MENORAH came to the rescue at Kempton yesterday afternoon for the team which had seen the King George VI Chase cruelly snatched from their grasp just 24 hours earlier.
Captain Chris had been within a whisker of giving jockey Richard Johnson, trainer Philip Hobbs and owners Grahame and Diana Whateley the perfect Christmas present, only for Sam Waley-Cohen and Long Run to redouble their efforts and the horse stick his neck back in front.
This was the third attempt to stage the William Hill Levy Board Peterborough Chase following the waterlogging of Huntingdon and Exeter, and a more ideal setting could hardly have been chosen for Menorah (7-2), whose three-and-a-half-length defeat of Hunt Ball took his unbeaten record course record to three.
“I did toss and turn last night – it must have all happened in 20 yards, but that’s racing,” said Grahame Whateley. “I never thought Richard Johnson would be beaten in a fight for the finish, but credit to Sam Waley-Cohen.
“Philip said [Menorah] had never looked better. He jumped one fence very big but pinged the rest. We’d always aimed for the Peterborough, even when it was at Huntingdon, then Exeter and we’re very pleased to see him win at Kempton.
“Everyone is asking if he is going to go to the Ryanair Chase but I never like to make any plans – the most important thing is to get him back home and see how he is.”
Of plans for Captain Chris, he said: “Richard has always said Captain Chris was a Gold Cup horse from the first day he sat on him. If he’s right and fit he’ll go in the Gold Cup. That’s always been the ambition, and there’s races in between we might aim for.”
Hunt Ball was staying on encouragingly and owner Anthony Knott said: “I’d like to go for the Ascot Chase next and the Gold Cup is the main target – I’ve backed him to win a million so he’s going there.”
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls had a better afternoon than when put in the shade by his rival Nicky Henderson on Boxing Day. Sanctuaire, who was hammered by Henderson’s Sprinter Sacre in the Tingle Creek Chase, combined his eccentricities and undoubted ability in the williamhill.com Desert Orchid Chase.
The 11-8 favourite did not revert to his habit of not starting but appeared to be grinding to a halt when overtaken by Wishfull Thinking turning into the home straight.
But that only galvanised Sanctuaire and he took Ruby Walsh back into pole position by the second-last fence and to an eventual winning distance of 13 lengths.
Nicholls said: “He started to pull himself up on the back straight, Ruby had dropped his stick and I thought that was it but, when the others had gone past him, he took off.
“He is quirky and silly but you can ride him accordingly. If we can ride him with more restraint he could be interesting. We are going to have to take on Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham, so I probably won’t take him to Ascot first, we could maybe go to the Game Spirit, Cheltenham and then Sandown at the end of the season.”
Nicholls already has the Triumph Hurdle favourite in Far West but French recruit Irish Saint (10-11 favourite) threw himself in the mix after the William Hill – iPad App Now Available Juvenile Hurdle. “We view him as a chaser but he deserves a chance to go for something better now,” said Nicholls. “I suppose he could come out again at the end of January at either Cheltenham or Haydock.”
Sprinter Sacre also mauled Menorah in last season’s Arkle and it is a measure of Simonsig that he is already a shorter-priced favourite for the two-mile novice crown than his Henderson-trained stablemate was at this stage 12 months ago.
The grey Simonsig actually achieved more over hurdles than the fleet-footed Sprinter Sacre and followed in his hoofprints by registering a highly convincing victory in the williamhill.com Novices’ Chase.
As dominant as in his chasing debut at Ascot just six days earlier, the 1-6 favourite went a little to the left at a couple on the back straight but was given fairly free rein by Barry Geraghty and still racked up a 35-length advantage over the 148-rated Hinterland.
Henderson said: “It was a brave shout to run so quickly but I wanted to get the practice in. “Hinterland is not a mug, he was giving him 11lb and it wasn’t a contest. He will probably have one more run at the end of January. Sprinter Sacre ran in the Game Spirit and I wouldn’t rule that out [for Simonsig].”
Tweedledrum (16-1) provided Tom Symonds and Ben Poste with a second high-profile victory in the William Hill – New iPad App Mares’ Handicap Hurdle, while Jason Maguire snatched the last two races with Mister Hyde (4-1) in the William Hill – No.1 Downloaded Betting App Handicap Chase and Bourne (9-1) in the Download The William Hill App Handicap Hurdle.
At Leopardstown, meanwhile, Sizing Europe secured his seventh Grade One haul in the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown.
Ridden positively by Andrew Lynch, the market leader had Rubi Light for company for the entire journey and some prodigious leaps from the latter ensured he stayed in contention.
Sizing Europe appeared to have seen him off comfortably rounding the home turn but it was hard work in the straight and Rubi Light kept him up to his work, with two and a half lengths the winning margin.
Stan James left Sizing Europe unchanged at 7-1 to regain his Champion Chase crown but trainer Henry De Bromhead suggested the two-mile-five-furlong Ryanair Chase and even the three-and-a-quarter-mile Cheltenham Gold Cup as possible alternatives.
He said: “That was great, we’re very lucky to have him, he makes training a lot easier. You wouldn’t really want him to be taking a hold like he did there over two miles but he loves this game, he just loves it. It’s great to win that race now and we’ll work on from there to Cheltenham. I don’t know what we are going to do yet.”