After two Festival days dominated by Irish horses, it was something of a relief to cheer home a locally-trained horse in Sky Pirate, winner of the Grand Annual this afternoon. The distance may have been the shortest that is recorded within the Rules, but we can mark it up to Gloucestershire, short head or otherwise.
As for his trainer, well if that soft Irish burr has been toned down a little by half a century living in Britain, I've yet to notice. But for today, and in truth for some time past, Jonjo O'Neill has been an honorary Englishman, even if he does hold an Irish passport.
For this is a specialist at preparing a horse for one special race, and a master at placing horses to perform at their best on the biggest stage. To date this season, we've seen him win the Ladbroke Trophy at Newbury with lightly weighted Cloth Cap, and youngster Soaring Glory to win the Betfair Hurdle at the same venue - both races you'd be pleased to win once in a career, never mind in the same season.
Sky Pirate, winner of three of his six races this season, has continued to outwit the handicapper each time, rising 20lbs in the weights since October. Who's to say there may not be more to come? Sky Pirate now has a handicap rating putting him firmly only in top handicaps or taking on the best in Conditions races.
This was a long overdue first Festival winner for Nick Schofield, who has missed the mid winter period since breaking his leg in a freak collision with a loose horse at Fontwell in November.
Meantime, following up his recent success at Auteuil, Tom George has been dusting down his French dictionary again. Doctor Dex picked up £3,857 for the runner-up berth at Nancy on Sunday, whilst Garde La Victoire earned twice that much at Compiegne before the weekend. Six runners so far this year have recouped over €35,000 in prize money. It more than bears out Tom's thinking to campaign a few in France in order to take advantage of the better prizes on offer.
Experience tells me there won't be a rush to follow his example, but those that are prepared to innovate will get their rewards in Euros on the other side of la Manche.
Fixture 2021 Cancelled
Look out for 2022 dates later in the summer
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