Newtide took advantage of the last-fence fall of Boldmere to score a fortunate victory in the William Hill Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby.
Kim Bailey’s stout stayer appeared booked for an honourable second place when the hat-trick-seeking Boldmere held a three-length lead only to fall at the last in the Grade Two feature over three miles.
Bailey voiced his sympathy for Boldmere’s trainer Caroline Bailey, and fellow connections of the 5-2 favourite, after Newtide (9-2) had then kept on with great determination under David Bass to win by four and a quarter lengths from long-time leader Ardlethen.
“We were lucky,” said the Cotswolds trainer.
“Sorry, Caroline Bailey deserved to win that. But we’ve picked up a Grade Two, which we probably shouldn’t have done.
“We’ve run very well, though, and I’m delighted for the horse and his owners.”
Newtide, winner of his only previous start over fences from just two rivals at Ffos Las in November, holds entries at the Cheltenham Festival in both the RSA and National Hunt chases.
Bailey, however, is already looking longer term to a future Welsh Grand National with the rangy seven-year-old.
Asked for the winning jockey’s post-race thoughts, Bailey added: “He said he kept on staying – which we knew he would do.
“But I don’t think he’d have won.
“So I’m not going to stand up there and say we would have won – we would have been second, and a worthy second.
“You need a bit of luck occasionally.”
As for the future, Bailey is likely to take a patient approach – unless there is a deluge at Cheltenham next month.
He said: “He’s a soft-ground horse – he’s certainly not an RSA horse.
“He’s a proper, old-fashioned four-mile chaser. So if conditions were suitable, we might think about that (National Hunt Chase).
“He doesn’t have any respect for his fences. He’s so big – they look so small on him.
“But long term, he’s a Welsh National-type horse, isn’t he – in bottomless ground?”
Minella Rocco put himself bang on course for a return to Cheltenham, and top of many ante-post lists for the Foxhunters, when he eclipsed last year’s Festival hero Hazel Hill.
Jonjo O’Neill’s former Gold Cup runner-up was a length-and-a-half winner of the Racing TV Open Hunters’ Chase – but his task was made much easier by the 1-4 favourite’s alarming tendency to jump to his right almost throughout.
Derek O’Connor had no such problems on Minella Rocco, to score at 5-2, and a beaming O’Neill can therefore set sights on his local course again with the 10-year-old – who had O’Connor aboard when he won the 2016 National Hunt Chase from subsequent Gold Cup victor Native River, before finishing second in the Festival blue riband in 2017.
“He’s loving it – obviously dropped down a grade or two,” said the trainer.
“It’s brilliant to see, and him wanting to do it like that. It’s just a pity he missed his really good days, when he was a proper horse, because he had too many problems.
“It would be just a bit special to get him back to win at Cheltenham – the icing on the cake – and that’s exactly what Derek just said to me.”
Hazel Hill’s connections, meanwhile, need to get to the bottom of his jumping issues.
Owner Diana Williams said: “He has done it before, but not like that.
“(Jockey) Alex (Edwards) said he couldn’t keep him straight, and there must be something wrong with him.”
Ann and Ian Hamilton have a happier problem on their hands, working out where to run the much-improved Nuts Well next after their nine-year-old completed a hat-trick with victory in the William Hill Betting TV Handicap Chase.
Trained by Ann and owned by Ian, near Newcastle, Nuts Well won by four and a quarter lengths from Clan Legend at 4-1 under Danny McMenamin.
Nuts Well’s older half-brother Runswick Royal is also a multiple winner for the Hamiltons, and his owner said: “He is a star, a proper star.
“He’s better than his half-brother now – and he was good.
“He likes the better ground – as soon as he hit that up the straight, he flew.”
The diminutive Nuts Well kept responding to pressure, and may have a Festival date too in the spring – at Aintree, if Hamilton can place him in a good handicap off a low weight.
“How can we do that, though?” he asked.
“He’s on 146 now – he’ll go up a hell of a lot again, so he might have to go to Aintree or somewhere.
“He had pretty much top weight, and he’s only tiny, a pony, (but) he’s a little good ‘un.”
The well-backed Emmas Joy (10-11 favourite) was an impressive 13-length winner of the opening mares’ novices’ hurdle for Dan and Harry Skelton – and in the closing bumper, Ask A Honey Bee (11-10) was another successful favourite, defying his penalties for a third consecutive victory for Fergal O’Brien.