CLONDAW Westie, a winner of four races last season, but unplaced in both his starts this term, returned to form with a vengeance to land the David Cowgill Memorial Handicap Chase, the feature race at Stratford’s Betvictor Season Opener on Monday, writes David Hucker.
Trainer Lawney Hill, who is recovering from a hip operation, had gone 156 days and 14 runners since her last winner.
Her luck was about to change when Clondaw Westie went past leader Nesterenko on the turn for home although, with his stride shortening on the run-in, Aidan Coleman needed to be at his strongest to get the winner home by half a length at the line.
It proved a good day at the office for trainer Alan King and jockey Wayne Hutchinson, who notched a double with Timoteo and Dino Velvet.
Chasing debutant Timoteo topped the weights in the Free Bet Every Race At Cheltenham Betvictor Chase, a handicap for novices over two miles and a furlong.
Despite his inexperience, he headed the betting from Huntingdon winner Paddy’s Poem and they finished in that order, with Timoteo making an impressive winning debut.
Taking over from long-time leader King Cnut at the second-last fence, Paddy’s Poem and James Davies set sail for home, but Hutchinson always had them in his sights and brought Timoteo to challenge over the last and quickly go clear to score by 13 lengths.
Second most valuable race of the afternoon was the Best Odds Guaranteed With Betvictor Handicap Hurdle (qualifier for the Challenger Two Mile Hurdle Series final) and Hutchinson repeated the tactics, bringing 7-2 favourite Dino Velvet from off the pace to challenge leader Eceparti approaching the final flight and go away on the short run-in for a comfortable success.
Dino Velvet will now go to the Scottish Grand National meeting at Ayr in April looking for a repeat win in a valuable handicap hurdle which he landed last year from a rating of 121.
He is currently on a mark of 129 which will, inevitably go up after his latest success, but is a horse in form and must go there with a good chance.
Red Force One, part-owned by Sir Alex Feguson, was a red-hot 4-6 favourite to take the opening Lengthen The Odds With Betvictor Juvenile Hurdle for trainer Paul Nicholls and jockey Harry Cobden.
A winner three times on the Flat for Tom Dascombe, he made an encouraging start for his new stable when, ridden by trainer’s daughter Megan, he was beaten a nose over one mile and three furlongs at Kempton Park.
He returned to the course just over two weeks later for his debut over jumps, finishing fourth to the highly-regarded Fusil Raffles in the Grade Two Adonis Juvenile Hurdle.
Most experienced horse in the race was Lever Du Soleil, the first of two runners on the afternoon for Irish trainer Gavin Cromwell and, with the favourite already struggling, he took a clear lead after the penultimate flight.
He couldn’t hold on, however, as 14-1 shot Phoenician Star came with a well-timed challenge under conditional jockey Connor Brace to land another winner for Cotswold trainer Fergal O’Brien, who had been on the mark with Ocean Cove at Warwick the day before.
The field for the Betvictor Horse Racing Multiples Cash Out Novices’ Hunters’ Chase was reduced when Golden Tobouggan refused to join in at the start but, once the race got underway, it proved a pretty straightforward affair for Brave Jaq and experienced amateur Tommy O’Brien, who went on at the fourth-last fence and always had too much in hand for their rivals.
Top-weight Asangy gave chase from the penultimate fence, but was still nine lengths down at the finish, with Hurricane Vic plugging on for third.
The concluding Choose Your Horse with Betvictor’s Betfinder Maiden Open National Hunt Flat Race had been divided and there was a delay to the start of the first division as Get Up Them Steps took off with Brodie Hampson and was withdrawn.
The race went to Hazm, a 2,000 guineas purchase by current connections, who came to collar Big G inside the last furlong and win with a bit to spare.
The second division went to Now Is The Winter, aptly named for a winner at Stratford.
He was bought for £30,000 after finishing runner-up in a point-to-point and made all the running to deny the Olly Murphy trained favourite Fitzroy, with Dan Skelton’s Prussia With Love close behind in third place.