End of 2017 thriller: Poetic Rhythm's narrow Challow Hurdle win at Newbury - great day for Fergal - mixed fortunes for Nicky
Newbury's final fixture of 2017 (December 30) took place before a healthy crowd of almost 9,000. The course had had 7.9mm of rain in the previous 24-hours. The going was heavy - and obviously testing for many of the day's runners. For the spectators it was warm if windy.
The feature race, the £40,000 G1 Betfred Challow Novices' Hurdle, saw a tremendous finish, as the favourite Poetic Rhythm (Fergal O'Brien/Paddy Brennan) held off the rallying Mulcahys Hill (Warren Greatrex/Adrian Heskin) by a short-head.
Mulcahys Hill went clear early in the straight, but Poetic Rhythm - known at home as Gorgeous George - came with a good run to challenge at the last and led on the run-in, but had to battle strongly close home to hold on.
It was a first Grade One victory for Gloucestershire-based trainer Fergal O'Brien: "That means the world - it is brilliant for everybody."
The celebrations were heartfelt for Fergal, his partner and Assistant Trainer Sally Randell (who used to train at Broad Hinton), family, Paddy Brenan, connections and groom Tori Knight who looks after Gorgeous George.
"To get that Grade One was a bit of a monkey off my back and a relief. We have had a good couple of seasons. Paddy knew what he was going to do with the horse today."
"Three weeks ago Poetic Rhythm was at the vet's with a bit of colic, but if you want to pick one horse out to go to war with he is your boy. He never ever lets us down, he is so tough..." Poetic Rhythm's probable next race will be the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Barbury Castle trainer Alan King took the opening race - the £8,500 Betfred £5K BTO Cash Draw Today Juvenile Hurdle over two miles - with Nayati, the only newcomer to hurdles in the field of seven.
Ridden by Wayne Hutchinson, Nayati beat Kapdad (Gary Moore/Joshua Moore) by two and a quarter lengths. Bred in France and first raced over the flat there, the three-year-old gelding has only been at King's yard a few months: "Nayati has only had two runs in his life before today and he is going to learn plenty from this race. He handled that ground, but I don't think he particularly wants it."
"Wayne said Nayati was a real good-actioned little horse and I'd like to think he will improve on better ground." A horse to watch out for.
It was a day of very mixed fortunes for Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson who says Newbury is not only his home racecourse - but is also his favourite racecourse.
As a trainer of horses owned by both the Queen Mother and the Queen, he was being congratulated by everyone for being made a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order (LVO) in the new year's honours: "It's a proud moment."
However, in Newbury's second race Henderson lost his record of nine victories out of ten runnings of the race when Royal Ruby under Nico de Boinville could only manage fourth place.
Two races later the Yeats sired, Henderson trained Brave Eagle won the two-and-a-half mile £18,000 Betfred Wishing You A Very Happy New Year Handicap Hurdle.
This was a remarkable result as Brave Eagle had been prominent early on but dropped back to race last of the seven runners before the straight.
Two hurdles out he was still last, but was switched to the far side when the favourite Diable De Sivola (Nick Williams/Lizzie Kelly) fell.
"That", Henderson said, "was one of the most extraordinary races I've seen for a long time. We ran Brave Eagle the other day in horrible ground at Exeter and I thought he hated it..."
"At halfway I had given up again, thinking he hated the ground and we'd keep him for the spring, but then he crept back into it, then he dropped out again although I don't know how he got up. Good old Nico."
De Boinville added: "Jumping the last, I thought let's go for it now and it was a good feeling - he has won despite the ground."
This race was not good for the two women jockeys: Lizzie Kelly fell. And Bryony Frost and Dynamite Dollars came in last of the finishers.
But at Kempton on Boxing Day Frost had become only the second female jockey to win a top-class race over obstacles - second to Lizzie Kelly. She took Black Corton to win the three mile Grade One 32Red Kauto Star Novices' Chase.
Nicky Henderson's see-saw day ended on a terrible note when his Lessons in Milan was fatally injured in a fall at Haydock. This was a horse many thought could win Henderson his first Grand National.
The first action of 2018 at Newbury is on Wednesday, January 17. Betfair Super Saturday follows on February 10.