Cinders And Ashes rekindles McCain hopes of hurdling title

 

For the second year running, Donald McCain's lorry took the Champion Hurdle runner-up back to his Cheshire stables – but it also contained a horse that might redress matters next time round. For while Cinders And Ashes had to be driven out to win the William Hill Supreme Novices' Hurdle by barely a length, with four horses breathing down his neck, McCain has no doubt of his calibre. "If you watch, Jason [Maguire] was taking a pull because he was getting there too soon," he said. "I told Jason to ride him with balls, and that's what he did."

Cinders And Ashes stands as a very tangible legacy of McCain's father, Ginger, who found him at the Doncaster sales. "Dad bought him for four and half grand," McCain recalled. "He was just a big stroppy two-year-old that wanted to shag everything. Dad will be looking down on me now."

There was also consolation for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, the other team on the Champion Hurdle podium, when the marvellous Quevega duly won the OLBG David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle for a fourth year running – and, for a third time, on her seasonal debut. The way she sprinted clear of the pack again made some wonder what she might do tried in open company, but connections rightly contend she has now established a unique niche in Festival history.

She has been consummately handled by Mullins, but he had to share the laurels with Jonjo O'Neill and Kieran Burke. The former, who has nursed Alfie Sherrin through all manner of physical problems, lost his voice as he gave Richie McLernon a first Festival winner in the JLT Specialty Chase; while the latter, in his very first season, landed the Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap with the phenomenal Hunt Ball. This horse only won his first race in November, off a handicap mark of 69 – and here won his seventh, by daylight, off 142.

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