RACING returned to Plumpton on Monday and there were a number of impressive winners on the card, as well as some stirring finishes for the 3,000-plus crowd to enjoy.
The one horse that managed to combine those two descriptives was Velator in the staying handicap hurdle.
After having travelled like a dream in the middle of the 14-strong field, the gelding made steady progress and at the top of the back straight he was sent up to dispute the lead.
By the time the field were on the turn for home, Velator was clear of his rivals and still tanking along under his conditional rider Rachel Green.
When she looked back she will have only seen one other rival in the shape of the Jim Best-trained Rocky Ryan who was making no inroads under champion jockey AP McCoy.
Then, at the second last, Velator made his only hurdling error of the race – and it was a serious one. Rachel managed to get her mount reorganised after having been stopped to nothing, but by the time they reached the final flight they had company and Green must have thought the worst when she realised she would have to go head to head with the legendary AP on the run-in.
However, her partner was back on an even keel and the ton he appeared to have in reserve before the second last became a reality and the combination were able to fend off the tenacious McCoy.
Considering his bad mistake at the penultimate flight this was an impressive performance by Velator and he looks a young stayer who will be able to cope with the step up in class this success will now demand.
This view was reflected by his trainer Anthony Honeyball post race: “Despite that awkward moment, he won well. He is a galloper and I thought the ground today was a bit sticky for him.
“He will definitely benefit from a faster surface than this and I will most likely give him a three to five week break and am quite confident he can progress. He has schooled over fences and next season I think he will make a nice chaser.”
Another horse to catch the eye on the day was the Sheena Wes-trained Mr Muddle whom I am sure will have pleased the Falmer-based trainer with his return from a near year long spell on the sidelines.
He made a prominent showing on Monday until fatigue kicked in turning for home, from which point he steadily weakened. The grey youngster was campaigned in some decent juvenile events last season, including the Adonis Hurdle and the Fred Winter at the Cheltenham Festival.
Although those ambitions proved to be beyond his reach, he still managed to finish that campaign with a win here at Plumpton over two miles and five furlongs. This outing will have done him the power of good and when the ground quickens he will hopefully once again come into his own and a strongly run two-mile handicap hurdle or possibly another half mile should suit him well. I could see him returning to Plumpton for the two-day Easter meeting and finding a winning opportunity.
With just under two weeks until the start of the Cheltenham Festival, trainers are now at the stage where the insomnia is kicking in as they fret about the wellbeing of their horses prior to the centrepiece of the National Hunt season. Some have already had their hopes dashed by misfortune, for example Phillip Hobbs with ante post favourite Fingal Bay.
Personally, my sleepless nights will revolve around Darlan, whose fall in the Betfair Hurdle was so painful but for whom sweet recompense awaits in the Supreme Hurdle.