Overturn has jump on rivals for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham

 

Frankel notwithstanding, the jumping arm of the sport undoubtedly produces the more regular supply of equine folk heroes, and one certainly added to his already considerable fanbase yesterday.

The versatile gelding Overturn, who already has on his CV a Northumberland Plate, a Chester Cup, a Fighting Fifth Hurdle and the runner-up spot in the latest Champion Hurdle, showed at Sandown that he is going to provide further delight as a novice chaser.

On his much-awaited debut over fences – something almost as much dreaded by his trainer, Donald McCain – the eight-year-old was absolutely foot-perfect as he bounded over the track's tricky obstacles with confidence and his trademark enthusiasm under Jason Maguire to take the two-mile beginners' chase by 14 lengths. He is now as short as 8-1 for the divisional crown, the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.

"There was a bit of soul-searching over whether we tried fences," said McCain, "and I'm relieved this first run is over. But he was brilliant. To jump this place like that was special. Just magic."

At Wincanton, Zarkandar confirmed himself Paul Nicholls' chief Champion Hurdle candidate with a gutsy neck defeat of his stablemate Prospect Wells in the Elite Hurdle, giving him 17lb. The five-year-old, ridden by Daryl Jacob, was fifth in the Festival showpiece in March, and will further test his credentials for progression in next month's Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham.

"I never had him looking as good as now for the whole of last season," said Nicholls, "and I thought win, lose or draw today, he's going to improve a lot for the run."

After The Package put himself in the mix for the season's major staying handicaps – first stop the Hennessy Gold Cup, longer-term the Grand National – by powering away with the Badger Ales Trophy, his trainer David Pipe identified Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham as the opening target for the stable's rising young star Grands Crus, rather than the Betfair Chase at Haydock a week later.

As the last rites of the mainstream Flat campaign were enacted at Doncaster, three of the four champions – jockey Richard Hughes, trainer John Gosden and apprentice rider Amy Ryan – had had their titles in the formbook for some weeks.

The owners' leaderboard, though, went to the final afternoon, and even Frankel's earnings were not enough for Khaled Abdullah to repel Sheikh Mohammed's elite Godolphin operation. With a last-ditch assault the blues edged to a narrow lead during the week and put themselves out of reach when Muharrib took yesterday's fourth race, and £4,398.

In the last, My Freedom was Godolphin's 795th runner in Britain this year, a record number. Neither quantity nor wealth was required to secure the traditional seasonal finale, the 12-furlong November Handicap. The 20-1 winner Art Scholar, a late spare ride for Franny Norton, joined Michael Appleby's tiny string last year at Newark at a cost of £600, and yesterday earned £40,462.

"He was rated 49 when I got him," he said, "and today he raced off 93. I'd seen him early last year when he was behind one of mine over seven furlongs. I thought he'd improve for a longer distance and he's not finished yet."

In taking his first jockeys' crown, Hughes played the numbers game, his 172 wins coming from 834 rides this season, after he gave his rivals a month's start because of a ban picked up in India in the winter. "I've played this game long enough to know you get out only what you put in," he said, "and I don't think I've been lucky to win this. I've earned it."

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