23 December 2023

Excell-ent result for exciting Henderson prospect at Ascot

23 December 2023

Nicky Henderson’s exciting French import Excello upset odds-on favourite Solo when running out a ready winner of the Howden Graduation Chase at Ascot.

In a contest previously won by the likes of Top Notch, Riders Onthe Storm and L’Homme Presse, Solo set out to lead all the way and looked comfortable enough out in front.

However, four-year-old Excello was also travelling well and jumped alongside the pacesetter at the third-last before powering past him on the home turn.

Two good jumps up the straight allowed Nico de Boinville just to keep his mount focused for an impressive six-and-a-half-length success over two miles and five furlongs.

The 11-4 scorer was a winner over fences at Auteuil in March, and Henderson said: “The whole plan was to go novice hurdling this season and then to come back chasing not as a novice.

“But the way he is doing that, would you really want to go back to novice hurdling? You may as well get on and do what he’s good at – and that’s jumping.

“He went a bit left a few times, but you wouldn’t be worried about that. At Ascot, you will always see them just wander that way, it’s a natural trait.

“We schooled him Tuesday to see if this is something we could do and he was so good. I wouldn’t bring too many four-year-olds here to jump those fences.

“That’s probably the handicap mark gone out the window as well, so that (route) is not an option. He’s five at Christmas, so he loses that four-year-old slight advantage.

“It’s very French and they have already run over fences as a three and four-year-old – and this is Mr Henderson trying to parler francaise.”

There was heartbreak for followers of Harper’s Brook when he threw away victory in the Howden Handicap Chase by faltering close home, allowing Triple Trade to claim a dramatic triumph.

Kielan Woods set a fast pace on Harper’s Brook, who ran his rivals ragged and jumped superbly throughout, with a big leap at the last fence looking sure to have sealed it.

However, he stopped to a near-walk on the run-in and Triple Trade swooped in the dying strides under Brendan Powell to oblige by half a length at 9-4.

Winning trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He hasn’t actually had his ground this season because he wants soft ground, but he’s winning anyway and had he not missed four out, which he missed badly, he would have been able to travel a bit longer, because when he hits the front, he doesn’t do a great deal.

“I would have taken second jumping the last and then the horse in front tied up. Brendan said he felt like he was treading water going to the last and then the horse got competitive again when he was closing in (on Harper’s Brook).

“He was a cheap horse and the owners are very good boys and we’re having a lot of fun with him. This time last year, we pulled up at Wincanton on Boxing Day and we were struggling to be honest, and then we won a couple at the end of the season and now look where we are.

“I said to the lads having lunch before, you’ll get used to these nice days and that’s where he’s taking them. He’s one of those horses who will take them to these lovely big days and he’s winning still at the moment, so quite where we end up I don’t know.

“We’ll see what the handicapper does and play our way, but we will take him to one of the festivals because the guys who own him deserve to have a runner there.

“The horse is probably putting himself in that picture, without getting too carried away. I’m not saying he’s going to go and win at a festival but he deserves to go and have that day out because he’s won four times in the last six or seven months.”

Top Cloud kept on gamely under Liam Harrison to get the better of Scamallach Liath in another thrilling finish to the Ascot Racecourse Supports Schools Photography Competition Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

Market leader Scamallach Liath made a brave attempt to make all under top weight over just short of three miles but was pipped at the post by Robbie Llewellyn’s 11-2 scorer.

The six-year-old has now won four out of five since joining Llewellyn from Chris Grant after being snapped up for only £8,000 by his new connections in May.

“It’s magical and we want to be competitive on the big days,” said Wroughton handler Llewellyn after his charge had prevailed by a head.

“I haven’t got a lot of money to spend and I think our most expensive horse is £12,000. This time last year, we had one winner, but we’ve got a better team of horses and it’s paying off.

“We’re in a new yard just below Alan King’s, it’s brilliant and I think that’s our 12th winner now from about 50 runners, so I’m over the moon.

“This lad has a brilliant attitude and is as hard as nails, I don’t think he is a world beater but what he will do is go through the pain barrier for you and just puts his head down and grinds it out – he does it the hard way.

“He thinks he is faster than he actually is, but he has a great attitude and hardly leaves a nut, so you can go to war more times with him.

“You can have the best work horse and best rating, but if they don’t want to go through with it, they don’t win races – and his attitude has won him four races now.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox