For those dispirited by the way so many big jump races are nowadays carved up between the same few stables, here was a look back to the future. Lest we forget, Kim Bailey himself once won the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle at the same Festival, with Master Oats and Alderbrook respectively in 1995, and until this year he remained unique among current trainers in having also won a Grand National. Even in his pomp, however, he never pretended to invulnerability – and the engaging human qualities that leavened his undoubted hunger have been sadly missed from the elite scene for more than a decade.
The success here of Harry Topper will be celebrated, then, by any bewildered by the indecent haste with which Bailey and others have been abandoned, while the big spenders meekly follow wherever fashion might lead. For his own part, Bailey will be at pains not to be rushed against his own judgement – and promises a patient approach with Harry Topper, still only five years old. “This is the horse of my dreams,” he said. “I can safely say he’s the best I’ve had since Master Oats. But we’re going to take it very quietly with him. He’s very, very good – but he’s also very immature, and he’ll probably only run once or twice again this season.”
Even in beating five other recent winners in the GPG Novices’ Chase, Harry Topper corroborated the impression that he has barely begun to sketch out his own potential. For much of the straight, Timmy Murphy’s mount was plugging on for a supporting role, not least after being hampered by a faller four out.
Up ahead Benefficient was gradually seeing off Highland Lodge, and the Irish raider seemed sure to win at the last – where Harry Topper was perhaps 15 lengths down, with three rivals still to pass. Whether through his own dourness, or the exhaustion of his rivals, the picture would alter dramatically on the flat. Suddenly he was going to get third; then he had a chance of second; and now here he was, collaring Benefficient and going away by a length and a half.
“Timmy came in and said to just look after him, because he’s desperately weak and only won through guts,” Bailey said. “He does try so hard. He’s one of those that will run through brick walls for you, and you don’t want to push them to the limit too often. I’d like to think in 18 months’ time you will see him at Cheltenham – but his chances of going there this season are very limited.”
Bailey had been reluctant even to come here, but felt that new conditions for the novice division this season had left him with no choice. “In days gone by, he could have built up confidence and strength in two or three little races,” he said. “Instead, we had to go for what I thought the best novice chase of the season so far. He’s all frame, 17 hands, and is doing this a season before he should.”
The day’s other plaudits, in contrast, went to a couple of horses in the evening of their careers. Oscar Time, runner-up in the 2011 Grand National, made an auspicious return from injury at Thurles behind another seasoned campaigner in Forpadydeplasterer. Though ultimately beaten just over 10 lengths into fourth, Oscar Time showed up well before tiring in the straight. Both horses will have the rest of their season geared to Aintree.
Chris McGrath’s Nap
Rakaan (5.55 Wolverhampton) Well treated these days and, representing the in-form stable of Jamie Osborne, did best of those ridden off the pace when finishing well for second at Kempton last time.
Parisian Pyramid (7.25 Wolverhampton) Crashing down the handicap and, having offered signs of renewal for his new yard last time, interesting dropped to a trip he has seldom tried.