Minella makes the most of life in the slow lane
Monday 03 January 2011
One of racing's assets is that it is such a broad church, offering so many different ways to worship. If you want to follow only the premier division, the exploits of the Kauto Stars and Hurricane Flys, you can. If you want to find winners by compiling an analysis of apprentice-ridden mounts at Wolverhampton on wet Wednesdays, you can. If you want to send 50 texts to make sure your hero A P McCoy gets an award, that's fine as well.
And if your pleasure is hands-on involvement with your horse, perhaps only a moderate performer in the greater scheme of things but your very own darling, good for you. Take Penny Zygmant, the Leicestershire-based countrywoman who owns yesterday's Sussex National winner Minella Boys.
She acquired the brown gelding nearly four years ago, for £11,500 at auction as a cast-off from an Irish stable. His earnings now stand at £34,476, hardly enough to have kept him in hay, let alone oats, shoes and the rest.
But some moments are priceless. And there was no doubting Zygmant's delight and enthusiasm as she welcomed her pride and joy into the Plumpton winner's circle with pats and ear-rubs.
"I ride him myself when I have him at home for his holidays in the summer," she said, "and he's just the nicest horse to sit on and have about the place you could imagine."
The place in the saddle yesterday went to young Felix de Giles, who exercised perfect patience during the slog round three circuits of the tricky track as Master Overseer, racing for the first time since his success in the race 12 months before, and Rebel Melody set the rhythm at the sharp end.
By the final turn Master Overseer had seen off all-comers bar the stealthily stalking Minella Boys, who jumped past him at the last and stayed on dourly to thwart a gallant effort by two and a quarter lengths.
It was a first victory over fences for Minella Boys, and his first since scoring over hurdles more than a year ago. His trainer, Charlie Longsdon, with no illusions about his charge's limited talent, had applied sheepskin cheekpieces to his bridle for the first time. "For a big horse," he said, "he wouldn't be the bravest. And, at the end of the day, he's pretty slow.
"I think the cheekpieces helped him concentrate on the fences and gave him a bit of courage. I could see he was jumping off a long stride today, having a go. I rode him myself the other day with them on and I could feel that they just seemed to give him another gear. But basically he's a plodder who wants heavy ground and an extreme distance."
There are Nationals and there are Nationals, and the one at Plumpton – a thoroughly rural track where parkas and thermals were de rigueur for the near 4,000 die-hards who turned up on its biggest day of the year – does not take high rank, but the real thing at Aintree will not be on Minella Boys' radar. It may be, however, for one of the weekend's surprise packages, Blazing Bailey. The former high-class staying hurdler returned to form in convincing fashion with an 11-length success on Saturday in a competitive contest at Cheltenham, his first venture into handicap chase company, and his trainer Alan King revealed yesterday that he would target the Aintree showpiece.
"He's had a lot of hard battles over the years and it was great to see him win again," King said of the nine-year-old, "but I have to admit that it was unexpected. We will now give him an entry in the National, see what the handicapper does and go from there."
The other wide-margin eye-catcher at Cheltenham, the progressive hurdler Oscar Whisky, will put his Champion Hurdle aspirations to the test next month in the Welsh edition at his owner Dai Walters' track, Ffos Las.
Today's meeting at Cork may provide solace for a former champion over the smaller obstacles when Sublimity, who took the Cheltenham crown in 2007, drops in class in search of his first success for more than two years.
"He hasn't won for a while and he's not as good as he was," admitted trainer Robbie Hennessy, "but he's put in some great efforts against the big boys and it would be great to see him in the winners' circle again."
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Zakeeta (1.45 Lingfield)
Found Grade Two company too hot at Cheltenham but has won twice overhurdles at this sort of level and had a pipe-opener on the Flat last month.
Supreme Keano (3.30 Hereford)
Will strip fitter on his second run of the campaign.
One to watch
Point-to-point and bumper winner On His Own (J H Johnson) shaped well on his hurdling debut at Cheltenham on Saturday, travelling strongly until running out of puff.
Where the money's going
Synchronised is 6-1 from 7-1 with sponsors for Saturday's Coral Welsh National
Chris McGrath's Nap
Theatrical Star (4.00 Hereford)
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