Ben Jones completed a month that would qualify as a good year for many of his weighing room colleagues here on Saturday when he steered De Rasher Counter to victory in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase, by far the most important of three valuable wins for the 20-year-old jockey since the start of November.
It was a smart, confident ride that secured the spoils for Emma Lavelle’s chaser. West Approach, the 13-2 favourite, did not make it on to the second circuit, having unseated Robbie Power early on, but there were still plenty of fancied runners queueing up to challenge as Jones left the home turn in front.
The Welshman immediately grabbed the initiative by kicking another length clear and, while The Conditional and Elegant Escape – last year’s runner-up – did their best to close the gap, Jones had just enough left to hold them off and win by a length and a half. De Rasher Counter is owned by a small syndicate named the Makin’ Bacon Partnership.
“This horse is so game,” Jones said. “I thought I might have got there a bit early but luckily he kept galloping and jumping. I can’t thank Emma and the team enough, just to trust me to ride this horse in the race, let alone do what I’ve done.”
Lavelle, who took Friday’s Long Distance Hurdle here with Paisley Park, put Jones’s confidence down to the “innocence of youth”, adding: “That’s probably the wrong word but, when you are young and you don’t know what can go wrong at this stage of your life, you are just riding at the top of your game. That’s what he was doing.
“There were a few sore heads after yesterday. I can’t imagine what it will be like after today. It is just magical when it comes off, as so often it doesn’t.”
The most significant market mover for the Cheltenham Festival on Saturday’s card was Paul Nicholls’ Danny Whizzbang, who was the outsider of three for his chasing debut in the Grade Two John Francome Novice Chase but made short work of Reserve Tank, the odds-on favourite, after hitting the front at the third-last.
“I thought I was chucking him in at the deep end,” Nicholls said. “He must be very good. I thought he’d finish third and run in a beginners’ chase over Christmas and go on from there. Harry [Cobden] said he felt like he was riding a hunter all the way round, then he turned down the straight and took off.”
Danny Whizzbang was cut to around 14-1 for the RSA Chase in March and could now step straight into Grade One company in the Kauto Star Novice Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
At Newcastle there was a major shock in the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle as Cornerstone Lad, at 16-1, made all the running and held off the dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air, who started at 2-13, by a short-head.
Barry Geraghty, on Buveur D’Air, gave Cornerstone Lad plenty of rope but Henry Brooke, on the winner, also deserves plenty of credit for seizing the initiative from the off. Buveur D’Air had at least five lengths to make up turning in but was closing steadily when a mistake at the second-last cost him precious momentum, and he could not force his nose in front as Cornerstone Lad stayed on tenaciously from the last.
“He picked up a little cut on his coronary band,” Geraghty, who dismounted Buveur D’Air soon after crossing the line, said later. “He’s sore, so we’ll just have to see how he is. I thought I’d win jumping the last but I just struggled in the last 100 yards. The winner … went a good gallop and did it the hard way.”
The result saw Buveur D’Air pushed out to 12-1 (from 4-1) by Coral for next year’s Champion Hurdle, while Cornerstone Lad can be backed at 33-1.