Trainer Fergal O’Brien was visibly delighted in the winners’ enclosure after Perfect Candidate gave him another big race success in the BetVictor.com Handicap Chase at Cheltenham this afternoon.
The 7/1 shot was recording his third victory at Cheltenham and gave O’Brien his second success in this race following Alvarado’s win in 2013.
Jockey Paddy Brennan had to work hard on the 10-year-old but his mount responded after the pair got into a protracted battle with eventual third Three Faces West coming down the hill.
Runner-up Vicente stalked this pair but Perfect Candidate always had his measure, though the winner had to dig deep as the runner-up renewed his challenge with a strong finish on the run-in.
Both Brennan and Perfect Candidate had enough in reserve though to hold on, a neck being the margin of victory as they passed the post.
O’Brien’s stable has been in rude health over the past few weeks and the trainer is delighted to see his horses running so well.
“Paddy made this horse today,” said the trainer.
“We came here on the back of a nice run before and Paddy has made his mind up for him today. These sort of fields suit him – small fields – and he probably lacks a gear for a National but he certainly rides like a National horse.
“We were lucky today with Minella Rocco (pulled up) being declared as we got in on a nice weight and the ground’s come right for him.
“For three weeks in a row now, Paddy Brennan has been amazing. He just gave everything and gave the horse every chance. I’m delighted and I’m very lucky to have both the horse and jockey. The horse runs so well round here so it’s probably easier to ride him round here. He’s a phenomenal horse. We bought him for £16,000 I think and he’s done both the owners (ISL Recruitment) and myself proud.
“We’ll see how he comes out of this – the Becher Chase (at Aintree) will probably come too soon for him. This was always the plan though – we’ll just have to see. He looks like a National horse and runs like a National horse so we’ll just have to see.”
PADDY PRAISE FOR NIGEL THROUGH FERGAL
Jockey Paddy Brennan has high hopes for the Fergal O’Brien-trained Grageelagh Girl in today’s closing bumper, so he was delighted to grab a win on the way when taking the BetVictor.com Handicap Chase.
Riding Perfect Candidate (7/1), also trained in the Cotswolds by O’Brien, Brennan won by a neck from the fast-finishing Vicente with early pace-setter Three Faces West another 17 lengths back in third. Fancied Minella Rocco and Premier Bond both pulled up.
Brennan was full of praise for the winning trainer, but also for Nigel Twiston-Davies, who once employed O’Brien as an assistant trainer in the days when Brennan was first-choice jockey at the same yard.
As he returned to scale, Brennan said of O’Brien: “What a trainer! He has campaigned him beautifully. He’s a horse that takes a bit of stoking up at times, but he wanted it today as much as me. I was happy he was a little slow at the last, because I was conscious of using my stick and wanted another horse to come to me.
“He jumps too well sometimes, and goes up in the air, but he was brilliant today and it’s always good to get winners, especially here – hopefully we get another one today. The mare in the bumper was our best chance coming here today, so to pinch one on the way is nice.
“Fergal learned from the best. Nigel Twiston-Davies is for me the best trainer of a jumper that I’ve ridden for in England – I say that of a horse rated 80 or 160, and Fergal learnt from him. One day he could be the best himself.”
RUNNER-UP VICENTE MAY BE AINTREE-BOUND
Dual Scottish National winner Vicente narrowly missed out on victory in the BetVictor.com Handicap Chase, making a mistake at the last fence and finishing just a neck behind winner Perfect Candidate.
9/2 chance Vicente, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Harry Cobden, fell at the first in last season’s Randox Health Grand National, but Nicholls indicated that his path may lie in that direction again.
“He just landed in a heap at the last and that cost him a bit,” said Nicholls. “It’s not his ground really, that’s why he’s so good in the spring. He jumps a bit better on it and gets away from his fences. But he’s got loads of stamina and nearly got there today. It was a great run for his first of the season.
“God knows where we go now, we’ll see. Whether we have a look at the Becher Chase in three weeks time and give him a practice, but he’s had a hard race today and we’ll have to see how he is. He is always better in the spring, although he has won here before at this meeting. I’m really thrilled with that run.”
Cobden added: “He doesn’t really like the ground – he jumps much better on better ground. He jumped the last, there wasn’t really a stride there and he half-landed in a heap. The other horse [Perfect Candidate] jumped it well – it probably cost us the race.
“But he’s run a blinder and I’d love to ride him in the National one day. All he does is stay and gallop; a bit better ground underfoot and I’d say he’d be a great spin.”
JOHNSON STILL SMILING AFTER FACES IS THIRD
Richard Johnson was pleased with the performance of the Philip Hobbs-trained Three Faces West (5/1) who finished third in the G3 BetVictor.com Handicap Chase, the third race on day two, BetVictor Gold Cup Day, of the November Meeting.
The long-time leader jumped well throughout the extended three mile and three furlong event, but having his first start in 339 days, the nine-year-old son of Dr Massini tired late on as Fergal O’Brien’s 7/1 shot Perfect Candidate edged out Paul Nicholls’ well supported Vicente (9/2) by a neck, with a further 17 lengths back to Hobbs’ charge.
Champion Jump jockey Johnson said: “He hasn’t run for nearly a year so you have to say, that was a very good first run back after all that time off in very testing conditions.
“I’m not sure where he goes now but he is still improving and that run was a nice return, so hopefully there will be some nice staying chases to go for with him now.
“He is only a young horse with time on his side, so hopefully there is plenty more to come from him throughout the rest of the season.”
1.50pm BetVictor.com Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
1 PERFECT CANDIDATE (ISL Recruitment) Fergal O’Brien 10-10-12 Paddy Brennan 7/1
2 Vicente (Trevor Hemmings) Paul Nicholls 8-10-10 Harry Cobden 9/2
3 Three Faces West (Paul & Clare Rooney) Philip Hobbs 9-10-07 Richard Johnson 5/1
4/1 Fav Premier Bond (pulled-up)
Distances: nk, 17
Tote Win: £7.90 Places: £1.90; £1.70; £1.90 Exacta: £40.80
To view a replay of the race, please click here –