mick Fitzgerald, 7-1) a length and a quarter behind. It was 16 lengths back to the fourth, Monkerhostin (33-1). Of the two 9-2 joint-favourites Overstrand came in seventh but Tom Paddington was taken off in an ambulance, seemingly lame, after a fall three out.
It was Crowley's biggest success since joining Williams' yard at Aramstone, Herefordshire, four years ago. "Thesis has loads of pace," he said, "and the main question was whether he would go on this soft ground or not. The answer was soon yes - he was always travelling well and winged every hurdle. Turning for home I could see that nothing from behind was coming through, and then Fitzy on Saintsaire began to scrub and I knew I had him covered. Two out, I had only Sud Bleu to beat and just kicked on and made the best of my way home."
Crowley, who spent his apprenticeship in Ireland with Aidan O'Brien in his jumping days, gave credit to Williamson for help and advice. "He is a great influence on a young person," he said. "In fact, all the top riders are. But winning this, with the likes of Ruby and Fitzy behind me, was not a matter of getting one over on them. It was more like just getting one."
Thesis, a son of Definite Article bought out of Jamie Osborne's yard at the Newmarket sales after his three-year-old Flat career, did not get off the mark over hurdles for his new connections (he is owned by a partnership) until May this year. "He was slightly disappointing at first, but has now strengthened up," said Williams of the chestnut. "We did think he wanted drier ground and as I drove to the course in the rain the phone calls to the owners were of the 'oh dear, oh dear' kind. But we felt he had some sort of chance, as he had run well against Tom Paddington and Sud Bleu at Newbury last month and they were both quite fancied."
Like last year's winner Chauvinist, Thesis dodged Friday's classy novices' contest at the meeting. "I should think he'll be going back into novice company after this," Williams added. "He won't be a well-handicapped horse any more."
The afternoon was topped and tailed by wins from two exciting young prospects in the colours of leading Irish owners, J P McManus's novice hurdler Krach in the opening three-mile contest and Michael Tabor's Refinement, who barely came off the bridle in the closing bumper. Krach, trained by François Doumen, came here with impeccable credentials from his native France, having won the Derby for half-breds at Maisons-Laffite as a three-year-old. "We haven't rushed him as he's a serious prospect," Doumen said. After walking the course at Kempton yesterday on behalf of McManus's King George VI Chase contender First Gold, Doumen added: "We need all the rain we can get, but the turf is in perfect condition."
In the feature chase, the Silver Cup, Horus, one of four Martin Pipe runners in a field of eight, gave 18-year-old Jamie Moore his biggest success with a length and a half defeat of the top-weight Behrajan, last year's winner. Both received 33-1 quotes for the Grand National.
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