There may have been no fairytale farewell victory for Leighton Aspell – but he still received a winner’s send-off at Fontwell after finishing second with his last ride on Itsnotwhatyouthink.
The dual Grand National-winning jockey announced 24 hours earlier that he would call time on his career, for the second occasion, at the Sussex track – where he and Nick Gifford’s promising debutant were the most honourable of runners-up in the Watt Fences Ltd Maiden Open National Hunt Flat Race.
They stayed on well in the extended two-mile-one bumper. But ultimately, even Aspell – who previously took a brief hiatus from riding between 2007 and 2009 – could not quite help the 15-8 favourite reel in Jetaway Joey, with three lengths separating the pair at the line.
Reflecting on the end of his famous career, 43-year-old Aspell said: “It was emotional – as it was the last time I was going to leave that weighing room and stop doing something I had done for years, and something I’ve enjoyed.
“I’ve had great support from my friends and colleagues all day, and it has been a super day.
“I’m delighted I’m leaving racing very much in love with it.
“We will have some time out, but I will always follow racing, and we will see what unfolds when the next chapter starts.”
As for the horse that beat him into a valedictory second, completing a double for trainer Olly Murphy, it seems Jetaway Joey’s sterling effort will be repaid by a hard-earned and extended break.
Murphy said: “He is a nice horse, and I’d say he won’t be seen again this season. It is good to have another nice horse for (owner) Barbara Hester, who has been a big supporter of mine.
“The horse looked so green the first day, and he has come on a bundle since.”
Notre Pari had earlier bounced back from a final-flight fall in last month’s Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton to get the ball rolling for Murphy with a confidence-boosting victory in Sustain Our Sport Adopt An Ex-Racehorse Novices’ Hurdle.
After the 4-6 favourite’s half-length success, Murphy said: “He was entitled to win that. He had a horrendously bad fall in the Lanzarote.
“He was cautious over the first couple- but it was a nice, sympathetic ride from Barry Geraghty. He won nicely, and I suppose we will look at something in the spring.”
Grand Sancy made a triumphant return to calmer waters too, having contested Grade One and Two races on his first three starts over fences, as he initiated a treble for Paul Nicholls – with a front-running three-and-a-half-length success in the Racehorse Sanctuary Remembers Moorcroft Boy Beginners’ Chase.
Nicholls said of the 1-5 shot: “That was a nice little school around. I wanted to get his head in front and will try to pick up another race like that, get some more experience – and then look at a stronger race later in the season.
“A fast-run race over two would be fine. Aintree is a possibility, but the Future Champions Novices’ Chase at Ayr could be a great race for him.”
David Maxwell faces a difficult decision which horse he will ride in next month’s St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase, after evens favourite Bob And Co edged out stablemate Alcala by a length and a quarter to complete Nicholls’ treble in the Fairmile Snacks Open Hunters’ Chase.
Maxwell had an uncomfortable experience aboard Bob And Co when he ran impossibly free and eventually had to be pulled up on his British debut last month.
The amateur jockey said: “He is now a different horse to what he was at Warwick – both here and at Bangor last time – but he still does have the ability to lock on.
“It will be a tough choice to make (at Cheltenham), because I think Shantou Flyer is a better horse than last year.”
It was a case of ‘as you were’ in the Village House Hotel Findon Handicap Hurdle as Ostuni (10-1) defeated The Raven’s Return by three and a half lengths to repeat his victory in the race from 12 months ago.
Nicholls added: “He ran so badly at Plumpton (two weeks ago), and I told (jockey) Lorcan (Williams) to see if you can get any confidence into him.
“Whereas he was never going to win at Plumpton, he was always going to win today.”