Though his use of the whip on the winner arguably contributed to the traumas they have endured during his recent absence, Jason Maguire's rivals will readily acknowledge his success in the John Smith's Grand National in April as sealing his arrival among their elite. And while his hopes of consolidating that status this season were painfully interrupted by a fall at Cartmel in August, he looks ready to make up for lost time judged on his comeback at Hereford yesterday.
Maguire won on his only mount of the day, Bonne Fee in the bumper, having been made to work so hard that she traded at 500-1 in running on Betfair. "I've had a bit of a blow, because she was very green and was off the bridle some way out," Maguire said. "It's great to ride a winner with my first ride back."
Having watched from the sidelines as irate riders won a series of concessions in the new whip regulations, which were partly stimulated by his ride on Ballabriggs at Aintree, he is looking forward to the resumption of his flourishing partnership with Donald McCain. But the stable's biggest winner in the meantime – Weird Al, in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby – will again be ridden by Timmy Murphy in the big race at Haydock tomorrow.
Having suffered a neck injury, Maguire is taking things one step at a time, starting with his first hurdle mounts at Haydock today.
McCain has booked Tony McCoy for the promising Tornado Bob in the novice chase on the same card, and sends Maguire to ride Overturn in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot tomorrow, when Weird Al will be one of five opponents for Long Run in the Betfair Chase.
Not that Maguire is complaining, obliged as he is to the British Horseracing Authority's chief medical adviser, Dr Michael Turner, for bringing forward his return by a couple of days. "Overturn is getting a good bit at the weights from Oscar Whisky, so if he's ever going to beat him, he'll have the chance on Saturday," he said. "He's a bold front-runner, who has always looked as though a step up in trip might suit him, and the track should suit him too."
A winner earlier on the Hereford card represented a still more significant milestone for Tom Symonds, former assistant to Nicky Henderson. Alpha Way, his 12th starter since setting up down the road near Ross-on-Wye, had been discarded by McCain since last season but got Symonds off the mark with a runaway win in the novices' handicap chase.
Along with every other trainer, Symonds will look upon Willie Mullins and wonder what he might do when he is back in form.
With his stable ostensibly backward this autumn, the Irish champion trainer had his second treble in two days at Thurles yesterday.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Tornado Bob (1.55 Haydock) Laid solid foundations in Irish bumpers, and then over timber last term for this stable, but looks the type to do better still over fences and his touch of class could decide an interesting race.
Toubab (1.20 Haydock) Jumped superbly on his chasing debut at Cheltenham, making his only mistake as he tired at the last. Folded thereafter but looks sure to last longer with that under his belt.
One to watch
Ambion Wood (Victor Dartnall) will repay perseverance after an odds-on reverse on his hurdling debut at Fontwell last weekend, having given a big start to the front pair.
Where the money's going
Oscar Whisky is 4-5 from 5-4 with Ladbrokes for the Coral Hurdle at Ascot tomorrow.
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