Fortunately for Jeremy Noseda, the Jockey Club's new rules on suspected non-triers do not come into operation until March, otherwise yesterday could have been an afternoon of firsts in more ways than one.
Twenty-four hours after the Club proposed to hold an inquiry at Portman Square whenever a horse without a previous first-four finish to its name wins a handicap, Noseda's colt Nautical Warning did just that, improving significantly on last year's form to win the opening race at Lingfield. Had Noseda been asked to explain the improvement, though, he would have had a reasonable and fair excuse, since Nautical Warning was the first runner of his official training career.
Noseda was a vital figure behind the scenes of the Godolphin operation when horses like Lammtarra were winning most of the Group Ones worth having in 1995, and on yesterday's early evidence, he is as comfortable on the sand at Lingfield as he is on the green expanses of Longchamp.
Nautical Warning had to survive a stewards' inquiry, which examined possible interference in a frantic three-horse struggle to the line after which Noseda's runner prevailed by just a neck. "That is a relief," the trainer said afterwards. "Now the game can only get harder, but I am thrilled to do it with my first runner. I am also glad for the owner, Benny Schmidt- Bodner, because he has been a great supporter of mine. The horse was fit enough, and could be back here again soon."
Noseda's will surely be a name to watch for when the Flat season proper begins in the spring, but in the meantime there is a great deal of life left in the jumps campaign. The cast of characters for the Champion Hurdle in particular should start to crystallise this weekend, when almost all the leading ante-post contenders, and plenty of live outsiders too, will be put to the test.
Istabraq, the clear favourite for the championship, will contest the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown on Sunday, a day after Relkeel, Dato Star and Collier Bay are expected to line up for the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock. Mary Reveley's Marello, meanwhile, will take the latest step on her frustratingly gradual path towards the top in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso on Friday.
The main players at Haydock, to judge by the betting at least, will be Collier Bay and Relkeel, but it could prove foolhardy to dismiss Dato Star too lightly. Malcolm Jefferson's runner was the champion National Hunt Flat horse of 1995, winning the Festival Bumper at Cheltenham, but in the two seasons since, injuries sustained in this very race at Haydock have prevented a return to the Festival for a run in the timber championship.
Jefferson, thankfully, is not superstitious, and nor does he believe that the 40-1 currently offered against Dato Star for the Champion Hurdle is a reasonable assessment of his chance. This, remember, is a horse who has proved his quality both on the flat and over jumps and who hurdles with exceptional fluency. As Jefferson points out, "he's never done anything wrong in his life".
The problem, his trainer feels, is that "people like to build horses up and then knock them down. If someone rings me up to talk about him, I can either do what Arthur Stephenson used to do and pretend I'm not there, or I can be helpful. But then you find that the moment he doesn't win a race, everyone is writing him off."
Saturday's race will be the first and last chance to assess Dato Star before the Festival itself. "He doesn't take a lot of getting fit and he'll go straight there after Haydock," Jefferson says. "We hope the ground will be soft, just the right side of raceable, and I don't think he'll be a 40-1 chance for the Champion afterwards."Reuse content