It was day two of the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival at Newbury Racecourse on Saturday, December 2, featuring the £250,000 Ladbrokes Trophy. The Ladbrokes Trophy is the second richest handicap chase run in Britain, only the Grand National is worth more, and it was Irish challenger and 9/2 favourite Total Recall who came out on top.
Total Recall (Willie Mullins IRE/Paul Townend, 10st 8lb, 9/2 Fav) became the first Irish-trained horse since Bright Highway in 1980 to land the feature £250,000 G3 Ladbrokes Trophy when successful in the three and a quarter-mile handicap chase.
Always travelling well in mid-division, Paul Townend delivered his charge three out and looked set to go right away.
However, Whisper (Nicky Henderson/Davy Russell, 11st 8lb, 8/1) was a most tenacious opponent and it was only after a sustained duel up the run in that Total Recall overhauled him to emerge as the neck winner. Outsider Regal Encore (Anthony Honeyball/Richie McLernon, 10st 11lb, 66/1) was third, another nine lengths back, of the 20 runners, with Braqueur D'Or (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden, 10st, 33/1) fourth.
Successful trainer Willie Mullins said: "I think a lot of the credit must go to Sandra Hughes, who used her father's methods and progressed very slowly with this horse. Sandra retired and we have just got the benefit of it.
"I thought Paul was fantastic, he was very cool. I thought he was beaten going to the last but he switched sides and got a different run on the other side. He has always been a good jockey and I am lucky to have him.
"The other horse was probably in front that little bit long and got tired. Paul made the best of that and his tactic of changing angles worked a treat."
Total Recall is now a 20/1 chance with Ladbrokes for the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup and looking to the future, Mullins said: "We will look at more handicaps and he will be entered in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The Gold Cup will have closed before he runs again so he will have an entry."
Mullins saddled Be My Royal to be first past the post in the 2002 renewal of what is now the Ladbrokes Trophy. That horse was subsequently disqualified after testing positive for a morphine, the source of which was thought to have been a contaminated food supply.
Referring to the past, Mullins continued: "It's nice to get one on the board and hopefully there won't be any problem with this one. It was disappointing with Be My Royal but that has been laid to rest. I am very happy today."
Paul Townend added: "I thought that I had thrown it away when I let him pop the second last and the other horse came across but he is as tough as old boots. It's some training performance. Davy said to me pulling up that we live alongside each other at home and there was no need to come over here and beat him!
"I got a great run around and a great ride off Total Recall. He winged the last ditch and landed me there. We missed the second last a bit but I knew, when I got stuck into him, he was going to pull out. Thankfully, he did before the line.
"Whisper got a couple of lengths on me at the second last and I knew I would get my lad going again but I just wasn't sure I would get him going in time. It was a good finish and thankfully we came out on the right side of it.
"It was a big step up from the race at Limerick and we didn't know how quickly he was improving. You need a lot of luck in a big handicap and it's hard to be confident but I knew that I had a willing partner under me and was going to give it my best shot."
Nicky Henderson, trainer of the runner-up Wisper, said: "To be fair, Davy has given Whisper a wonderful ride. He always had room, he always had the horse in the right place and he jumped beautifully.
"I was worried about whether Whisper would be grown up enough - even though he is an older horse, he has only had five or six runs over fences - but he has run a great race.
"It seems a bit cruel to get done like that. I shouldn't have got him that penalty at Kempton! He has run a fantastic race - it's always annoying to get beaten but it was a good race."
A disappointment in the race was top-weight Coneygree (Mark Bradstock/Nico de Boinville, 11st 12lb, 6/1) who raced prominently before weakening, eventually pulling up after the 17th fence.
His trainer Mark Bradstock said: "Coneygree seems absolutely fine but Nico reported that he made a noise. We will probably send him down to Bristol within the next week to have a look. That is horses for you. He has been an absolute superstar and owes us absolutely nothing. We thought we had him on song and he jumped super but that's the way it is. We will go back to the drawing board and see if we can find anything."
Another horse not to run his race was 5/1 second favourite American (Harry Fry/Noel Fehily, 11st 4lb, 5/1), who was never in contention and pulled-up before the 17th fence.
His trainer Harry Fry said: "American missed the standing start and never got into a rhythm. He had no fluency and was never in the race.
"It was a big ask coming here first time out and he probably lacked experience for a race like this."
His jockey Noel Fehily added: "American maybe had a lack of experience for a race like the Ladbrokes Trophy. He belted a couple of fences early and then missed the water jump. Maybe limited experience might have told on the day."
Attendance across the two days of the inaugural Ladbrokes Winter Carnival showed a small increase on 2016.
Ladbrokes Trophy Day pulled in a crowd of 16,986 while Friday saw 8,431 racegoers in attendance, which was up 1,000 up on the 2016 figure.
Julian Thick, Chief Executive of Newbury Racecourse, said: "We have been encouraged by the crowd figures across the two days.
"This is the first of a five-year deal with Ladbrokes and we intend to keep growing and improving what we have on offer. We have been treated to two fantastic days racing, the first Irish winner in 37 years and planning for 2018 will start immediately."