Premier Magic springs 66/1 shock in Festival Hunter Chase
Premier Magic sprung a 66/1 shock by landing a dramatic edition of the St. James’s Places Festival Challenge Cup Hunters’ Chase.
Chris O’Donovan had a set a strong tempo from flag fall aboard the prolific winning pointer Rocky’s Howya, and such was the pace that the race was run at, few horses ever landed a challenging blow as the contenders were swiftly thinned down well before the fourth-last.
Bradley Gibbs brought his mount Premier Magic, a horse that he also trains himself, to tackle the long-time leader approaching the home bend, and from the second-last fence he had the measure of Rocky’s Howya who could not pick-up following his pace-setting exertions.
That was not the end of the dramas however, because as much as the recent Walrus victor Famous Clermont loomed menacingly in the home straight as a danger, he failed to stay the 3m 2f trip, which left loose horses as the big danger on the run-in.
The loose horse who had preceded the field up the run-in began to stop forcing Premier Magic to weave a passage around him, but Rocky’s Howya was not as fortunate and was almost stopped in his tracks by the loose horse costing him second.
That allowed fellow Irish challenger It’s On The Line to come from a mile back and take the runners-up spot, a length three quarters behind the winner.
50/1 shot Shantou Flyer took third ahead of Rocky’s Howya, with Chris’s Dream a further two and a half lengths back in fifth.
The favourite Vaucelet had chased the leaders throughout much of the contest, however he came under pressure from the third-last fence and was unable to pick-up, completing in seventh, with Le Malin the last of the Irish to finish in nineth.
Dorking Cock, The Storyteller and Brain Power all pulled-up, whilst the defending champion Billaway was a midrace casualty.
Winning jockey and trainer Bradley Gibbs said: “This just doesn’t happen to people like me, you know? I’m from a small village in Wales [Ynysybwl] and probably used to train just four, five horses, and built it up and built it up, and thank God we landed on one like this.
“A good friend of mine from Ireland, Jimmy Kelly, buys all my horses for me and he bought this one four or five years ago and paid £5,000 for him. ‘This is a right one’, he said, and thank God he was right. He’s a very good judge and I’ve had plenty of nice horses off him.
“I brought him here last year off the back of two wins, and I couldn’t see him being out of the first four. I tried riding him down the inside and it just got tight and he got stage fright, really, and just backed out of it.
“He only did a circuit and I pulled him up. I was going to run another mare here - she didn’t make it, and entries were shutting, so I said to my fiancée Claire Sherriff - her and her father own him - that we were going to come once more, give it one more try, and if it didn’t work, we wouldn’t come back. We put the cheekpieces on today for the first time - Jimmy and I spoke a few days ago and he said to try them.
“He jumped and travelled everywhere today, and coming down the hill I was hoping to God I wouldn’t get caught, but I knew he would keep galloping to the line.
“I was having a good run on the first circuit round the outside, and the loose horses just came in and across me and it was just starting to get a bit messy. Down the back to four out one came across me again, and even halfway up the run-in my horse got to it and then stopped, and I thought, oh no, please don’t stop halfway up the run-in, but he got going again and thank God, he stayed there to the line. The run-in felt like about five miles long today!
“This is huge for British point-to-pointing. You’ve got all the top boys here, like Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins, running today, and for a Welshman to win it - that doesn’t happen very often. The bigger trainers normally rule races like these, and we are genuine point-to-point people. It’s good for us to come and be able to win one of these races.
“I’m in Hertfordshire now, training out of my fiancée’s father’s farm. We’ve got an eight-month old son [Hadley Oliver Gibbs] and we didn’t have anyone to babysit him today so she had to stay at home with him. My dad normally comes everywhere with me but he’s in hospital today having a heart operation. Dad asked if they could move it to next week or do it a week before but they said no, today is the day we’ve got to do it. I haven’t spoken to him yet, but fingers crossed everything will be fine.
“I’ve ridden 230-odd point-to-point winners. I had a big start off Dad - he just bought me what he could, went through the pony racing and showjumping, then Dad started buying a few pointers for me; we weren’t spending much money, but it got me going, thank God, and we had a good step up when we moved to Claire’s father’s farm in Hertfordshire near Lemsford. It’s our third season training out of there - we had 15 winners the first season and 21 the second season, and now we’ve had a Cheltenham Foxhunters winner!”
Premier Magic had started his career point-to-pointing in Ireland where he ran three times without success at Bartlemy, Ballysteen and Dromahane for Mark Cahill.