Twenty years after guiding Manchester United to a glorious treble, Sir Alex Ferguson was back in the big time here on Saturday as part-owner of the previously unheralded Give Me A Copper, a game winner of the Badger Beers Silver Trophy. The chestnut held on by a rapidly diminishing neck and is now considered a live contender for the Grand National in April.
Sir Alex admitted this was his first visit to Wincanton, a surprising oversight for a racing fan who has been retired for six years, but perhaps he was waiting for the right horse to bring him to south Somerset’s finest racecourse.
“To get a win like this and the excitement at the end, you can’t beat it,” he said, which is surely one in the eye for anyone who thinks football cannot be matched for thrills.
“I didn’t expect it, to be honest,” he added and that much was clear from the jubilant celebrations as Give Me A Copper passed the post. Sir Alex’s shoulders were pounded by the winning trainer, Paul Nicholls, and he was then hoisted in the air by his co-owner, Ged Mason. Drinks were sent tumbling. “I was covered in coffee and then Paul’s tryin’ to strangle me …”
The outcome was a double relief for Nicholls, who has long cherished hopes for the horse but was beginning to wonder if he would always be held back by the effects of an injury two years ago. Until Give Me A Copper came good, this had been a long day at his local track, with five fancied runners all failing to score.
“Little things niggled him last year, we never had him right,” Nicholls said. “He’s always had loads of ability, he’s just had a few little problems. He’s had the odd bleed, he’s had a bit of everything. I said to Alex, he’s like one of your players who’s a nightmare to train. He said [that] all the good ones are problems.”
Nicholls had wanted to get a racecourse gallop into Give Me A Copper here a fortnight ago but the ground was too quick at the time, and he fretted that the horse’s fitness might let him down. In the circumstances, Harry Cobden did well to get occasional breathers into his mount during the three-mile contest.
“He’s definitely one I’d be aiming for the National,” Nicholls added. He outlined a tentative plan to run the horse in the Becher or the Grand Sefton next month and possibly go straight to the National thereafter.
The Ditcheat trainer has now won the Badger Beers 10 times. His other runner, Present Man, might have been a more popular winner, having landed the race for the past two years and being the mount of Bryony Frost, but 11mm of morning rain made the ground too testing for him and he was pulled up.
Soupy Soups finished powerfully to be second for the Neil Mulholland yard. that won and then lost this race five years ago, when The Young Master was disqualified. The fancied White Moon charted a wide course, jumped poorly and was tailed off by the home turn.
Fusil Raffles did not quite live up to his reputation with a battling success in the Elite Hurdle but Nicky Henderson said the young hurdler would benefit greatly for the run.