Whatever the calibre of firepower in the West Country, it is mighty effective. Sure, Paul Nicholls has the heavy artillery and on Saturday mopped up another Grade One prize, his sixth of the season. But 10 miles away, over the border between Somerset and Dorset, Colin Tizzard is not doing too badly with a peashooter. Yesterday at Plumpton the excellent form of the inmates of Venn Farm continued as relentlessly as 25-1 shot Ironside galloped round three circuits of Plumpton to take the Sussex National.
Sharp, left-handed Plumpton, with its notably short run-in, is a track where trailblazers can be hard to reel in, especially in testing ground, and Dave Crosse, on board the nine-year-old, made sure he never gave away that advantage. And practically, as well as tactically, the front was the place to be as assorted mayhem ensued behind.
The first to depart was The Risky Viking, who slithered over at the 10th obstacle; two fences later another well-fancied type, McEvoy, jumped awkwardly and ejected Christian Williams, taking Jay Harris out of Zimbabwe's saddle in the process; and at the 15th last year's winner, Pass Me By, lived up to his name by virtually refusing and, though his momentum took him over, declined to face the rigours of the final circuit.
By then there were only five left in the race, with blinkered, tongue-tied Ironside who himself had rather sulked six days previously when last of 10 finishers at Warwick still grinding it out in front. And despite the gallant efforts of the 4-1 favourite, Petite Margot, conceding 16lb, he stayed there to take the 15,657 first prize by six lengths.
"Typical Ironside," said Tizzard, sending out his fourth winner in 14 days. "He never ran a race at Warwick, but being allowed to dominate here helped a lot."
Cheltenham Festival candidate Joe Lively, famously secured for just 4,500 at auction as a throw-out, has been Tizzard's flagbearer this term and Ironside has proved another shrewd spot, bought out of Henry Daly's yard for 9,500gns in May 2006. The gelding, who had won at the quirky East Sussex track the week before Christmas, has now amassed three times that in earnings. "We thought he had a great chance of being placed in this," added Tizzard. "He should never have been the outsider."
The rather more expensive Nicholls battalions rolled on at the weekend with a Ruby Walsh-ridden hat-trick at Sandown, headed by Breedsbreeze's progressive success in the Tolworth Hurdle, one of the most significant mid-season pointers to novice contests at Cheltenham in March.
Three of the past 10 winners French Holly, Monsignor and Noland have gone on to score at the Festival, and Breedsbreeze is now one of the market leaders for the Ballymore Properties Hurdle. The six-year-old cost 8,200 (5,740) as an unbroken three-year-old but presumably rather more when sold privately to Jim Lewis after impressing in Irish point-to-points.
It was Lewis's first top-level win since the third Gold Cup of his ill-fated Best Mate four years ago; the 73-year-old took time out from the track after the sorrow of losing his best horse and the grief of losing his wife, Valerie, soon afterwards. And he showed admirable judgement in choosing to witness Breedsbreeze's performance first-hand rather than the FA Cup exit of his beloved Aston Villa at the hands of Manchester United. "Priorities," he said. "With horses, I can dream again."
Master Minded, carrying another Gold Cup-winning set of colours, steadied his ship with a foot-perfect round of jumping in the handicap chase. The ex-French five-year-old, who cost his owner, Clive Smith, a reputed 400,000 of the 1m Betfair bonus secured by Kauto Star at Cheltenham but unseated Sam Thomas on his British debut, will have his mettle more rigorously tested before his Cheltenham target is decided.
With the Ryanair Chase or the Champion Chase under consideration, he will take on reigning two-mile king Voy Por Ustedes in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury next month. His own stablemate Twist Magic, though, is favourite for the Festival showpiece.
Walsh completed a good weekend at the office with a double at Naas for Willie Mullins on two likely looking young hurdlers, Our Bob and Temlett. The trainer went on to take the bumper with Prince Geeno to bring his score to nine since the turn of the year.
Temlett entered Triumph Hurdle reckoning with his runaway 11-length success against his elders in the two-mile maiden, but novice honours on the day went to the pair who fought out the finish of the Grade Two, two-and-a-half miler. Mouse Morris's charge Velnamar battled home by a head, but bragging rights went to the runner-up, Trafford Lad, who conceded 7lb. He remains higher in the bookmakers lists for the Ballymore Properties at 20-1.
Nap: The Wooden Spoon(Taunton 3.40)
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