Three weeks after winning on his season debut, WHISKEY CHASER would be entered into a big Saturday race at Haydock Park – the ‘Last Fling Handicap Chase’ a race with a prize pool worth over £20,000. The news of the entry felt to me like finding a Christmas present under the tree four days after Christmas.
A big purse usually attracts big names, so it was no surprise to see some quality entrants on the race card. EMPEROR’S CHOICE, the Venetia Williams trained 11-year-old and winner of the Coral Welsh National in 2014 to name one. HARRY THE VIKING, a Grand National entrant back in 2013 and not forgetting LESSONS IN MILAN who finished 5th in the Scottish National last year.
Our boy had the lowest official rating among the entrants, it’s fair to say he doesn’t race at this level. Even the racing press announced his entry as ‘a roll of the dice’ with a ‘surprise package’.
In the days leading up to the race, the weather took a turn for the worst, the rain pelted down in the North West and ground was forecast to be heavy. A course inspection on the morning of the race would decide if the meeting would go ahead. Thankfully the GoingStick didn’t completely disappear into the ground and the race was on.
The benefits of Saturday racing are obvious. No need to juggle work commitments and additionally it gave the family a chance to come along show their support. On the day we arrived at the course just in time to see the Donald McCain trained LASTBUTNOTLEAST win the 12:25. The horse is owned by the McCain family and runs in the iconic silks of Red Rum. It was a great to see those colours in the winners’ enclosure again.
The time came for our race and the syndicate members met with Donald, Mike and Will in the parade ring. The plan was to stay out of trouble and stay in contention. Donald explained that the conditions would be the most testing factor. The ground was horrid and previous races had seen the horses come back extremely tired.
We walked over to the grandstand where we could watch the race unfold. From the start, the horses went off at a moderate pace. WHISKEY CHASER was at the rear of the field during the early part of the race. As the horses completed the first-mile WHISKEY CHASER was in last place. I began to fear that the step up in class was proving a step too far.
At the seventeenth fence, the race started to heat-up. LESSONS IN MILAN fell awkwardly. STREETS OF PROMISE and EMPEROR’S CHOICE jumped into one another, both recovered and powered on. At this stage, WHISKEY CHASER was still in 6th place but appeared to be gaining ground on the leading pack. As the runners approached the bend WHISKEY CHASER found another gear and pulled into third place with half a mile to travel. At this point, my heart was pumping faster than the horses. If we could scoop a third place that would be an unbelievable result given the quality of the field. The last two fences loomed and it was clear that no one was going to catch EMPEROR’S CHOICE or WEST OF THE EDGE. Unfortunately, WHISKEY CHASER started to fade and was passed at the last fence by HARRY THE VIKING and STREETS OF PROMISE. He finished the race in 5th place. Still, it was a fantastic effort by him and jockey Will Kennedy. Let’s hope for another big Saturday Raceday soon!