Jonjo O’Neill was delighted to see Holywell get his career back on track and earn himself a shot at the Cheltenham Gold Cup with an effortless success under Tony McCoy at Kelso.
The eight-year-old was victorious in handicap company at Cheltenham last March and, after showing his worth at the top level with a brilliant display at Aintree’s Grand National meeting, dreams of a tilt at steeple chasing’s blue riband were sparked.
While a Carlisle comeback third behind subsequent Hennessy hero Many Clouds was satisfactory, his failure to complete at Aintree in December was less so and there was no margin for error as he journeyed to the Borders as a 1-4 favourite for the Ivan Straker Memorial Chase.
Having dictated matters from the outset, Holywell turned up the heat heading down the back straight and it was soon apparent his rivals were struggling to keep up. He safely negotiated the remaining fences under the soon-to-retire champion jockey and passed the post 25 lengths clear of Fentara, with Diocles third and Rose Of The Moon last of the four.
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Paddy Power responded by clipping Holywell to 8-1 from 9-1 for the Gold Cup on 13 March with Coral leaving him unchanged at 10-1.
Speaking from his Jackdaws Castle base, O’Neill said: “He had to go and do what he did really, so it’s nice he’s gone up there and done it and you’d have to be happy.
“Hopefully, he comes back safe and sound, that’s the main thing, but that [Gold Cup] is the plan.”
McCoy is unlikely to be aboard at Cheltenham next month, assuming Sunday’s Hennessy Gold Cup winner Carlingford Lough makes it to Cheltenham for his boss JP McManus. The champion feels Holywell is well worth his place in the field, however. McCoy said: “He jumped well after the first. It’s amazing how different a horse he is in the spring. He just seems to be better. He was the highest rated novice [chaser] last season after Aintree and he’ll only do nothing but keep improving. He is definitely a horse who will have a good chance in the Gold Cup.”
Nicky Richards can start considering some lofty targets for Glingerburn after he completed a hat-trick with a stylish display in the Timeform Morebattle Hurdle.
A winner of his first two starts over timber at Doncaster, the 14-5 chance travelled well throughout in the hands of Brian Harding and moved sweetly to the lead two flights from the finish. Cheltenham Festival winner Hawk High put up a fight on the run-in, but Glingerburn kept up the gallop to take the prize by a length and three-quarters. Richards said: “I’m very pleased with him. He jumped pretty well on the whole and did it well. He’s developed well and has always shown us a good bit. The day I ran him in his bumper at Musselburgh I thought he was the biggest certainty I’ve ever put a saddle on and Peter Niven turned up with Clever Cookie [and won]. There are several options for him. He may come back here for the Premier Hurdle, he’s in at Cheltenham and there’s always Aintree. The Scottish Champion Hurdle [at Ayr] is another possible.”
Richards and Harding completed a double as 9-2 chance Warriors Tale ran out a ten-length winner of the Kelso Annual Members Handicap Hurdle.
William Money won an eventful Monteith Memorial Handicap Chase under Diarmuid O’Regan. The 22-1 shot was being scrubbed along in last place, but the complexion of the race changed dramatically in the straight.
The Last Samuri’s exit when challenging for the lead two fences from home appeared to have handed the race to Whats Up Woody, but his stride shortened on the run-in and he was picked off by both William Money and Velator. The Last Samuri’s rider Jason Maguire was stood down from his two remaining rides after aggravating a hand injury.