Sam Twiston-Davies could not have been more bullish after jumping off Riders OnThe Storm, impressive winner of the Betfair Exchange Graduation Chase in very deep ground at Ascot.
The meeting survived two morning inspections and was in the balance until the last moment, but racing fans and connections of the seven-length winner of the two-mile-five-furlong event could not have been more pleased.
Though the card was subject to the threat of abandonment on a “race-by-race” warning from clerk of the course Chris Stickels, trainer Nigel Twiston-Davis could not hide his delight at the way Riders OnThe Storm jumped, accounting for On The Blind Side and Paloma Blue, who was a further nine lengths away.
The jockey jumped off the 9-4 winner and effusively said to connections: “You have a really smart horse on your hands, and he jumped immaculately.”
His father – who was crestfallen last weekend when an administrative error meant his charge had to miss the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham – added: “He will go to the Ryanair. You have to think that way. He is too buzzy for Gold Cups, but I’m delighted with that. That was impressive, I think.
“The jumping was lovely and obviously the ground has come up lovely for him. But it was good ground at Aintree when he won last time and did it there well.
“He is definitely not ground dependent and I don’t think this deep ground would necessarily have helped him, because of the lack of pace. He dragged Sam to the front, and he could have done with something going a bit quicker. He obviously stays.
“He will run again beforehand, somewhere, but I don’t know where. I agree with what Sam said that he will win the Ryanair, but you can’t use the colourful language he used!”
The sponsors slashed Riders OnThe Storm to 12-1 (from 33-1) for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on March 12.
No trainer is in better form than Venetia Williams, who is taking full advantage of the winter ground, and Espoir De Guye (11-4) gave her a 12th winner from her last 29 runners when romping away with the Plymouth Gin Handicap Chase in the hands of Charlie Deutsch.
The unexposed five-year-old was upped 9lb for an emphatic Exeter success a fortnight ago and turned on the taps again, defying the rise in superb fashion to record a 10-length success from My Way.
Williams said: “I thought we had a perfectly reasonable last season. It was almost exclusively good ground. So, I thought we would kick that label into touch.
“I think the (easy) ground will be hanging on for a while now. I know they are inspecting and all the rest, but you can be confident that the horses will come back and trot up sound next day. When it is good ground, your heart is in your mouth all the time.
“I actually don’t run them on good ground, so they are never going to win on good ground because they never get the chance.
“This horse has the action for the mud, but quite a few of these five-year-olds, which quite often one would leave until they are six, plus the way the programme is and the way the handicapper is these days, I felt we had better crack on and that’s partly why we are making hay at the moment.
“This was step up from what he had done before, but it will be exciting having a little look as to where he will run next.”
Williams also had news on her King George VI Chase hope, Aso. She said: “The plan is to ruin. Charlie (Deutsch) will be there to ride him. I hardly ever have runners there these days, as usually it is so dry there. So, it needs to carry on raining.”
The step up in trip was key for the Bob Buckler-trained Flowing Cadenza, who sluiced through the heavy ground to land the Foundation Developments Novices’ Hurdle in the hands of 3lb claimer Sean Houlihan.
The five-year-old mare (4-1) improved markedly from her handicap debut at Wincanton last time under a ground-saving ride, to power in front off the home turn and down Mister Murchan by three and a quarter lengths.
Buckler said: “She’s a dear little mare, isn’t she? It is so fun for owner Heather Dunn, since she has bred all these – it is the same line as Regal Flow and Over The Flow, who won a few races for her.
“The step up in trip has helped. That was the plan. We knew she wanted a trip, but we stepped her up to two-miles-five last time, and she had a horrible run. She got blocked, interfered with and wherever the jockey went he got couldn’t get out, but she was still staying on strongly.
“This race was the obvious answer, but with the ground the way it is, no one knows where we will go next. I always think that you don’t damage horses in this ground.”