The Ladbrokes Winter Carnival got underway today, with a fascinating seven-race card which delivered tremendous racing on a glorious day at Newbury Racecourse.

Unowhatimeanharry back to form

Unowhatimeanharry wins the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle for the second time
Image supplied by Newbury Racecourse

The Harry Fry-trained Unowhatimeanharry regained his Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle crown with a pulsating victory under Barry Geraghty in the feature race on day one of the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival.

Successful in the 2016 renewal and second last year, the 10-year-old son of Sir Harry Lewis, who runs in the colours of J P McManus, took the lead approaching the final flight and responded willingly to Geraghty’s urgings in the closing stages to score by two and a half-lengths from Clyne (Evan Williams/Adam Wedge) and the gallant The Mighty Don (Nick Gifford/Leighton Aspell), who was a further two lengths behind in third.

Unowhatimeanharry, registering his seventh Graded victory also became the first horse since Big Buck’s (2009-2012) to win multiple renewals of the three-mile contest.

Winning trainer Fry admitted watching the finish of the race was “slightly strange” as he also saddled Momella (Noel Fehily), who fell at the second last, bringing down Sam Spinner (Jedd O’Keeffe/Joe Colliver). Wholestone (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Daryl Jacob) came home last of the five finishers.

Fry said: “Unowhatimeanharry did it well. It was a slightly strange finish to watch as I was trying to keep an eye on Noel and Momella to check they were OK, as well as watching the actual finish. Thankfully, Noel and Momella are fine.

“Unowhatimeanharry has just been an incredible horse for us. He hasn’t won for over a year and it looked last year as if things were on the wane.

“He went back to Martinstown (the owner’s stud) over the summer. He had a good break and they looked after him brilliantly. We did a few little things with him too, including tweaking his wind and we have been really happy with him this autumn.

“He ran well at Aintree earlier on his seasonal debut as he probably doesn’t have the speed for two miles and four furlongs nowadays, but we took plenty of encouragement from that.

“We put the cheekpieces on today to encourage him to travel better through his races and we knew today that he was an older boy who has been there and done it, so we were hopeful.

“He didn’t have a penalty for the first time today in this event and we are delighted to get him back in the winners enclosure.

“Unowhatimeanharry has done us so proud and I am just delighted he has won again. The cheekpieces and the slower ground have definitely helped him today.

“Watching the replay, I thought it wasn’t likely we were going to win, but Barry said that he jumped his way into contention – he is a brilliant horse.

“We will enjoy today, before making any other plans. We are just enjoying the fact that he has given us another big day.

“Unowhatimeanharry has been an extraordinary horse for us. When he joined us three years ago, he was a 123 rated maiden and he is now a 12-time winner, a three-time Grade One winner and this is the second time he has won this race. You cannot script it, this is just extraordinary.

“I am not suggesting he is as good as he was. That is why it is great to have him back winning, especially after the way he ended last season. We will enjoy this moment because he has been a fantastic horse for us.

“Some of my horses went off the boil last season. It was not our best season and things did not happen but, touch wood, we have made a few changes at home and they seem to be clicking into gear nicely. It is credit to all the team at home and their hard work. Hopefully, we can keep the ball rolling now.

“We will take it one race at a time with Harry. Obviously, the Long Walk Hurdle, Ascot, December 22nd) is three weeks away and that looks the natural stepping stone. We will see how he comes out of this.”

Tomorrow Dorset-based Fry saddles American in the Ladbrokes Trophy. The eight-year-old, was pulled-up last year. Tomorrow Fry’s sister-in-law Aine O’Connor takes the ride as a 5lb-claiming amateur.

Fry continued: “The more rain tomorrow morning, the better, that is for sure. We learnt a lot coming into this race with American last year. He is a year older and we are a bit wiser about it.

“We did not let him down completely over the summer. We kept him on the go to a certain level and that has made him much easier to train this autumn, so we have been able to do more with him at home and hopefully we will see that on the racecourse if we get the rain.

“We had the choice of going up to Newcastle. Even Noel talked himself out of the ride up there, so we had to give the Ladbrokes Trophy another go, particularly with only 13 runners.

“Aine takes off a very valuable 5lb. She knows him very well, as she has worked and schooled him plenty.

“He comes in with a different sort of profile compared to 12 months ago, slightly under the radar, which we are very happy about, and if he could run into a place we would be delighted.”

Barry Geraghty said: “Unowhatimeanharry was definitely sharper in the cheekpieces today, but I would say a lot of things helped – the three miles on winter ground, more of a test, and he was getting a nice bit of weight too. It was a race Harry had picked out and it was well-targeted.

“Racing behind the bridle is his style. You are not throwing the kitchen sink at him, you are just giving him a little wake up and he finds for you. The one thing you know is that he is going to stay.

“I was fairly happy all the way. I thought I had the fancied ones covered leaving the back straight.

“You can’t say he is as smart as when he won this race two years ago. It was a good, solid performance but things were in his favour today and it was a good opportunity for him.”

Rest of the card

12.10pm £10,400 Ladbrokes “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle 2m 69y

Bright Forecast provided a poignant success in the opening race of the 2018 Ladbrokes Winter Carnival, the £10,400 Ladbrokes “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle over two miles.

Trained by Ben Pauling and ridden by Nico de Boinville, the four-year-old runs in the colours of 1981 Grand National hero Aldaniti, who was owned by Nick Embiricos.

Embiricos died earlier this month at the age of 81. His daughter Alex was at the track to witness a smart performance from the son of Arcadio who was making his debut under Rules.

Bright Forecast looked an unlikely winner for most of the race, but despite a clumsy leap at the last when fifth of the 20 runners, ran on strongly in the closing stages to master Sevarano (Oliver Sherwood/Leighton Aspell) by a neck.

Gloucestershire-based Pauling said: “It is a phenomenal win for many reasons and no more so than to remember Nick. This is a hugely emotional win as Nick was one of the biggest supporters of racing there has been for a long time. He was a fabulous man and this horse of course runs in the colours of The Aldaniti Partnership. Sadly, we lost Nick just over a week ago and this victory will mean a lot to everyone.

“The Embiricos family are a family that I firmly believe have done more for racing than a lot of people. They have such great history and obviously Aldaniti stands out. Aldaniti meant a huge amount to Nick and I know it will give Valda huge joy at home to see this horse do this today in the colours of Aldaniti for her family.

“It is amazing that Alex Embiricos is here today because everyone has found it tough. They are a good family and this win will bring a lot of joy. It is no surprise that Aldaniti was plagued with problems but they were more than happy to give him all the time he needed and they got the just rewards for it. It is a fabulous story and hopefully a memorable day for all the family.

“My head lass Gill (Tate), who is part of my amazing team at home, rides Bright Forecast every day and she really does like him. Because he is ridden by her every day, she doesn’t really shout about it and just enjoys it.

“We came here hoping the horse would run well but were not expecting to win. It was more the fact that Newbury is a nice big track and is a nice place for a horse to come first time out. He looked very novicey in a place or two, especially at the last. Like it would with a green horse, it half knocked him sidewise but Nico said he really sprinted from the last. He is quite an exciting horse.

“Bright Forecast was bought by Henrietta Knight, who helps me with quite a few, from the Costellos who she knows exceptionally well through the Best Mate days. When I needed a horse in the middle of last season, I gave Hen a ring and she said I have seen an Arcadio over with John Costello. He had finished a well-beaten third of three in a point-to-point but they assured me he wasn’t ready that day and it was just an experience. A lot of this game is on trust – we trusted them and sure enough the horse has more than showed his true colours today.

“I think we’ll almost look at dropping hm in grade and running him under a penalty next time. He obviously has ability and you could go and take on all sorts of targets but today showed me that he needs experience and needs to go and learn without having the gun put to his head every time. He was very keen early doors today and he needs to learn to settle. It was a good ride from Nico.

“He is with the right owners to let us take our time.”

12.45pm £20,400 Ladbrokes Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase (For The Fulke Walwyn Trophy) 2m 82y

Knocknanuss (11st 2lb) produced an assured round of jumping to decisively capture the Ladbrokes Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.

Ridden by Jamie Moore and trained by his father Gary, the eight-year-old son of Beneficial made all of the running in the extended two-mile contest and jumped with aplomb throughout.

Knocknanuss had a clear lead entering the home straight and produced four excellent leaps to seal a clear-cut 17 length success, with the Nicky Henderson-trained Kupatana (Nico de Boinville, 11st) back in second.

West Sussex-based Gary Moore commented: “It was a good performance from Knocknanuss. If you can jump round Newbury, you can probably jump round anywhere and he won impressively today.

“He was very good at his fences and I would like to think he is quite smart.

“When we bought him, I was told that he was a very quick jumper and he is a serious jumper.

“I’m not sure whether Knocknanuss is good enough for an Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival, but he would have an entry in it. He is an eight-year-old novice and you have to go to Cheltenham with plenty of experience.”

“It was good to watch today. You knew he had it won once they turned into the straight, as long as he didn’t turn over.

“His jumping was pretty accurate and he is very good when he gets it right. He is a very bold, front-running horse and that is where his strengths hold.

“Jamie saw the horse win [at Killarney] and I knew it was probably for sale. I made a phone call to a man who has now passed away, sadly, and he got the deal done.

“Handicaps will be out of the question now, I would say. You are going to be limited to as where you can go because he really does only go left-handed. It is a case of go back and look at the book really.

“I think there is one more bonus race at Plumpton. He is entered a Plumpton on Monday but I doubt he will run, though I would not completely rule it out. We have had a couple of goes at the bonus but the best we have managed is second.

“I am not sure if I would want to go back to Plumpton as he seems to get his revs up coming down the hill. With the bonus that is on offer, we might have to go down that route however as we probably won’t be able to go down the handicap route now.

“I don’t know where this horse will end up but they think the Arkle possibly. He is an eight-year-old, which is quite old for a novice, and I think you have to go there with plenty of experience. He has very low mileage and has a lot of catching up to do.”

Jamie Moore added: “The horse is a fruitcake, so we probably suit each other!

“I remember, to cut a long story short, I had a broken leg one day and was watching the 9.00pm at Killarney and this horse absolutely hack up under Nina Carberry. I said to dad I would love to have that horse and then three months later we had him in the yard. I don’t know how it worked, but it is a funny little story.

“He had a bad first experience [over fences] at Plumpton but dads trains him well.

“He has done that well very well today because it was a very competitive race – you could have made a case for all seven runners. I thought we were well-handicapped but then I thought there could be one or two more that were well-handicapped too. I have destroyed his handicap mark, but he should be able to win a little graded race somewhere.

“His dam is related to Dato Star, who was a brilliant horse for Malcolm Jefferson, so he has got a bit of a pedigree there. The horse is mad, but he’s at the right yard anyway.

“You try holding him and you will get into a proper tug of war with him, and you can’t really win it. I have tried. Every morning I can tell you, there is a lot of effort that goes into him and it is paying dividends now anyway.

“He jumps very good. A couple of times I was a bit indecisive and asked him up when I should not have done because he can fiddle away. But when you are on a front-runner and can gain a length at every fence, you want to try and do it that way really because then it is harder for them to peg you back.”

1.20pm £10,400 Ladbrokes Novices’ Hurdle 2m 4f 118y

Kateson gained a gutsy success in the £10,4000 Ladbrokes Novices’ Hurdle.

Trained by Tom Lacey in Herefordshire and ridden by Tom Scudamore in the extended two mile and four furlong contest, the five-year-old son of Black Sam Bellamy was prominent throughout and knuckled down gamely in the closing stages to fend off the sustained challenge Mr Pumblechook (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson) to score by a length and three-quarters.

Morning Vicar (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville) was a further 13 lengths behind in third.

The grey, who had to carry a 7lb penalty in today’s event, will now return to Newbury on December 29th for the Betway Challow Novices’ Hurdle.

Lacey said: “Kateson did it nicely today.

“I told the guys who own Kateson to not underestimate how difficult it is to give away a penalty in a novices’ hurdle, especially at Newbury.

“Tom felt he would have won in even better fashion had there been a stronger gallop, so there is a lot to look forward to with him.

“It certainly looked as if he idled today. I noticed when he came past me – I was just below the winning post – that he pricked his ears and had a good look at what was going on.

“Tom has ridden plenty of good horses and is very complimentary about him. He would not take your eye out at home at all – he is very workmanlike and just seems to save it all for the track, which is what you want.

“He is from an incredible family and David Richards, who bred Kateson, is always telling me about the mare. David still has her at home and it is a lovely story.

“After Kateson won at Chepstow, we were dreaming of the Challow Hurdle. Then I went home, looked at the programme book and saw this race as a stepping-stone. I don’t think there is any reason why we can’t come and have a go.

“Kateson is a soft-ground horse and he is bred to want soft ground. He is certainly the best of my novices at the moment.

“Whatever he achieves over hurdles is a bonus. Once he gets over fences, he could be anything, so we have a lot to look forward to.”

Regarding Kateson’s high head carriage, Lacey added: “That is his natural head carriage and I would be loathed to try and change it. I think he deserves a break about his head carriage, quite honestly. He is as genuine a horse as you will meet.”

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s £250,000 Ladbrokes Trophy, where he saddles Thomas Patrick, Lacey continued: “Thomas Patrick is in as good a form as we have ever had him. He has had a lovely preparation.

“He came to Newbury for the gallops morning and hacked around for two miles. He has not done a huge amount at home since, but he is fit and we are looking forward to running.

“For me, that was Thomas Patrick’s career-best run at Sandown last time. He will have without a shadow of a doubt improved for the run. He did a piece of work on Tuesday and Stan Sheppard, who has been riding him all winter, said it was the best he has ever felt. When Stan gave him a squeeze to pick up, he said he felt something he had not felt before.

“The press are all very good at labelling these horses. Thomas Patrick doesn’t have a huge price tag or reputation to keep up. He has taken us way further than we ever thought he would and it has been a very enjoyable journey.

“I think he is a worthy favourite and we can look forward to having a really nice day.”

Tom Scudamore added: “Kateson has done everything really nicely. He is a horse that doesn’t show an awful lot at home sometimes but he obviously saves it for the track. He is improving all the time and has had to do it under a penalty today.

“He won with some authority. He has lovely cruising speed and is a good horse. He is another good Black Sam Bellamy and the way he jumped the last was great. I am really, really pleased.

“He lowers his head a bit but to be fair I think he is just one of those horses that carries it like that. It certainly doesn’t stop him from trying. He feels like he has got a very good attitude and is in the right hands.

“We have pulled a long way clear (the first two) and Tom has mentioned the Challow in the past and on what he has achieved he probably deserves to have a crack at that race. Whatever he does over hurdles, he is going to make a very nice chaser.

“The ground is as described – good to soft. As it opens up more and if we get more rain it will become soft. The course is in good nick.”

1.50pm £40,000 Ladbrokes Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) 2m 3f 187

La Bague Au Roi winning at Newbury
Image supplied by Newbury Racecourse

Seven-year-old mare La Bague Au Roi made it two victories from as many starts over fences with a smooth success in the Ladbrokes Novices’ Chase.

Ridden by Richard Johnson and trained by Warren Greatrex in Lambourn, the mare made all the running in the two mile and four furlong contest and ran on strongly in the closing stages to score by seven lengths from Talkischeap (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson).

La Bague Au Roi jumped smartly throughout today’s event, whilst Lostintranslation (Colin Tizzard/Robbie Power) lacked fluency over his obstacles, which included a bad mistake three fences from home, as he eventually trailed home in third-place in the four-runner event.

The winning trainer said: “La Bague Au Roi is brilliant. Richard Johnson said she was doing it all within herself.

“She is a big mare and we always though fences were going to be the making of her and it looks that way.

“She is so quick over her fences. Richard filled her up down the back straight and she was very good in the home straight.

“It is onwards and upwards from here.

“She is a seven-year-old now and she hasn’t grown any taller since she was four. However, she is much stronger now and is able to handle any ground.

“She also handles any trip I feel now as you could drop her to two miles and step her up to three miles.

“She has lovely owners and it’s great for the team at home. It is lovely to have a horse like her.

“We were debating about running her in this race or the three-mile contest tomorrow, but the weather probably played a part in our decision as there is meant to be plenty of rain here tomorrow.

“I think she will be a better horse with a lead. She deserves in my opinion to win a Grade One as I think she is that good.

“We could maybe go for the Kauto Star at Kempton. She does seem to lug left, but has won round there, but we’ll see.”

Richard Johnson commented: “Because La Bague Au Roi is so big, you would think she would be a bit deliberate in close, but down the back she was so neat. She almost lands before you notice she has jumped.

“She was a bit clumsy over hurdles two seasons ago, but she has really developed. To be fair, Henrietta Knight had her for a little while at the start of the autumn and did a bit of schooling with her, and I think her brain is really started to click into gear now.

“I did not think we had gone that quick today, but I think when you are on her you don’t feel like you are going very fast and she is slightly deceiving.

“Going to the ditch [three out], I could feel Robbie Power coming so I thought I will ask a bit now and she jumped that really well, whereas he made the mistake. She popped the last two nicely and has done it well.

“I think she has a big future ahead of her. Whether she goes three miles or two and a half miles, it will depend more on what trips and courses are available. She is very versatile, but I think a true run two and a half on a stiff track might be ideal.

“The Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on Boxing Day is an option. I think if the ground was very testing, it probably wouldn’t be ideal, but three miles on reasonable ground around Kempton – there is no reason why that can’t be an option.”

2.25pm £50,000 Ladbrokes Handicap Chase 2m 3f 187y

The Venetia Williams-trained Aso defied a 397-day absence to land the £50,000 Ladbrokes Handicap Chase under Charlie Deutsch.

Not seen since finishing fifth in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree in October 2017, the eight-year-old son of Goldneyev jumped smartly throughout the two mile and four furlong event, making all the running to score decisively by 13 lengths, with Touch Kick (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden) in second.

Third in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2017, Williams was delighted with the gelding’s performance.

Williams said: “That was a great run from Aso. He got into a fabulous rhythm and Charlie rode him beautifully with great confidence.

“He is a good horse, who finished third in a Ryanair Chase. He picked up an injury at Aintree and has been off since, but to come back and produce a performance like that was absolutely fantastic – we are really thrilled.”

Today’s success was also notable for winning rider Deutsch who served two and a half months in Bristol Prison after pleading guilty to dangerous driving while over the drink drive limit and escaping from police custody.

Williams added: “Charlie is a hugely talented rider and riding the horse today has shown that. The way he lines a horse up to a fence is quite beautiful.

“Charlie and Aso are a very good combination. We gave Charlie free rein today to ride the horse as he saw fit and it was a good decision.

“This was a very nice race for Aso today. We had him in at Cheltenham a couple of weeks ago but we withdrew him because of the ground. I am delighted that the rain has come now and hopefully we won’t be looking back.

“It could be a possibility to go back for the Ryanair Chase and he could also step up in trip. He is in the Caspian Caviar at Cheltenham in a couple of weeks but the weights are not out yet and will obviously be affected by today’s performance. We will see what the handicapper does and go from there.”

Paying tribute to Charlie Deutsch, Williams continued: “I wanted to support Charlie because he is a very talented rider. If I didn’t, not only would it have been a waste of a great talent but I would be shooting myself in the foot. I understand what happened and understand Jump jockeys have to make instinctive reactions and act on then with commitment. Unfortunately, that has backfired but we all make mistakes and some we have to pay for more severely than others.

“Charlie has come back, worked hard and the talent is there.

“We have all been a bit slow to get going this season because the weather has been ridiculously dry and ground has been very firm for a very long time. We have all taken time to get into gear, I know I certainly have, and has probably helped Charlie as well.”

Charlie Deutsch added: “I thought that I would line him up wide and see what he wanted to do. In the end he wanted to go on, so we were left in front. I have never ridden him from the front and I thought he might be having a good look around but he was actually pretty straight.

“He has got his own mind, so I thought that I would leave him and see what he does. He is a pretty classy horse and I think he is coming into his prime now. He got into a lovely rhythm, his jumping was very good and he has the experience as well, which is great. Hopefully, there will be even better days to come.

“I am lucky to be where I am and it is down to loyalty from Venetia and her owners. I am really grateful for it – I am just very, very lucky and happy to be here. I’m grateful and taking things as they come, rather than always looking for better things.”

3.35pm £35,000 Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle 3m 52y

Vive Le Roi (10st 13lb) continued his fine form with a game front-running success for Tony Carroll and Harry Bannister in the final race of the day at Newbury, the £35,000 Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle.

The seven-year-old son of Robin Des Pres, recording his third victory in four starts, kept on strongly in the closing stages to fend off the fast-finishing Rockpoint (Colin Tizzard/Sean Bowen, 10st 3lb) by a half-length.

Winning trainer Carroll said: “Vive Le Roi produced a good performance. He was a good second at Cheltenham last time out and that race has worked out well.

“The ground was a tiny bit of an unknown today, but he is in good heart and he is tough.

“We will carry on with him, but I don’t have a race in mind at the moment.

“He has just kept on improving throughout the season.

“Vive Le Roi has just gained a lot of confidence in his recent runs and today was another top performance.

“He will go up again in the weights, but he is a horse who just keeps improving and surprising us.

“He is a good-looking horse and he doesn’t look out of place. He is a very deep horse and he will jump a fence too in time.”

Harry Bannister added: “Vive Le Roi has been very consistent and deserved this after his last run at Cheltenham. It’s great for the team and Amber, who does everything with him and said that he would win when we were going out.

“He’s very tough and very hardy. He jumped brilliantly today and likes being off the front end – he settled better today because he got an uncontested lead, which really helped him.

“I think his confidence is growing and, because of that, he is probably becoming a better horse too. The form of his Cheltenham race has worked out very well and hopefully he can keep improving.”