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Ascot Chase report

There may have been only seven runners, but common consensus beforehand suggested that yesterday’s Betfair Ascot Chase promised to be one of the deepest steeplechases run on British soil this season in terms of quality.  And the race delivered on its promise, as Waiting Patiently got the better of the evergreen Cue Card in an epic race that was laced with emotion. 

Waiting Patiently was trained by the late Malcolm Jefferson until the trainer’s death two weeks ago.  The Flemensfirth gelding was unbeaten over fences for his late trainer: he had run in five chases, and he had won all five.

Daughter Ruth took over the training of the horses and, yesterday, less than 24 hours after her father’s funeral, sent Waiting Patiently out to land the biggest prize of his career to date. 

“I’m thrilled to bits,” said the trainer.  “Dad would be so proud.  I’m thrilled for everyone at home and I’m thrilled for his owner Richard Collins.  And I must thank Richard because he sent the horse to Dad, not to me.”

The race itself was a thriller, characterised by an unforgiving and metronomic  gallop that tested character and constitution as much as it tested talent and pace and stamina.  There was no let-up form flagfall as Cue Card, Frodon and Speredek vied for the early lead.  Each of the three horses took the field along at various junctures, but it was Cue Card who made the lead his own as they raced down the side of the track. 

By that stage, Coney Island had had enough and Top Notch was starting to show the signs of strain under the unrelenting pace, but Brian Hughes was just beginning to manoeuvre Waiting Patiently into position.  He moved into Cue Card’s slipstream at the top of the home straight on the run to the second last fence, and he joined him on the landing side of the obstacle.

Hughes allowed himself a little look under his left shoulder between the final two fences to check see if Top Notch was stalking, to see if anything was going to come at him, but the glance revealed that his only real danger was to his right, as Cue Card responded gamely to rider Paddy Brennan’s urgings. 

Waiting Patiently got in a little tight to the final fence, but he landed a length in front of Cue Card and moved across to the inside rail.  When he did, Brennan switched Cue Card off the rail and asked him for one final effort but, in truth, Cue Card had nothing left to give.  Colin Tizzard’s stalwart had given his all once again.  On nearly any other day, against nearly any other opponent, it would have been enough.  It was just that yesterday, he came up against a top-class young rival who is five years his junior and who is going places.

“He was brilliant all the way around,” said Tizzard of Cue Card.  “It’s a relief.  We have had nine seasons with him and he only ever runs in big races.  That’s because he’s such a good horse.  The winner must be a really good horse.”

As Brian Hughes pulled Waiting Patiently up after crossing the winning line, he blew a kiss skywards, pointed to the heavens and draped his body for a moment around the horse’s neck.

“He’d be bollocking me because I got there too soon!”

Waiting Patiently was a good hurdler for Keith Reveley two seasons ago, but he has climbed higher as he has matured and started to jump fences.  And there is still no knowing how high he could go.

Malcolm Jefferson did not over-face him last season as a novice chaser, he raced him just three times, and he didn’t race him at all last term after January.  His late trainer was happy to allow him all the time that he needed, and he only allowed him race on easy ground.  

The horse was well-named.

“This could have been his Cheltenham,” said Ruth Jefferson, “because we don’t know what type of ground we will get at Cheltenham.  And even if we get soft ground there, we might stop and think about it.  We don’t want to rush him.  He might not be a horse who wants a lot of racing.”

Looks like the Jefferson patience that has yielded such rich dividends to date is set to continue.

© The Sunday Times, 18th February 2018