WHEN the sad news came through two weeks ago that Malcolm Jefferson had died after a long illness, the reaction from the racing world was unequivocal; a brilliant trainer and an even better man.
He will be laid to rest today in Malton, where he trained for four decades, and in tomorrow’s Grade One Betfair Ascot Chase (3.35pm), WAITING PATIENTLY has the chance to give him the perfect send off.
This seven-year-old might just turn out to be the best horse the four-time Cheltenham Festival winning trainer ever handled.
Unbeaten in five starts over fences since moving from Keith Reveley in November 2016, the son of Flemensfirth has built up a fantastic partnership with jockey Brian Hughes.
He beat Tingle Creek winner Politologue in a Grade Two novices’ chase at Haydock just over a year ago and has been imperious in both starts this campaign.
Last month at Kempton he showed a lightning turn of foot to leave the likes of Art Mauresque, God’s Own and Smad Place toiling in a matter of strides.
Jefferson’s daughter Ruth is now in charge and tomorrow’s race was immediately nominated after his latest success.
Plenty of cut in the ground is important for him, so conditions should be absolutely ideal at Ascot following the recent wet spell.
He travels and jumps like a Grade One horse and although this won’t be easy, I think he looks the one to beat at 11/4 with Ladbrokes.
This is a very strong renewal of the race, though. Top Notch has won both his starts over fences this season and was only beaten a length by Yorkhill in last year’s JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
He’s a really gutsy little horse and will have no problem with the ground, so has to be afforded massive respect.
And then there’s Coney Island, who won a graduation chase over course and distance just before Christmas – his first start in almost a year after finishing second to Our Duke in a Grade One novices’ chase.
These are three very talented young horses, and it promises to be the most wonderful spectacle, but I just have a feeling that Waiting Patiently will turn out to be a little bit special.
However, it’s far from a three horse race with Cue Card going for his third win in the contest and the young and improving Frodon set to take on his elders.
If Cue Card was to come home in front, and repeat Monet’s Garden’s feat of winning this as a 12-year-old, the whole place will go berserk.
He was a comfortable winner 12 months ago, although that was a far weaker race than this and he just hasn’t looked quite the same horse this term.
Frodon is on the upgrade and has the added bonus of jockey of the season, Bryony Frost, in the saddle, but I just wonder if he is quite as classy as the three at the head of the market.
There is plenty of other decent action at the Berkshire track, not least the competitive Ascot Spring Garden Show Handicap Hurdle (3.00pm).
We won’t know the final field until later this morning, but earlier in the week the bookmakers installed Neil Mulholland’s Dieg Man as the market leader.
He has done nothing wrong on his two starts since moving from France, although they were both moderate affairs and this is a different ball game.
I’m going to give one last chance to LE PATRIOTE who regular readers may remember I put up for a competitive handicap hurdle at Cheltenham on Trials Day last month.
He was backed as if defeat was out of the question that day, but was ultimately a little disappointing in fourth and perhaps wasn’t suited by the drop back to 2m1f on terrible ground.
I can’t forget how well he was travelling in the Lanzarote Hurdle two starts ago and this 2m3½f trip should be perfect, so the 9/1 available with Coral looks very fair.
Le Patriote e/w 3.00pm Ascot
Waiting Patiently 3.35pm Ascot