Newbury: Pic d’Orhy pulls off surprise victory for Nicholls in £155,000 Betfair Hurdle...
...but the eyes of many racing fans were on chasing stars Altior - above with his happy owner Mrs Patricia Pugh - and Native River who both shone on an outstanding Betfair Super Saturday (February 9).
Pic d’Orhy, a highly regarded French recruit who was without a win in Britain, chose Europe’s richest handicap hurdle to show what he was capable of when landing the £155,000 Betfair Hurdle at 33-1.
In three starts for trainer Paul Nicholls the best he had finished was sixth place in a handicap at Ascot last month, but in a fiercely contested Betfair Hurdle he edged a blanket finish to beat favourite Ciel De Neige, Remiluc and Sir Valentine, the first four were separated by less than two lengths.
Not So Sleepy, who would have collected the £100,000 Betfair Winter Bonus if he had followed up his victory in the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot in December, was unable to get to a pitch near the front after a flag start was necessary and could only finish 15th.
When Nicholls last won the Betfair Hurdle in 2012, Zarkandar was the 11-4 favourite but on the limited evidence of his performances in Britain expectations were much lower for Pic d’Orhy: “I didn’t really know what to expect. Because we’ve not been able to do too much with him we didn’t know what we had. He bounced off that ground and with plenty of weight he must be a high class horse."
“When he ran in the Triumph last year he had only been with us a month and hadn’t acclimatised. He went to Auteuil where we really fancied him but he fell and he had a few niggles after that. It’s been hard to gauge him because that’s the first time he’s been involved in a race."
“The day he goes chasing will be really exciting because that’s what he was bought for. I should have probably put him in the Champion Hurdle. If he went up 7lb he would be on the fringe. I’m sure there will be a race at Aintree or Ayr for him.”
Normal service resumed by Altior
Champion chaser Altior demonstrated that his first defeat in 19 starts over jumps at Ascot in December may only have been a temporary setback as he returned to winning ways by landing a third success in the Grade 3 Betfair Exchange Chase.
In now customary fashion he gave supporters momentary concern when hitting a flat spot between the fourth and third last fence but when encouraged forwards by jockey Nico de Boinville after the last he drew comfortably clear to beat Sceau Royal by three and a quarter lengths.
Altior finished second to top rated Cyrname when trying 2m5f for the first time at Ascot, but will stay at his preferred trip of 2m at Cheltenham where he will defend his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, for which he is 9-4 second favourite with Betfair.
Trainer Nicky Henderson knew when he was back to form: “When he was asked to put the race to bed the gears worked very well. There is improvement to come and that race will have done his confidence a world of good. That was not nice at Ascot and it took him a while to get over it."
“There is no doubt we were under pressure today. I was fairly confident but you have to be prepared to take account if things go wrong. He goes to Cheltenham now to retain his crown.”
Native River makes it three
Native River put himself firmly on track to try to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup by leading from start to finish in the Betfair Denman Chase, giving 22-year-old jockey Jonjo O’Neill his first graded success.
The 10-year-old, who won the Gold Cup in 2018, became the most successful horse in the Denman Chase with his third win in the race, beating Secret Investor by two and three quarter lengths.
Trainer Colin Tizzard said: “That was a lovely prep race for the Gold Cup. Jonjo felt he never had to get serious with him, just a couple of little flicks and it was all over. That’s him all over. He’s hardly blowing."
“It was quite nerve-wracking. It’s easier to race these horses once a month. You leave them two months to plan his Gold Cup run, like the time he came here two years ago, and you wonder if you’ve done enough on the gallops. We try and trust ourselves."
“Jonjo is a good young rider and a strong young man. He’s been put under the microscope a fair bit this week and he handled it very well. We like him, he’s a good chap and a good rider as well.”
Novice options for House
Chantry House added to Nicky Henderson’s array of options for the Cheltenham Festival’s novice hurdles with a smooth victory in the Set Your Own Odds On Betfair Exchange Novices’ Hurdle.
The odds-on favourite comfortably pulled away from Manvers House to win by four and half lengths and earn quotes of 10-1 (from 12-1) for the SkyBet Supreme and 14-1 (from 20-1) with Betfair for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
“We could go either way,” said Henderson. “He’s got speed and we know he stays. He will remain in both races and we are just going to have a look at them. Shishkin will go two miles but that can’t cloud the issue.”