Darling delivers in style at Ascot
Your Darling, a horse once compared to triple Gold Cup hero Best Mate, gave evidence he could yet live up to his early promise with a brilliant comeback victory in the feature event at Ascot on Friday.
The son of Shirocco has had plenty to live up to from an early stage, with connections waxing lyrical about his latent ability after a successful bumper debut at Newbury in January 2020.
The seven-year-old was bought by Best Mate’s trainer Henrietta Knight, who said at Newbury: “This is as good a horse as Best Mate. I bought him in Ireland from the same place. I think he could be top class.”
Trainer Ben Pauling was similarly effusive, describing his charge as “probably as good as I’ve had”.
It is fair to say Your Darling’s career so far has failed to live up to that considerable hype, but he did win over hurdles and fences last year and he was the 100-30 favourite for his first start since April in the £35,000 Royal Ascot Racing Club Handicap Chase.
In truth, Pauling’s charge could be called the winner from a long way out as he jumped accurately and travelled powerfully before sweeping clear before the home turn.
Revels Hill finished to good effect in second, but Your Darling was heavily eased on the run-in and was value for significantly more than the winning margin of three and three-quarter lengths.
Pauling said: “His ability is there for everyone to see and he was good today. In fairness, apart from during his novice hurdle season when he had a bit of a wind issue, he’s always been pretty damn smart first time out and sort of flattered to really show that form again.
“Hopefully, with the new yard and the way they’re all holding their form, he’ll be another that does that and we can progress from here.
“He handicapped himself rather nicely last year, almost too well really because I was desperate to run him first time out in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham last week, but he couldn’t get in. After that this was very much the target and we’re delighted to see him win the way he has.”
Considering future plans, the trainer added: “There’s possibly a race at Kempton for him on December 27 – a 0-150 handicap chase over three miles. Something like that might suit, but he’s not short of speed and I need to speak to the owners before making any firm plans.
“He is a horse who goes well fresh, so we’re not in a rush to get him him out in the next couple of weeks anyway.”
Olly Murphy has high hopes for Thunder Rock after he maintained his unbeaten record over fences with a similarly impressive display in the Racing Welfare Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.
A bold leap at the final fence sealed the deal for Adrian Heskin’s mount and he visibly quickened on the run-in to pull eight and a half lengths clear of fellow 7-4 joint-favourite Solo.
“He was good and he’s a horse who just keeps progressing,” said Murphy.
“I’d imagine we’ll be looking at Graded company from now on. He’s been a decisive winner of two competitive handicaps on his only two starts to date (over fences).
“We’ll have a look at the novice Graded novice chase back here in a month’s time (Noel Novices’ Chase). He’s a horse who is improving dramatically and hopefully he’s one to stay on the right side of.”
Heskin went on to complete a double for his retaining owners the McNeill Family aboard the Nicky Henderson-trained Persian Time (3-1) in the Troy Asset Management ‘Introductory’ Hurdle.
Fergal O’Brien’s dual bumper winner Crambo (3-1 favourite) completed his hat-trick on his jumping bow in the Wood And Wood Signs ‘National Hunt’ Maiden Hurdle under a well-timed ride from Connor Brace.
O’Brien said: “He’d been working well at home and had schooled well at home under Connor. I thought it was a deep enough race today and if we’d come away finishing second or third we’d have been happy.
“It was a messy race as there were a couple of loose horses. It didn’t go ideal for him but he still managed to win. He looked impressive from the back of the last, so we’re delighted.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve got anything bigger in mind, but hopefully he can step up into a Graded race. We’ll try to find another nice opportunity for him in and around Christmas.”
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