Racing: Wylie helps Hexham to strike it rich with Rosa

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The Independent Online

Graham Wylie is a prosperous and, you have to say, bold man. Not many other bridegrooms would allow their early wives to be serenaded by Ronan Keating at the wedding reception.

But then Wylie, reportedly a billionaire, had paid for Keating, just as he has paid for several of the most promising jumping horses that are beginning to appear around Britain's racecourses.

The most costly of them all, if you disregard the private deal for the Cheltenham Gold Cup aspirant Valley Henry, appears for the first time over obstacles today.

The Ribchesters Chartered Accountants Novices' Hurdle at Hexham - £2,343.60 to the winner - would ordinarily be a contest of much humility, but it is graced this afternoon by Royal Rosa, Wylie's leading purchase, thus far, at 340,000 guineas. If nothing else it is a local engagement for the miner's son from Whitley Bay.

Wylie did not make his money by being particularly proficient at the coalface. He is the co-founder of Sage, the computer software people, and after the company grew, some ventured he would never again have to work for a living. At the age of 43 recently Wylie agreed they were quite right. Leisure is now his conquest, racing his main beneficiary.

A further recipient of his great success is the Co Durham trainer Howard Johnson, who supervises an operation at Crook. Johnson could have considered himself unlucky some time back when a cow kicked him on the head at his farm, a moment which left him with a permanent ringing in his ears. But now we have another foot and one which is not too pressing on the trainer judged by his relaxed manner at the races.

Johnson has been characterised by a cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he has saddled the Cambridgeshire winner, Chivalry, and Inglis Drever, both graduates of Newmarket's Horses in Training Sales and winners on their hurdling debuts for Wylie.

The story really began though with Lord Transcend, the winner of a Grade Two hurdle, the horse which fed a bug and created an epidemic. "Graham asked me if we can run at Hexham, and I said 'no problem'," Johnson said yesterday. "He has a house and a business up there, and Lord Transcend won there early on in his career, so it's a good place to start."

Now comes the time for Royal Rosa, who, despite the name, is a four-year-old gelding, and now faces 14 opponents on his arrival in a new realm. The chestnut won three of his four starts for Nicky Henderson last year, including a Grade One bumper at Punchestown. Hence the price.

"Graham [Lee, the jockey] has sat on him and he jumps well," Johnson said yesterday. "It is raining at Hexham at the moment, which is good news. The softer the better. He loves heavy ground.

"I've started him off at three miles as I'm sure the one thing he will do is stay. He looks a real stayer, but we'll find out tomorrow. We can always drop back to two and a half if things don't work out."

Some rather more established figures were setting personal landmarks at Musselburgh yesterday, when Contraband gave Martin Pipe his first winner on the Edinburgh course.

It was also Pipe's first runner at the Scottish track and a first ride at Musselburgh for more than five years for Tony McCoy. "I have been here a couple of times before and I rode a winner here for Jack Ramsden," the champion jockey said.

There was a Pond House victory also for the Champion Bumper winner from last season's Cheltenham Festival, though Liberman did not press all the right buttons on his hurdling debut. The 1-7 chance was not always fluent at his hurdles and, having been third into the straight, had to work to get the better of Reivers Moon on the run-in before going three and a half lengths clear at the line.

"He had a nice school round and he won all right in the end," McCoy said. "He was a little bit novicey at a few, but he was always going to win. I hope he will be better for the experience."

But there was a surprising reverse, too, for Pipe and McCoy with defeat for Korelo, another 1-7 shot. Korelo jumped left up the straight and could finish only third to Bruce Mactaggart's Eyze, who was given a fine ride by Alan Dempsey in the Port Seton Novices' Chase.

Eamon Leigh, Pipe's travelling head lad, said: "It took us nine hours to get here from Nicholashayne [a round trip of 820 miles], and it hasn't been a bad day - they can't all win."