Grit your teeth, keep slogging, and ultimately the winning post will appear.
The message is simple, and applies to anyone caught in the grip of an intense medical battle, or to a dour staying chaser which ploughs through the mud to land the odds on an inspiring blue sky Sunday afternoon at Towcester.
So it was fitting the locally trained Smart Exit (7/2) should ultimately repel all challengers in the 3m Macmillan Cancer Support Charity Handicap Chase, holding on grimly by a neck under jockey Joshua Moore from 14/1 shot Samson Collonges, who loomed as a great white hope on the outside in the shadow of the post.
“Race two, number two.” The words had been fired back instantly to me like repetitive bullets from a machine gun by Andrew Rogers when I had asked him for his £25 charity bet provided by Semilong Sports, while speaking on the phone on the Friday afternoon.
The horse it identified was Smart Exit and since West Haddon-based Rogers was the man whose loss of wife of Juanita last February had inspired the Macmillan occasion, it paid to take notice of any gut feeling. Just for good measure, the Macmillan team, in which I was proud to count myself a figure on the day, gave Smart Exit the best turned out horse award as well.
“I didn’t know race two was the Macmillan race when I said that,” admitted Rogers as a fitting tribute to Juanita and my own wife Caroline drew to a close for over 120 guests in the Pomfret Suite of Towcester’s Grace Stand.
While dust has yet to settle on fundraising activity following an afternoon in which hot tips, the somewhat cooler version, auction lots and raffle prizes flew around like confetti, at least £5,000 has been raised for the fighting fund. Probably much more.
Optimism was high my own stab at a topical Sunday charity bet would also succeed when the Kim Bailey-trained Milord landed in front over the last flight of the opening 2m novices’ hurdle, only to crumple on moving away.
Bailey, the man who had trained the 33/1 shot Such A Legend at Kempton in February which in part inspired this day, has seen it all before and took defeat gracefully while sipping a glass of red wine.
“The jockey (Jason Maguire) said he felt the horse’s legs go from under him and they just kept going,” Bailey remarked.
Towcester’s heavy ground was at least in part for responsible for this and the chief beneficiary was the Jim Old-trained Pink Gin (12/1) ridden by Mark Grant.
Ironically, one of Old’s owners is the Racing Post writer David Ashforth who has himself been embroiled in a battle with prostate cancer. Ashforth was at Towcester on a day that the unique Northamptonshire course offered free prostate screening in the Hurdle and Chase marquee.
Only two outright favourites obliged on the seven-race card, with Pearlysteps (6/4) taking the hunters’ chase by a wide margin from Gunmoney en route to a possible stab at the Foxhunters’ Chase at Cheltenham while Tidal Dancer (5/6) landed the 3m novices’ hurdle for Towcester specialists Venetia Williams and Aidan Coleman.
Dramatic late surges to the front in hurdle contests were the order of the day for winners Oscar Prairie (7/1) Twoways (16/1) while trainer Bill Turner and jockey Tommy Phelan had compensation for a last fence fall here a month ago when Freckle Face (100/30) took the 2m handicap chase.