On a day when racing went ahead at Ascot despite the threat of Storm Dennis, it was the aptly-named Riders Onthe Storm who landed the honours in the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase.
The up-and-coming chaser, already a course and distance winner who is now unbeaten in all three starts since joining the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard, won a dramatic renewal of the feature race that saw last year’s runaway winner and long odds-on favourite Cyrname fall at the last. The cheer that erupted from the stands as Paul Nicholls’ stable star got safely to his feet was one of the loudest of the whole afternoon.
A small but competitive field went to post in the opener, The Thames Materials Novices’ Hurdle, in which Sporting John extended his unbeaten run over hurdles with an impressive round of jumping for trainer Philip Hobbs. The five-year-old travelled strongly throughout, asserting himself having cleared the second last before pulling clear to win by six and a half lengths under a confident ride by Barry Geraghty. This was a taking performance by a horse who looks to have a massive future, and his price for both the Ballymore and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival was subsequently shortened.
Another exciting prospect, the Colin Tizzard-trained Copperhead, won the Grade 2 Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase. The progressive gelding sealed a hat-trick of consecutive wins over fences and provided trainer Colin Tizzard with back-to-back victories in the race. It was a strong staying display by the winner, who overcame testing conditions to win by 17 lengths. He has a couple of Cheltenham options in the RSA Chase and the National Hunt Chase.
The Listed Keltbray Swinley Chase saw a tremendous weight-carrying performance by Ballyoptic, who stormed home under top weight of 11st 10lb, comfortably beating a pair of veteran course specialists in Valtor and Regal Encore. Setting up a double at Ascot on the day for Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies, the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase winner bounced back to form after two recent defeats and is now set to be given a break before a second tilt at the Grand National in April.
It was a different story in the next, a wide-open renewal of The Give The Gift Of Ascot Annual Membership Handicap Hurdle, as Nordano took advantage of bottom weight to win in commanding style. The winner of a pair of juvenile hurdles in October and placed behind leading Triumph Hurdle contenders on his last two outings (including Goshen, hot favourite for the Cheltenham prize, at Ascot last time out), Nordano stayed on strongly in the driving rain to score by 16 lengths on his first venture beyond two miles.
With the official going now changed to heavy (from soft, heavy in places), 2-1 favourite St Barts secured a double on the card for trainer Philip Hobbs in The Ascot Local Sports & Social Clubs Handicap Hurdle, stepping up in trip to win on his handicap debut. After an emotional Betfair Ascot Chase for the Paul Nicholls team, the champion trainer and jockey Harry Cobden enjoyed success in the last, with Sabrina - daughter of the legendary four-time Ascot Gold Cup winner Yeats - running away with The British EBF Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.