Harris salutes a new page in his career
Milton Harris has a Triumph Hurdle contender in Knight Salute, winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham on Saturday. Paddy Brennan was able to anchor the unbeaten juvenile who took a keen hold around the undulations of Prestbury Park, before emerging 2 3/4l to the good in the Grade II contest.
The son of Derby winner Sir Percy was formerly trained across the county border in Hampshire by Andrew Balding, and the extended distances of the Jumps game seem to bring out the best of his stamina. The gelding was bred by Willie Carson's Minster Stud outside Cirencester.
Harris is not short on stamina either, having been put through the mill with a bankruptcy that prevented him from holding a trainer's licence for several years. He is back with a bang now, having rattled off 27 winners at a 24% strike rate since the season began.
The Triumph has become a more finessed race than 20 years ago with the advent of the Fred Winter, a handicap. Time was, 30 runners would make the race an entertaining cavalry charge to open proceedings on Gold Cup day. Now, along with the three other Grade I novice hurdles, single runner fields are not deemed extraordinary. There's something of the spectacle lost from the event however even if not every horse responded well to the hustle and bustle of a big field.
Although Cheltenham this past weekend suffered from low runner turnout, largely due to ground conditions at home rather than at the track, there was an unmistakable impression that Saturday's card had been weakened at the expense of the other two days. Owners often rise to the challenge of running on a really big day just to be part of it. The movement of the Grade III 3m 4f chase won by Yala Enki to Sunday took away some of the compelling nature of the card, although ironically, the amateur riders chase that replaced it filled with more than twice the runners.
Runners were in short supply at Badbury Rings last Sunday too where the largest field was 10 for the Conditions chase. The commonly held view is that the ground at home is holding back a flood of prospects from reaching the course. Let's hope that's true with the Hursley Hambledon opening Larkhill's season at the end of the month.
Come on rain. Even if we are loving the autumn colours, we need you.