KILCOOLEY beat off the challenge of the odds-on favourite Silsol to land Fontwell’s biggest prize of the year.
Noel Fehily rode the Charlie Longsdon-trained six-year-old superbly to take the lead a circuit out in the Totepool National Spirit Hurdle and hold off a sustained challenge from Sam Twiston-Davies on the Paul Nicholls-trained 4/9 favourite.
Kilcooley - one of two winners at the meeting tipped on this website - had two-and-three-quarter lengths to spare at the end of a race run in strong winds and steady rain, with the going underfoot getting heavier as the afterenoon wore on.
Last year’s winner of the £50,000 contest, Kayf Moss, ridden by Rhys Flint and trained by John Flint, was well back in fourth behind outside Cannon Fodder, itself 32 lengths behind the runner-up.
Trainer Longsdon was delighted by the victory (which you can see in the video, above) but said the horse wouldn’t go to the Cheltenham Festival, where he would struggle to win a handicap, but would instead be aimed at a conditions race at Aintree or Punchestown.
Joint owner John Wall said the win capped a dream weekend which had also seen him welcome a new grandchild to the family and celebrate his birthday.
It was hard going all afternoon for relatively-small fields and for the hardy crowd, significantly smaller in number than Fontwell bosses would have expected through the gates in dry weather.
The card kicked off with the totejackpot Josh Gifford Memorial Novices’ Chase for The Josh Gifford Cup - in memory of the legendary Sussex jockey and trainer who was a big ally of Fontwell Park. It was fittingly won by a home-county team of Gary and Jamie Moore with Leo Luna (5/4).
Tom Scudamore took the totepool Racing’s Biggest Supporter Handicap Chase on 5/4 favourite De Kerry Man while the totepool Supports The Racehorse Sanctuary Novices’ Hurdle was taken by Wuychwoods Brook (3/1), ridden by Adam Wedge.
Nicholls, out of luck in the National Spirit, did take the toteexacta Foxhunter Trial (An Open Hunters’ Chase) with No loose Change, ridden home at 1/3 by James King, while the totepoolliveinfo.com Handicap Hurdle went to Fontwell favourite Tom Cannon on the Chris Gordon-trained Very Noble (3/1).
That race saw a big mistake from Lucy Gardner, who admitted she thought there was another circuit to go after misjudging her ride on Sirop De Menthe. She is likely to face a lengthy ban.
The totetrifecta Maiden Open National Hunt Flat Race was won by Midnight Silver - also tipped on this website - with Brendan Powell on board for Jamie Snowden.
The next meeting at Fontwell is on Wednesday week - March 4 - and clerk of the course Ed Arkell, who along with his groundstaff deserves a big pat on the back for getting this fixture on, will be hoping a touch of spring replaces the rain and frost of recent weeks between now and then.
See reaction and pictures from the National Spirit Hurdle in the Chichester Observer - out on Thursday