RICHARD Johnson, who will be crowned champion jockey for the third successive year when the jumps season comes to an end at Sandown Park on Saturday, landed a double, including the feature race, at Warwick on Thursday, with both winners coming for his retaining stable of Philip Hobbs, writes David Hucker.
Tree Of Liberty, who seems to have taken on a new lease of life since transferring to the stable of Kerry Lee at the end of last year, headed the weights for the £25,000 UBS Wealth Management Novices’ Handicap Chase over two miles.
Although in contention down the back straight, he couldn’t maintain the pace as Johnson jumped course winner Ozzie The Oscar into the lead at the third-last fence.
Making progress in behind was favourite Sister Sibyl, who had been held up by Tom O’Brien as she looked to defy a 7lb penalty for a wide-margin win at Cheltenham the week before.
Although she closed the gap, Ozzie The Oscar had got first run on her and there was still five lengths between them at the line as Johnson brought up his 175th winner of the season.
Eighteen had lined up in the opening 188Bet Noel Fehily Punchestown Blog Maiden Hurdle over two miles and five furlongs and it may have thrown up a smart performer in the shape of Earlshill who, having tracked the leaders throughout, jumped to the front at the penultimate flight and, despite a mistake at the last, ran on strongly for Joshua Moore to see off the renewed challenge of Subcontinent, with favourite Mystical Clouds back in third.
Formerly trained by Dan Skelton, Earlshill is now with Stuart Edmunds and was making his first appearance since having a wind operation.
For Edmunds, in his fourth season with a license, this was his 23rd winner of the campaign in which the mare Maria’s Benefit has played a starring role for the stable.
Bottom weight Posh Totty was always travelling keenly for Bryony Frost in the Download The App At 118Bet Novices’ Handicap Chase and, having taken the lead with five fences to go, never looked like being passed, coming home three lengths clear of Goodnight Charlie.
There was to be no hanging around for the winning jockey as Frost, in her first season as a professional, dashed off to Kempton Park to notch up another winner on Regulation two and a half hours later.
Johnson’s mount Awake At Midnight was all the rage in the betting market for the Best Odds Guaranteed At 118 Bet Handicap Hurdle but, after being prominent early, he was never in with a chance in the closing stages, finishing well down the field behind 10-1 shot Burst Ya Bubble.
In a race of changing fortunes, outsider Lissycasey looked to be in command when leading halfway up the run-in to give trainer Sheila Lewis her first winner in 470 days. He was caught close home, however, by Burst Ya Bubble who jumped the final hurdle in fourth place, but found an extra gear to come with a storming run under Daniel Sansom and score by half a length.
Herefordshire trainer Tom Symonds has had a tough season with just seven winners at a strike rate of six per cent coming into the meeting.
He added to his tally when 25-1 shot Bobo Mac, sporting cheek pieces for the first time, came to deny stablemate Frankly Speaking, who made a mistake at the last flight, in the long-distance Robert Walters Handicap Hurdle.
Longest race on the card was the Punchestown Betting At 188Bet Handicap Chase over three miles and five furlongs in which Phangio, a wide-margin winner at Chepstow a year ago, looked to be back on a winning mark.
He had the opportunity to return to the Welsh course the following day, but was declared to run here instead and the move paid off as, with Sam Twiston-Davies, substituting for regular rider Stan Sheppard, never giving up, he wore down long-time leader Copperfacejack
With 80 entries, the concluding Europa League Betting at 188Bet Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race had been split into two, with Johnson bringing favourite Umndeni home ahead of Morning Vicar in the first division to make it 176 wins for the season, and Emitom hitting the front at the furlong pole to hold off the fast-finishing outsider Moor Freedom in the second.