A PERFECT four winners from four runners gave Grand National-winning trainer Sue Smith a flying start to 2014 yesterday.
The in-form handler had left her High Eldwick stables at 6am at the wheels of her horse trailer for the 206-mile drive to Musselburgh where both Mr Moonshine and Swing Hard prevailed for jockey Ryan Mania in the colours of Aintree hero Auroras Encore.
Smith’s husband Harvey, the former showjumper, was on duty at Catterick where Emral Silk and Grate Fella provided confidence-boosting victories for Shane Byrne, a talented but tall horseman who has been working hard to get his weight back under control.
The most high-profile success was Mr Moonshine. Pulled up in last year’s National, a shorter trip and better ground played to the chaser’s strengths.
The trainer is unsure whether Mr Moonshine will have another crack at the National; he might be better suited to the Topham over one circuit of Aintree’s world famous course.
“It has been a superb day, crazy. We’ll be singing on the way home. I think it’s the first time we’ve had four winners in a day,” said an elated Smith. “The Topham is definitely a race that he will be entered in. This is only the third time that the horse has won over fences, though he ran a good race in the Becher, and he’s been crying out for two-and-a-half miles and a little ease in the ground. The rain came after his race.
“Swing Hard ran well and the double at Catterick will settle Shane down and help his confidence.”
She also confirmed that Auroras Encore will continue preparations for his National defence in the Skybet Chase at Doncaster at the end of the month.
The aforementioned Mania completed a personal treble on Sandy Thomson’s Any Given Moment to take his winners for the current campaign to 30 – one shy of his personal best in 2009-10.
In a coincidence, Mr Moonshine’s brother Double Ross galloped through the rain and mud to follow up his December Gold Cup success at Cheltenham with victory in the Fairlawne Handicap Chase at the same course for Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies, while Willie Mullins’ top hurdler Annie Power extended her unbeaten run to nine with an impressive victory.
Oscar Whisky also strengthened his claims for what will probably be a tilt at the Jewson Novices’ Chase at the Festival with a clear-cut defeat of Taquin Du Seuil in the Cheltenham Pony Club Raceday Novices’ Chase.
His three-quarters of a length verdict might have been lessened had the runner-up not nodded on landing over the last with Tony McCoy, but the way Barry Geraghty’s mount galloped up the hill it is hard to imagine the result was affected.
Paddy Power cut Oscar Whisky to 8-1 (from 10s) for the Jewson.
Nicky Henderson is ready to give his 5-6 winner another outing ahead of the Festival, and said: “He was good all the way round and Barry was very clever not to force it early on. He’s come here twice this season and done that on his own, but thankfully not today, and it was quite nice to get a bit of competition.
“Barry has then taken it easy coming down the hill which was very sensible. Remembering he wasn’t that far off Champion Hurdle class we’ll put him in the Arkle as well, and that would be an option if it came up soft.”