Lizzie Kelly lands Britain’s richest handicap hurdle on Agrapart at Newbury on Betfair Super Saturday
Newbury Racecourse staged a wonderful seven-race card on Betfair Super Saturday, which saw Lizzie Kelly become the first female jockey to win Britain’s richest handicap hurdle, the £155,000 Betfair Hurdle.
The going for Betfair Super Saturday was:
Hurdle Course – Heavy, Soft in places
Chase Course – Soft, Heavy in places
3.35pm Betfair Hurdle (Grade 3)
Jockey Lizzie Kelly’s season continues to go from strength to strength and she won the 2016 renewal of Britain’s richest handicap hurdle aboard Agrapart (pictured below), trained by her stepfather Nick Williams. In December she became the first female jockey to win a Grade One chase and today became the first female jockey to win the Betfair Hurdle, which was founded in 1963.
The 16/1 chance Agrapart was always in a prominent position and took up the running approaching the last, going clear from Starchitect (David Pipe/Tom Scudamore, 16/1), who made a bad mistake at the last, to score by 11 lengths, with Flying Angel (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Ryan Hatch, 25/1) a further length and a quarter back in third, and 8/1 chance Affaire D’Honneur (Harry Whiitington/Gavin Sheehan) coming from last to take fourth.
Lizzie Kelly said: “In a way it is a surprise because of this kind of race – they are very kind of kamikaze and you have to have a good run.
“I got a good run but I have to say that this is all down to the stable staff at home. This horse is a little tricky and they have put a lot of hard work in and I think it’s absolutely brilliant that they get days like today. They are looking after really lovely animals but they do it bloody well.
“I thought he was unexposed today. He had a lovely weight and I thought that people would have made more of a deal about him. He was third in a really hot Grade One and he’s a lovely horse who we have always thought a lot of.
“It’s great for him – he’s a tricky little animal but he works so hard.
“I think I ride better when I am under pressure in big races, as you soak up the atmosphere and makes you more of a warrior.
“It has been a great season and I have beaten all the goals I set myself. I am lucky that my parents are able to put me up on good horses and let me just be a jockey and get on with it. I am also grateful for the support I have had from owners.
“I have always thought jockeys should celebrate more when they win. These big days are not guaranteed. I also lost a close friend recently which reminded me that we are not invincible and are all human beings.”
Nick Williams commented: “It was a remarkable performance but he was pretty impressive at Aintree. We started thinking about this race after Aintree – he had three hurdles runs by then but we needed a fourth run for more experience and he actually ran well in the Tolworth. This was always the plan after Aintree, so it has all come right.
“He always had enough kick from the start. We knew that it all hinged on the start – we had to get a good position early and Lizzie was very much tuned up to that.
“He’s a half-brother to Afsoun with dam-lines to die for. It’s a really strong pedigree and Martalines love soft/heavy ground. The owners particularly wanted to run him in Flat racing for a season before coming hurdling rather than the other way round.
“Lizzie has actually won some very good handicaps, if you think about Haydock and the Lanzarote. As a rider, she has got better and better and I thought this was a nice, cool performance. She is very cool with a head for the big occasion.
“He’s not entered in anything at Cheltenham. We didn’t really think that Cheltenham was particularly his track – he is very much a soft/heavy ground horse as well – so we didn’t make any entries for the novice hurdles there.
“The Betfair Hurdle is traditionally a race for novices’ on the way up. We have come here today with a good racing weight. I will speak to the owners and decide what to do next.”
Blazer (Willie Mullins/Barry Gerarghty) could only finish ninth of the 22 runners after being sent off the 3/1 favourite.
2.25pm Betfair Denman Chase (Grade 2)
Houblon Des Obeaux (Venetia Williams/Aidan Coleman, 3/1 and pictured below) has run some great race at Newbury in the past, most notably when runner-up in the 2014 Hennessy Gold Cup, and gained a deserved first victory at the course when taking the £50,000 Grade Two Betfair Denman Chase by 28 lengths.
The nine-year-old was also runner-up to subsequent Cheltenham Gold cup winner Coneygree in the Betfair Denman Chase 12 months ago. This year he was sent into the lead six fences from home and never faced a serious challenge. The Giant Bolster (David Bridgwater/Jake Hodson, 9/1) was the distant runner-up.
Venetia Williams said: “I had been wondering how long it was going to take me to put cheek-pieces on him and I thought now was the time – we have got a relatively small field at a racecourse that he has done really well in the past. I am thrilled to bits.
“If you back to his form in this race last year, what was there to beat him today? We haven’t seen so much of him since then and now, with the cheek-pieces on, we have got the same horse back.
“We have never seen the best of him over fences at Cheltenham anyway. He has won over hurdles round there but Cheltenham is a unique test, a bit like Epsom is for the Flat horses, and he just doesn’t get into a good rhythm there. I think, whatever we do, we won’t be going there.
“He is entered in the Grand National but we might have blown his handicap mark now – I think I need to kidnap the handicapper for the next 48 hours!
“It wasn’t really the plan to run here today and I put him in the race when it re-opened as he always runs well here. The way it turned out it was almost a veterans’ race – as a nine-year-old, he was one of the youngest in the line-up.”
Aidan Coleman added: “It’s easy to be wise afterwards but this horse has run so many great, tough races in his career. I had a feeling that he was maybe past his best this season because he’s not very big and he has had so many tough races, but he was back better than ever there.
“I was clinging on to the fact that it was a small field today and it did suit him. I rode this lad in the Triumph Hurdle five years ago, so he has been around a while even though he is only nine. I was very happy.”
The 2/1 market leader Rocky Creek (Paul Nicholls/Sam Twiston-Davies) finished a well-beaten fourth.
3.00pm Betfair Exchange Chase (Grade 2), 2m 92yds
The well-supported Top Gamble (Kerry Lee/Richard Johnson, pictured below) proved aptly-named when he was the impressive of the £50,000 Grade Two Betfair Exchange Chase. Always in a prominent position, Top Gamble took up the running at the seventh fences and was never seriously challenged from then on.
The eight-year-old was returned the 11/10 favourite and had 10 lengths to spare at the finish over 6/5 chance Dodging Bullets (Paul Nicholls/Sam Twiston-Davies), last year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase winner who was making his seasonal debut.
Kerry Lee said: “It was a brilliant, brilliant performance from Top Gamble. Richard gave him a brilliant ride and he has really enjoyed this ground – he is probably one of the few horses that goes on that ground. He loves Newbury – he loves the row of fences, particularly the cross-fence, and what a horse.
“He is a Grade Two winner already from last season and I think the key to him
is what we do with him at home in terms of the variety – he does something different every day. Amy schooled him over the fences yesterday and he was absolutely attacking them.
“I have never seen him in such great form but that is due to how he is trained at home and he just loves life.
“We have had one or two horses not being in such great form at the moment and so there has been a question mark but we have a very good vet at home. He scopes the horses regularly and I knew that Top Gamble was well coming into today and the fact that he is fresh and bouncing after six weeks off.”
Richard Johnson added: “Realistically, I thought that, if ever Top Gamble was going to beat Dodging Bullets, it was today. This horse loves very soft ground, he stays really well and has been in good form – he has run well off some big weights in some very competitive handicaps.
“Dodging Bullets obviously hasn’t run for 11 months and, on that ground today, you have got to think that he is a Flat-bred horse and this is a proper jumper. You would have thought that the conditions were slightly more in my favour if I was ever going to turn the tables.
“If the Champion Chase came up heavy, it would obviously help this horse’s chances but, realistically, I am sure Dodging Bullets is going to have a great chance come March on better ground.
“This horse thrives in these conditions. He is probably a two-and-a-half miler on good ground but you need to stay out there today.
“This season has gone fantastic and I have had amazing support from a lot of people. Riding a winner for Kerry, who is my next door neighbour at home, is great. The whole season has gone brilliantly – obviously Philip Hobbs’ yard has been in amazing form – and this is all I have always wanted to do, so I am enjoying it.”
Paul Nicholls said: “Dodging Bullets needs to come on a long way from that to win a Champion Chase again. Saying that, as Harry just reminded me, we have said all along that we have had trouble with him. He has done eight weeks’ work and normally, if you are looking to win with one first time up, you want to be doing 12 weeks work.
“We have rushed him – we have done a lot with him, he had a gallop and, because he is such a good horse who always goes well at home, you might get into the illusion that he is going better than he actually is.
“He was having a real good blow then and I suppose, on that ground, that just got to the bottom on him from two fences out. There is huge improvement to come from him with a bit more time but there needs to be.
“He always needs a run and always improves for a run. We didn’t think that he would get beat the first time at Cheltenham last year and then he got fitter. He is obviously going to improve an awful lot for today – he has done seven or eight weeks, which is normally not what you want to run them off the back of.
“This was the only race if we were to get one into him before Cheltenham. There will be lots on improvement to come from him and better ground will see him in a lot better light. I am under no illusions that he has to improve a lot on today.
“Dodging Bullets got tired today and that was his first time on really heavy ground, which blunted his speed. Sam said he also didn’t jump as well as he could on that ground and didn’t give his normal feel.
“He came here after seven to eight weeks work when you ideally want 12 weeks work. He had a good blow today and hopefully there is huge improvement to come. Better ground should also see him in a better light.”
1.20pm Read Paul Nicholls Exclusively At Betfair Novices’ Hurdle, 2m 69yds
The colours of Highclere Thoroughbred Racing may be more familiar on the Flat but the organisation’s Legend syndicate has a very exciting hurdler to look forward to with Meet The Legend (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton, pictured below) who took the opening £10,000 Read Paul Nicholls Exclusively At Betfair Novices’ Hurdle. One of the members of the Legend syndicate is Sir Nicholas Soames MP, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill.
The five-year-old, a 7/2 chance, travelled well throughout and took up the running approaching the last from the long-time leader, 8/15 favourite Emerging Talent (Paul Nicholls/Nick Scholfield). He stayed on well to score by three and a half lengths.
Dan Skelton said: “He has always been a very talented horse. I saw him when he won a bumper at Kelso last season and tried to buy him then but he wasn’t for sale. I also saw him when he got beat at Ayr and still liked him. Fortunately, we were able to get him after that.
“He is entered in the novices’ hurdles at Cheltenham but they are probably not the path we will go down. There are a couple of races back here that could be suitable and he could then head on to Aintree.
“I think he is better going left-handed. We ran him at Kempton last time as I wanted to run him in a race where there was going to be some pace.
“I don’t think he needs the ground as soft as it was today. He is one of those sort of horses that the ground and weather don’t seem to affect him.”
1.50pm Betfair Acca Edge Handicap Hurdle, 3m 52yds
Count Guido Deiro (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Mr James ‘J J’ Slevin) was a game all the way winner of the £20,000 Betfair Acca Edge Handicap Hurdle. The 11/1 chance looked sure to be swallowed up by 7/2 favourite Sykes (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson) after the final flight but stayed on resolutely to prevail by two and three-quarter lengths.
Nigel Twiston-Davies said: “I can’t really take much of the credit because he is owned by my head lead Richard Bevis who does all the training of this horse.
“J J is a nephew of Aidan O’Brien and a very good lad. Hopefully, he can have a good Cheltenham.”
Richard Bevis added: “We might be tempted to go back over fences with him now. He is rated 129 over fences and is a bit hard to place. With that kind of rating he is slogging big weights stone around the likes of Ffos Las. I thought this race looked a good opportunity for him today.”
J J Slevin added “He is just a big galloper and the lads in the yard told me about him. He stays so there was no point in doing anything else but lead.
“He was going very easily turning out the back and I let him stretch him along from the cross-fence. From there, he was fine – things were very easy and he just quickened away.
“I owe a huge thank you to Nigel Twiston-Davies and the team for putting me up. It’s unreal to get a chance and I am very grateful to them.
“It’s testing ground out there but this lad loved it.”
4.10pm Better Odds With Betfair Novices’ Chase, 2m 7f 86yds
Out Sam (Warren Greatrex/Gavin Sheehan, 3/1) earned himself a possible crack at the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival next month when taking the £12,000 Better Odds With Betfair Novices’ Chase by three and a half lengths.
Warren Greatrex said: “We will have to look at Cheltenham after that. It looks like he will be out of handicaps now.
“I have been waiting to step him up to three miles and this looked a good opportunity.
“He travelled and jumped well today. He will also be better on better ground.
“He has a bit of class and just does enough, which is something I like to see.”
4.45pm Tap Tap Boom Bumper (Listed Race), 2m 69yds
The concluding £20,000 Listed Tap Tap Boom Bumper saw Ballyandy (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies) take his tally to three wins from four starts and
he now heads to Cheltenham for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
Returned the 11/8 favourite, Ballyandy was always handy and lengthened well in the final furlong to score by nine lengths from Positively Dylan (Evan Williams/Lewis Gordon, 22/1).
Nigel Twiston-Davies said: “The Champion is now absolutely the aim for Ballyandy.
“He has contested all the top bumpers this season and is there anything out there that is better than him?
“He has murdered them today and is very classy. The ground doesn’t matter to him.”