Arkle hopeful Edwardstone lands Warwick's feature race to chalk up fourth win on the spin
DESPITE the small field, with all four runners boasting winning form, Warwick’s feature Virgin Bet Kingmaker Novices’ Chase looked a competitive affair on paper. However, once Edwardstone took the race by the scruff of the neck approaching the third-last fence, the others were fighting for second place as he recorded his fourth win in a row en route to the Cheltenham Festival next month, writes David Hucker.
Brought down at the course in November, Edwardstone returned later that month to beat Stepney Causeway by seven lengths and, having won twice more since, became the leading British candidate for the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy at the Festival.
He showed he was fully deserving of that position, jumping fast and fluently to see off Third Time Lucki by four and a quarter lengths and is now clear favourite for the big race, with Paddy Power shortening him from 11-4 to 2-1.
The day before, Dan Skelton had become the fourth trainer to saddle 100 winners for the season and Camdonian was sent off joint favourite to add to his tally in the opening Virgin Bet Novices’ Hurdle over two miles and five furlongs.
He was struggling fully three flights from home, however, as Fair Frontieres and Jonathan Burke made all the running to hold off the other joint favourite Earth Lord by a length and a quarter.
Despite carrying a prize fund of £30,000, the Virgin Bet Warwick Mares’ Hurdle Race had attracted just four runners and it was Whitehotchillifili who took them along until the turn out of the back straight where Indefatigable went to the front. She couldn’t hold onto the lead for long, as both the novice Get A Tonic and Marie’s Rock came through to fight out the finish.
It was Marie’s Rock who quickened up the better to win by three lengths, being shortened from 20-1 to 12-1 by Paddy Power to follow up in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival.
There was another close finish to get the large crowd excited when 12-1 shot Osprey Call and Alex Edwards came late at the end of the two-mile trip to deny Dibble Decker by three-quarters of a length and land the Virgin Bet Handicap Hurdle.
The second most valuable race of the afternoon was the £50,000 Virgin Bet Warwick Castle Handicap Chase over two-and-a-half miles and it produced a masterclass of a ride from Tom O’Brien. who brought hat-trick seeking Celebre D’Allen steadily through the field to hit the front on the run-in and win by three-quarters of a length from pace-setting Wishing And Hoping.
With nobody keen to make the running, it was left to Theme Tune to set a steady pace in the longest race of the afternoon, the Virgin Bet Fives Handicap Hurdle over three-and-a-quarter miles.
He was joined going out on the final circuit by favourite In Rem, who took up the running at the fifth-last hurdle and, having been brought to the stands side rail on the run-in by Chester Williams, saw off the late challenge of Colonel Manderson to win his fifth race in a row.
Always prominent, Gaelic Park quickened in the straight to take the closing Virgin Bet Open National Hunt Flat Race and bring up a double on the afternoon and 50th winner of the season for jockey Jonathan Burke