Unowhatimeanharry stars in front of a record Friday crowd on day one of the bet365 Festival at Newbury
Unowhatimeanharry (Harry Fry) staked his claim for top honours this season with a smooth six-length victory in the feature Grade Two bet365 Long Distance Hurdle (2.10pm) over three miles at Newbury this afternoon, day one of the bet365 Festival.
The crowd of 7,482 was the highest Friday attendance at the meeting for at least 30 years.
The victory formed the second leg of a 50.5/1 treble for jockey Barry Geraghty – his other two winners were trained by Nicky Henderson.
The eight-year-old improved over two stone last season during an unbeaten campaign which culminated with victory in the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, after which Unowhatimeanharry was bought by leading owner J P McManus.
Sent off the 7/2 second favourite today on his seasonal debut, the son of Sir Harry Lewis moved nicely into contention under a patient ride and opened up a clear advantage after going to the front two out in the £50,000 hurdle.
He was eased near the line which allowed 5/2 favourite Ballyoptic (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Ryan Hatch) to close the deficit, with popular chaser Menorah (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson, 7/1) six lengths further back in third on a return to hurdling after making much of the running.
Irish raider Snow Falcon (Noel Meade/Sean Flanagan, 9/2) was still travelling well when coming down three out.
Dorset-based Fry commented: “Unowhatimeanharry gave us a great day in March and he had it all to prove today.
“We have taken a while to get him out but it has been worth waiting for and to come and see him do that – we couldn’t have expected it today. I am just absolutely delighted.
“We took him out last week [Haydock Park] because of the heavy ground but that would not have mattered the way he has won today. We just didn’t want to get to the guts of him first time out under top-weight that day.
“It will be Ascot next in three weeks [Long Walk Hurdle]. The races pick themselves and we will be looking to go for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.”
Geraghty said: “Harry has done a brilliant job. It was a fair old performance. We thought Unowhatimeanharry had a chance but he has done it really well.
“He jumped well and travelled at every stage of the race. He really enjoys his racing. It was a great performance and it will be interesting to see how he fares when he steps up in grade.”
Nigel Twiston-Daves remarked of the runner-up: “We want to win every race but Ballyoptic didn’t run badly and winner is obviously a very good horse.
“There wasn’t a lot of pace on and he will go to the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot next. Over a bit further and on softer ground, perhaps we might turn the tables.”
Racing took place on ground described as Good to Soft, Soft in places on the chase course and Soft, Good to Soft in places over hurdles.
Champion Jump trainer Paul Nicholls looks to have another top-class chaser on his hands after Clan Des Obeaux‘s (5/2) impressive 10-length victory in the G2 Fuller’s London Pride Novices’ Chase (1.35pm) over two and a half miles.
The four-year-old, part owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, was fourth in a good race on his chasing debut at Chepstow last month. He jumped and travelled beautifully in the hands of Sean Bowen today, moving into the lead after the third last and bounding clear on the bridle to win by 10 lengths.
Virgilio (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton, 7/1) kept on to take second, four lengths ahead of Our Kaempfer (Charlie Longsdon/Noel Fehily, 10/1) in third. The 15/8 favourite One Track Mind (Warren Greatrex/Gavin Sheehan) finished last of the five runners after a bad blunder at the first.
Nicholls, who last won this race with the mighty Denman in 2006, said: “We always knew Clan Des Obeaux was good.
“When he ran at Chepstow earlier in the season, it was literally only his fourth run over obstacles. He had only run three times over hurdles and he needed something like that to learn a little bit.
“He has improved enormously since then and we have always thought he was going to be a really smart chaser – he is one to really look forward to.
“The plan would be to mind him. He is only four and there is a big future. I have not got any big targets for him. He is one I need to look after because one day he could be very smart.
“He will get three miles one day and Paul [Barber, part owner] is only really interested in horses that stay.
“He is right up there with Politologue on what they have done so this season. But there is a lot of nice young horses who we hope are going to be the future.”
Bowen added: “I haven’t been riding for long but, in the time I have, I have never had a novice jump and travel around there like that and when I gave him kick two out, he just sprinted. I had to take a pull because there was another jump!
“He is very exciting. Paul has always thought a lot of him and he is definitely one for the future. When a horse is that impressive in a novice chase beating graded horses, you have got to be impressed.
“He is one of those big horses who will only fill out again after another season. I am very impressed.”
Geraghty and Nicky Henderson bookended the excellent seven-race card with two exciting novice hurdlers, starting with Jenkins in the opening bet365 “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle (12.30pm). Henderson has now won the last three renewals of the two-mile contest and last season’s winner Buveur d’Air went on to finish third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Jenkins, sent off the 10/11 favourite, made two mistakes down the back but found plenty for pressure and readily drew away after the last to win by five lengths. Bags Groove (Harry Fry/Noel Fehily, 2/1) stayed on to take second, with the front-running Captain Forez (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton, 6/1) a length further back in third.
Henderson declared: “I said to Barry that Jenkins does warm to it a little bit. He can be like that first thing in the morning. He has got very laid back about life in general this year. He goes to sleep very happily and then you have to wake him up.
“He didn’t arrive there running away but you always felt he was going to get there. He jumped the last two well, which was good.
“I would be surprised if Jenkins wants to go further, especially at this stage. It will be interesting to see what Barry thought he was like on that ground because that is as soft as he has been on.
“He has got to sharpen his jumping up and hopefully that will have got the rustiness out of him. He was a bit untidy, but if he can do that when he’s not jumping, then we have a lot to look forward to.
Geraghty said: “Nicky said Jenkins needs a bit of help. He was tight to the first and last down the back but was good over the last two. He will have learnt a lot from that and his fitness will improve.
“I would say it is a good novice hurdle. It was a nice, strong gallop and we pulled right away. The form will work out and you would have to be taken with Jenkins.”
Reigning Supreme (5/1) completed a good day for Henderson and Geraghty with a strong staying performance in the closing bet365 Novices’ Hurdle (3.50pm) over an extended two and a half miles, beating Chocala (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson, 10/1) by a length and three quarters, the pair clear.
Running in the familiar colours of Michael Buckley, the five-year-old son of Presenting was making his debut under Rules after finishing second in an Irish point to-point in November, 2015.
Henderson added: “I was pleased with Reigning Supreme and he was very raw. They have gone a good gallop – it took him a while to get into the race and get the hang of it.
“He is a great big horse and is going to make a chaser. It is nice to see him go and do that but he is obviously a stayer. He doesn’t give you the impression that he has an awful lot at home but he has done that well. Chasing in a year’s time will be when he comes alive.”
Geraghty explained: “Reigning Supreme is a horse my wife and Warren Ewing had. He finished second in a point-to-point.
“We liked him a lot and Michael Buckley bought him at the Cheltenham sale this time last year, so thankfully it has worked out.
“They went a good, solid gallop but my fella is very green and switched off. It just took him probably to the second last to get warmed up and into the race. It unfolded nicely.
“He is a lovely, big horse and I don’t think the penny has dropped yet.”
Dan Skelton is considering G1 prizes for Knockgraffon (Harry Skelton, 6/1) after an exuberant display in the bet365 Chase (1.05pm), a limited handicap for novices over two miles.
The six-year-old took the lead with a fine jump at the fourth last and survived blunders at the next and the last to win by 10 lengths from the 3/1 favourite Sirabad (Paul Nicholls/Sean Bowen).
Skelton said: “I ran Knockgraffon last time at Carlisle [2m 4f] and he probably didn’t stay. He is one of those horses who probably doesn’t stay two and a half but two miles over hurdles was just too fast.
“Two miles over fences around here is probably absolutely ideal. I could not be happier with him.
“I can’t work out if he wants to go right-handed or left-handed but, if he is OK, I might consider getting him out again for the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown. With the three railway fences there, the track might suit him.
“I have always thought he was quite good but hurdles are not really his thing. I am not saying he can win that race but, with what the handicapper is going to do after today, you are going to limited with options.
“I might protect him and give him one or two more runs before the Kingmaker at Warwick. I am just delighted because we have been waiting a long time do this with this horse.”
Harry Skelton added: “Knockgraffon was pricking his ears in front so I wanted to be positive and keep the revs up. He has done it well.
“He is a horse who didn’t look like he was getting home over two and a half, so it was back down to two miles today. We have always said he was proper chaser.
“He is tough horse and nothing really fazes him. He is a bit of a brute and if some of those good novice chases cut up it might be silly not to have a go.”
Roman Flight (David Dennis/Noel Fehily, 16/1) finished well to get the better Red Spinner (Kim Bailey/Brian Hughes, 16/1) and San Benedeto (Paul Nicholls/Nick Scholfield, 7/1) in a thrilling finish to score by half a length and three quarters of a length in the £50,000 bet365 Open Handicap Chase (2.45pm) over two and a half miles.
Trainer David Dennis said: “Roman Flight has been an absolute legend for us. I have trained him for three years and, although he is no superstar with his rating of 142, he has always got a little chance in a race like this.
“Once he runs on and passes a couple, he decides to have a go and Noel didn’t panic turning in when it looked like he was getting outpaced.
“He has got an entry in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (at Cheltenham next month) and, if it stays dry, I would not rule out running him because he is such a tough and consistent horse it is worth trying with him.
“Horses who have got a bit of class are hard to come by, especially when you are a small team like ourselves. I have got a great team and a nice bunch of horses and you have got to do well with what you have got.”
Fehily commented: “Roman Flight is funny old character. It is hard to get him going but he has plenty of ability. Dave was stepping him up in trip today and it has obviously worked.
“You would not want to be in front too soon on him. I have always thought he is the sort of horse who doesn’t want to be bullied and he will go when he is ready.”
Fehily notched up a quick-fire 101/1 double on the Neil Mulholland-trained Solomn Grundy (5/1) in the following Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (3.20pm) over three miles.
The six-year-old was second in a conditional jockeys’ handicap hurdle at Cheltenham earlier this month and stepped forward nicely from that to score by two and a quarter lengths.
The 10/11 favourite Behind Time (Harry Fry), who beat Solomn Grundy at Cheltenham, had 13lb in hand but could not land a blow under Kieron Edgar and finished a well-beaten fourth.
Fehily said: “Sean Corby rode Solomn Grundy the last day when he was very keen and did a good job on him. That knocked the gas out of him a bit but he was still keen enough today.
“He is qualified for the Pertemps Final now and I would imagine that is the sort of route he will go. The ground suited him better today.”
The official going was changed after racing to Good to Soft on the chase course and Good to Soft, Soft in Places on the hurdle track.
The second and final day of the new-look bet365 Festival at Newbury tomorrow – Hennessy Gold Cup Day – has fantastic racing.