Trainer Paul Nicholls labelled Old Guard a ‘different horse’ this season after he ran out the comfortable winner of the StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham this afternoon.
The four-year-old was given a cool ride by his inexperienced pilot Harry Cobden but the 17-year-old proved to be value for his 7lb claim and brought Old Guard through with a withering run between the second last and final hurdles to take up the running and the pair bounded clear to win their second consecutive race at Prestbury Park this season following a victory at The Showcase meeting in October.
Nicholls admitted he had been impressed with the improvement that Old Guard has shown so far in this campaign and reckoned he would have to set his sights higher in future.
“I said to his new owners at the end of last season (the Brooks, Kyle and Stewart families which include prominent owner Andy Stewart and TV personality Jeremy Kyle) that once he’d had a summer out, he would be a different animal,” said Nicholls.
“Nothing could have been truer. He’d been on the Flat and was weak and backward but he’s just matured out and improved and today he looked stunning beforehand. I was slightly worried about the ground but the boy (Cobden) gave him a fantastic ride. He’s only a young lad but he rides very well. I said to him to be cool, keep taking a pull and ride to the last. He’s just 17 but he’s very, very talented and will go a long way if we look after him.
“The horse is improving rapidly. The last horse I had that won this race like that was Rigmarole (who won in 2004) who went on to win the Bula Hurdle (now the StanJames International) on his next start. I don’t know what we’ll do but maybe we’ll aim higher on his next start. He’s obviously improving rapidly and I think that handicaps could be out.”
Nicholls also had news of his other runner, Bouvreuil, who finished 15th of 16 finishers.
“He wants to go chasing I think. I said recently that he would improve for the run as he was in a bit late but he wants to go jumping fences.”
Seventeen-year-old conditional jockey Harry Cobden pulled off the biggest success of his short career when taking the StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle by two lengths on Old Guard, trained by Cobden’s boss Paul Nicholls.
It was Cobden’s second Cheltenham win – his first came on Old Guard at the Showcase Meeting in October, when the pair took the Harrison James & Hardie Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
Cobden said: “That was absolutely unbelievable. He travelled, he jumped and just scooted up the hill. An amazing feeling.
“I’d like to thank Mr Nicholls and the owners for giving me the opportunity to ride him. He’s more of a good-ground horse and that’s why I travelled wide; he just took off and careered away with the race. This is my career highlight.
“I’d say my forte is patience when it comes to riding and that was what he needed today.
“He handled the ground – I was a bit worried coming into it, but he handled it fine. I think there could be more improvement in him.”
“It means absolutely everything.”
Harry Skelton is looking forward to more to come from Superb Story, after the four-year-old finished two lengths behind winner Old Guard in the StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle.
The son of Duke Of Marmalade moved from Charlie Mann to join Dan Skelton this season and Harry is confident he will only improve for this run.
Harry said: “I’m delighted with him, he jumped well, the problem was they just didn’t go a very strong gallop. I think a stronger gallop will suit him better.”
Looking a head to a possible run at The Festival, Harry added: “We will just have to wait and see – March is a long way off yet. But on that run it looks like he could come back”
Owner J P McManus was pleased with his runner Waxies Dargle, who just couldn’t seem to get on terms with the front pair up the hill and finished third for trainer Noel Meade and jockey Barry Geraghty.
McManus said: “He ran well and jumped nicely. He just met two horses that were too good for him. But he ran on nicely up the hill. I’m looking forward to him.”