Farewell Rajdhani Express

REI don’t blog often these days, but couldn’t let the passing of my old favourite, Rajdhani Express go unmarked. He suffered a fatal injury today after jumping the eleventh fence in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree, the scene of his greatest victory just over 6 months ago, when he won the Topham over the Grand National fences.

The bonny looking brown gelding first caught my eye when he won the novices’ handicap chase at the festival in 2013. I’ve followed him since through thick and (mostly) thin. I was convinced for some time he had a Ryanair in him, and backed him at fat prices for the 2014 running, where he finished 3rd, beaten just under 5 lengths by Dynaste. I backed him again ante-post (and tipped him numerous times here and on Twitter) for the 2015 running, but he had an unusual season, and it became apparent halfway through that connections would go down the handicap route.

Every time he ran he carried my cash, and I was as frustrated for the horse as I was for myself that his luck never seemed in. He unseated in the Old Roan on his seasonal debut, then raced so keenly at Ascot he exhausted himself by two out. He was keen again next time in the Peterborough Chase, and finished lame. He showed much more of his talent next time at Kempton in his first attempt at three miles, when a first-time hood helped him settle much better. But the ground was awful that day, and he faded badly in the closing stages. Still, he seemed to be coming right for Cheltenham, and I backed  him ante-post for The Festival Plate.

But he was luckless again there, meeting some trouble in running at a vital point and finding himself shuffled back through the pack to a very difficult pitch. Sam Waley-Cohen wisely accepted things as soon as it happened and let him come home in his own time. He finished full of running in 8th, beaten under 8 lengths. I’d said here before this race that Cheltenham was his last chance saloon, but I remained convinced that all he needed was a change of luck.

So out came the wallet and back in I went at 14s for The Topham. He’d started the season on a mark of 158 and raced at Aintree off 152. His claiming rider, Sam Waley-Cohen, son of the owner, Robert, has one of the best records over the big fences of any jockey, pro or amateur, and I think he could easily hold his own as a professional. He’s the only amateur ever to win a King George VI Chase (twice on Long Run). And he’s the only amateur in the past 30 years to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup (Long Run).

Watching him ride that Topham showed just why he’s so successful over the National fences. Rather than holding a line on the inside or outside, his aim always was to stay safe, and he’d weave around to wherever he felt in least danger of being brought down (he avoided a five-horse melee at the Canal Turn). It was plain a long way out that the fine-jumping gelding wouldn’t be beaten, and, aside from winning back everything times ten I’d bet on him, I was  delighted that it had all finally come together for the horse and his connections.

At 14s he was also the first leg of a £10 double for me, which I’d placed on both my biggest Festival disappointments, ‘just in case’ (regular punters will know the philosophy well). The second leg, at 28/1, was Many Clouds for the National. Forgive the after-timing, but it helps demonstrate just why I was so fond of this horse.

Rajdhani Express raced 27 times (including today). His first official rating was 135. He started today off 160, his highest ever rating. You’ll know by now that I believe he should have won more than 6 times (2 hurdles. 4 Chases). Still just 8, he’d have carried my cash again for the Festival and Aintree this season, because all I ever thought he needed was a bit of good luck. Today he had the worst. I’ll miss him.




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