Owner Chris Giles will be chasing Grade One glory at the Cheltenham Festival next week and he warmed up in perfect style with a big race double at his favourite track Sandown Park highlighted by the victory of Iceo in the Betfair Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle.
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) March 11, 2023
Armed with the likes of Greaneteen in the Betway Champion Chase and Stay Away Fay in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle the Scottish-born owner was all smiles after the Paul Nicholls-trained five year old bounced back to winning ways in the £100,000 feature.
Having finished second over course and distance in January the Coastal Path gelding showed the benefit of that outing when getting the better of Knickerbockerglory late on to score for the first time since making a winning British debut in December 2021.
In what was stamina sapping conditions the well supported 5-1 chance worked his way into contention before sweeping past the prominently ridden Knickerbockerglory on the run down to the final flight.
After working his way to the front Iceo stayed on resolutely under Harry Cobden before prevailing by three and three quarter lengths to give both Cobden and trainer Paul Nicholls their second win in the Premier Handicap after taking it for the first time in 2019 with Malaya.
Giles said: “This is fantastic to do it at Sandown which is my favourite track. It gives me some betting funds for the week. I think everyone had a little bit but I certainly had a little bit this week, a little bit every day.
“It was a great plan from his trainer after he ran here the last day so it is nice to see the plan succeed.”
While Grade One-winning rider Cobden came in for praise from Nicholls, the Ditcheat handler was also quick to pay thanks to fellow rider Lorcan Williams for the work he had put in behind the scenes.
Nicholls said: “He ran well here a couple of months ago having been off for a year with a tiny fracture on his cannon bone. We had to give him time and he needed that run. I said one race we will aim for is the Imperial Cup and pray it rains.
“The rain came for him, he stays strongly and it was the perfect ride. Today was always the plan and Chris has been backing him all week. If the ground would have been good they might have gone too quick for him. He wants a trip really
“I thought he would finish fifth or sixth the last day and it looked like he was going to win jumping the last but he just got tired. At the stage of fitness, he was there was huge improvement to come. I knew we had him right today.
“Lorcan Williams rides him every day at home as he is keen at home. He has done a brilliant job with him at home. If ever there was a day Harry couldn’t ride him he would have a chance on him. He said yesterday that horse was in the best shape you could have him in. He was very confident he was well.
Although he Iceo holds entries in both the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle and the Martine Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at The Festival on Gold Cup Day, the 13-times champion Jump trainer hinted the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr could be next up.
Nicholls continued: “Looking at him there I’d say going to Cheltenham is unlikely as Harry said he had a hard race. We are not chasing any bonus.
“Chris would love to have a runner at Ayr so if the Scottish Champion Hurdle was testing ground we could run him there.”
Giles’ first winner came courtesy of Crambo who scooped the biggest success of his career in the European Breeders’ Fund Betfair “National Hunt” Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final.
After bouncing back from pulling up in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December with victory at Bangor-on-Dee last time out the Fergal O’Brien-trained six year old took his record to three wins from four starts in the two and a half mile Premier Handicap.
Despite being headed in between the final two flights by eventual runner-up Inneston the 15-2 chance, who Giles joint-owns with Jared Sullivan, rallied well under Connor Brace before forging on to score by half a length.
Giles said: “I think hopefully he will be a novice chaser next season but what a nice race to win. We were never confident as it was a competitive race fiendishly difficult but you are hopeful in these sort of races.
“He has done nothing wrong. I would take him to Ayr next. I’ve got dinner with Fergal on Friday night with Sally (Randell, partner). I will try bully into taking him to Ayr!
“My son-in-law thinks he is a future staying hurdle but he will get a fence. He has a lovely attitude as he was headed then came back.
“I said to Connor you will never got off that horse again, but I think he deserves to be up.”
Looking ahead to next week Giles reports Greaneteen to be ‘A1’ for in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, which he is a general 25-1 chance for.
He said: “Greaneteen is in great form. He had a racecourse gallop the other day and he was out this morning with Paul (Nicholls, trainer). He is A1 and he is ready for it.
“It is competitive race. I always do think he is underrated, as he has won three Grade Ones. I do think he goes left-handed as he was fourth in the Champion Chase two years ago so let’s see
“I think Stay Away Fay is chaser for the future and the Albert Bartlett is incredibly competitive but you have got to go there and have a go.
“We have Il Ridoto in the Plate and he has got good form as well. Paul thinks he is a Grade One horse but it has taken a while to work him out. I think the headgear helped last time when he won there so he has got to have a chance.”
Gary Moore praised the tenacity of Spirit D’Aunouwho completed a hat-trick of victories for the season after following up successes at Huntingdon and Ludlow when grounding out victory by half a length in the Racing Only Bettor Podcast Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Moore said of the successful 5-6 Favourite: “He was a four year old carrying a lot of weight out there so it wasn’t going to be easy for him.
“I know the second horse (Havaila) had shown much but he still had to give it a lot of weight (12lbs) and he was by Le Havre and he would have loved soft ground and I didn’t know if this horse would go in it or not, but he is a very genuine horse and I like him a lot.
“He has done nothing wrong. He should have won first time but he was a baby and hadn’t run before.
“He is still a baby learning and he is going to improve with racing and time. I’d like to think he would go to Ascot in early April for that (big juvenile) handicap there.”