Willmount dazzles on hurdling debut as jump racing returns to Newbury with four local winners
Willmount dazzled on his debut over hurdles for Nicky Henderson as jump racing returned to Newbury on Thursday.
There were four West Berkshire winners on the eight-race card as the jump season belatedly got underway at Newbury, a fortnight after the track's scheduled two-day curtain-raiser was called-off following wet weather.
Legendary Lambourn handler Henderson doubled up after Gentleman's Relish followed Willmount's impressive performance with an assured showing of his own while up-and-coming trainer Harry Derham, who is based in Boxford, also celebrated two wins thanks to Brentford Hope and Young Butler.
And Willmount, who won two bumpers at Doncaster for Neil Mulholland before owner Olly Harris opted to move him to Henderson's yard, lived up to his big billing as he stormed to victory in the 2m1/2f novice hurdle contest, finishing 13 lengths clear of his closest challenger.
Meanwhile, Gentleman's Relish justified his price as 11/4 favourite with a comfortable six length success in the afternoon's penultimate race.
Having failed to live up to expectations on his debut when finishing 11th from 13 in a Class 2 bumper at the same track back in March, the four-year-old got off the mark under Nico de Boinville with a performance that put any doubts the Seven Barrows team may have had emphatically to bed.
“I thought he would run very well in the Doncaster sales bumper,” Henderson said.
“He ran no race at all, he was bitterly disappointing.
“It was like he didn’t know what he was doing.
“We rode him completely differently the other day and he was terrific. It was a very impressive performance.
“He’ll go straight over hurdles now so he’s going to join that group of novice hurdlers we’ve got.
“It’s like he’s won his maiden hurdle when he hasn’t had a maiden hurdle.”
Dual Cheltenham Festival runner-up Jonbon walked the parade ring ahead of his season reappearance this week.
Henderson told The Racing Post: “He was fine. I just wanted him to have a day out and let off some steam.
“He's been here several times just for a little walk around and it takes it out of his system before he runs at Cheltenham.”
Meanwhile, fledgling trainer Harry Derham was rewarded for sending Brentford Hope to Newbury rather than Ascot when the six-year-old won the afternoon’s opening race.
Out of Camelot, the six-year-old, who has now won on three of his last four starts, had an entry for the Balmoral Handicap at Ascot’s QIPCO British Champions Day but Derham opted to send him to Newbury instead, feeling he was not quite ready for the Class 2 contest.
Derham, who spent six years as assistant trainer to his uncle Paul Nicholls, enjoyed a stellar first season after taking out his license and now boasts more than 50 horses in his new purpose-built yard, as well as support from Grand National winning handler Oliver Sherwood.
And the young trainer was all smiles after Brentford Hope finished 16 lengths clear in the handicap for conditional jockeys on his seasonal reappearance.
Derham’s day got even better when Young Butler served up a second win for his team, holding off a strong challenge to finish two lengths clear in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.
“All I was told was the Balmoral on deep ground might work for him (Brentford Hope), but he wasn’t ready for it,” Derham told The Racing Post.
“I’ve got some numerical targets, but I didn’t tell anyone what they were last season and I’m not going to say what they are this season.
“I’m lucky, I’ve got a great group of staff, nice horses and very supportive owners.”
Racegoers can now look forward to Newbury’s two most prestigious National Hunt races before the end of the year.
The Coral Gold Cup takes place on Saturday, December 2 while the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle will be held as usual on New Year’s Eve.