Newbury's Mencap meeting: Pipe ponders Cheltenham targets for Brinkley and Richard Johnson's winning again
David Pipe is eyeing potential Cheltenham Festival targets for Brinkley after the five-year-old Martaline gelding produced an eye-catching performance in landing the West Berkshire Mencap “National Hunt” Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at Newbury on Friday (February 28).
The gey, making his stable debut after being bought out of Elizabeth Doyle’s yard in Ireland, looked a smart prospect in landing the extended 2m4f event by 15 lengths.
The Wellington trainer admitted he is still learning about him but could not hide his delight after he stayed on in great style under Tom Scudamore.
Pipe said: “Hopefully he is nice horse for the future. He will probably end up being a three-miler, and while he is entered at Cheltenham – in the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – we will talk to the owner and see how he comes out of it.
“We bought him on the premise he would be a nice horse and hopefully he will develop into one. He is still a baby. We are still learning about him. Watching him walking about in the paddock, he was looking at everything and he is still a bit green, but he galloped all the way to the line and that’s what counts.”
Fit-again Johnson maintains title challenge
Richard Johnson, who made a perfect return to the saddle following injury with a double at Musselburgh on Thursday, cranked up the race for the Jump Jockeys’ title a notch, as the Warren Greatrex-trained Roccowithlove earned a four and a half-length success in the 3m Greenham Trust Handicap Hurdle.
Having been out of action since suffering a broken arm at a fall at Exeter on January 21, the four-times champion trailed Brian Hughes by 20 winners but reduced the deficit to 17 following the six-year-old’s success.
Johnson said: “It is great to come back and have such a good start and while I know it can’t go on forever, hopefully we have lots of horses to ride – and I feel better today than I did yesterday as well.
“Roccowithlove is more of a staying chaser and it has taken a while to get his confidence, but probably the conditions today really suited him.”
Henderson learns little following Monte Cristo success
Nicky Henderson insists Monte Cristo, long odds-on winner of the three-runner Mansionbet Best Odds Guaranteed Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle will be a better horse next year after his three and three-quarter lengths victory in the extended two-mile contest.
Monte Cristo, who had disappointed in his British debut at Cheltenham when beaten at odds-on, showed he is a horse with plenty of potential, taking up the running at an early stage and seeing the trip out well.
Henderson said: “He jumps well. He will make a chaser, but he has still got a lot of developing to do – he is still a weak horse. He might have another run somewhere and we won’t rush him.
“He made most of the running at Cheltenham and didn’t get up the hill, and he was in front a long time here. But what did we learn from this? Nothing.
“His jockey, Daryl Jacob, said he had a nice time today, but he was just dossing around in front. He didn’t have to get serious with him.
“Daryl said he would like to find a race where you could ride a race on him and just tuck him in behind a few. He goes in the ground, but he wouldn’t mind better round. He is a lovely horse and he will be an even better horse. I can’t wait to see him next year.”
Flight Deck wings in for team O’Neill
Flight Deck has had plenty of knee and joint problems, according to trainer Jonjo O’Neill, but the master of Jackdaws Stable had him fit and well, as the Getaway gelding defied a 404-day lay-off to take the Federation of Bloodstock Agents Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
With the last flight of hurdles omitted owing to the easy ground, Jonjo O’Neill Jr produced the six-year-old with a well-timed run up the long run-in to score by a length and a half.
After seeing him break his duck at the fourth attempt on his handicap debut off an official rating of 114, the trainer admitted Flight Deck will get further than the extended two and a half miles.
O’Neill said: “He has had loads of problems, but the soft ground probably helped him. He does a lot of swimming – he could swim from here to Ireland and back again!
“He has a bit of an engine when everything goes right for him, but it was nice to get him back after such a long lay-off and win with him. With the last hurdle missing, that also helped. He looked like he wants further as he was staying on, but there are no plans for him – getting him back today was the plan.”
Indian Brave lives up to his name
Indian Brave looks aptly named after backing up a recent Chepstow success with a gritty performance in taking the Focus Novices’ Handicap Chase in the hands of Robert Dunne.
The Neil Mulholland-trained nine-year-old, who was defying a 6lb penalty, had to repel the sustained challenge of Pres to score by three-quarters of a length in the extended 2m6f contest.
The lightly-raced nine-year-old missed most of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but has been back to his best recently and Mulholland feels he could make a quick reappearance after the second chase success of his career.
Mulholland said: “He was brave and was a little bit clever, too – he can hit the handbrake when he gets to the front. He jumped well and they went a good enough gallop.
“We were a bit concerned about going up in trip, but he loves that ground – he is a big horse with feet like dinner plates. I see no reason why he won’t go on again, but there were 25 lengths back to the third horse and the handicapper might have a say. We might try and get him out quickly before he gets hold of him.”
Billingsley connections eye Aintree
Bridgnorth trainer Alastair Ralph could send Billingsley, half-length winner of the Oakley Coachbuilders Handicap Chase, to Aintree after he completed a hat-trick in determined fashion.
Having previously scored at Hereford and Haydock, the eight-year-old defied a 7lb rise in the hands of Liam Treadwell. =Though out of breath after his partner idled in front, Treadwell was full of praise for the Millenary gelding who pulled out more in the extended 2m event.
FOOTNOTE: Newbury's Greatwood meeting on Saturday (February 29) had to be abandoned after heavy overnight rain left parts of the course waterlogged - with more rain to come during Saturday and high winds expected as well. It is not yet clear whether the charity race - raising funds for Greatwood - can be re-scheduled.
Photos courtesy of Newbury Racecourse.