A Plus Tard, the second-string from Henry de Bromhead’s stable, made up several lengths from the final fence to land a memorable renewal of the Savills Chase in the final strides at Leopardstown on Monday, after a dramatic race in which two of the market leaders, including the winner’s stablemate Minello Indo, fell mid-race.
Willie Mullins’s Melon, a 25-1 outsider, and Kemboy, who took the Grade One contest two years ago, both traded at odds-on in running over the final three fences. Melon jumped into a clear lead over the final ditch, three from home, but was then slow over the second-last as Kemboy, another Mullins-trained runner, took over and rounded the home turn in front.
Melon and Patrick Mullins renewed their challenge after jumping the last but Kemboy, with Mullins’s cousin David in the saddle, got the better of them with half a furlong to run, only for A Plus Tard and Darragh O’Keeffe, who is on a remarkable run after his recent win on Chatham Street Lad at Cheltenham, to stay on strongly all the way to the line and grab the spoils with a couple of strides to spare.
Minella Indo fell at the first fence on the second circuit, while Delta Work, the Savills winner 12 months ago, stumbled and unseated Sean Flanagan at the next.
A total of £8,123 was matched on Kemboy on Betfair at the exchange’s basement price of 1.01, while A Plus Tard was matched at prices up to 160 (159-1) in running.
A Plus Tard was cut to 10-1 from 66-1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March by Paddy Power.
Nicky Henderson, the trainer of Altior, said on Monday that the former two-mile champion chaser returned an unsatisfactory scope after his three-and-a-half length defeat by Nube Negra in the Grade Two Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park on Sunday.
Altior was nudged along from an early stage to stay in touch with the pace and came under pressure a long way from home on the way to only his second defeat in 22 starts over jumps. Henderson reported immediately afterwards that a scope two days before the race had been “as clean as a whistle” but evidence of an possible underlying infection now appears to have emerged a few hours later.
“We had him scoped [after the race],” Henderson told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast. “We can’t scope him again today because it’s a Bank Holiday and the laboratory is shut, but we have reason to continue investigating that.
“There was evidence [of a poor scope]. I spoke to Simon Knapp [the stable’s vet] last night, he confirmed there was, and we need to do a tracheal wash, which then goes to the laboratory. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find there is something amiss.
“It’s definitely not normal, because he was scoped on Christmas Eve and we know it was 100% clean, but 48 hours is a long time in a horse’s life. It would be enough [to affect Altior’s performance], it would in Simon Knapp’s opinion anyway.”
Henderson added that “one or two horses” in his stable “aren’t quite right” at the moment and that the yard might “have a quiet time” over the next few days.
“The ground is desperate, and I know we’ve got Sandown at the weekend but when Sandown is heavy, it’s a completely different kind of heavy,” Henderson said.
Epatante, last season’s Champion Hurdle winner, also disappointed at Kempton over the weekend when she was beaten at 1-5 in the Christmas Hurdle. The possibility that she was in season, which can cause fillies and mares to run below form, is ‘being investigated” according to her trainer.
“I don’t think it’s the same [issue as with Altior],” Henderson said. “I think something else will come up there, and I’ve got ideas. That wasn’t her, and we know it wasn’t her.
“I’d be surprised if Epatante ran again before Cheltenham – she didn’t last year, and I see no reason to run her again. I’m perfectly happy with both these horses that I’ve got good grounds for thinking there are reasons behind this – and with a bit of luck and a following wind, we can get them back into action.”
Tuesday’s meeting at Newbury, which is due to feature the Grade One MansionBet Challow Novice Hurdle, is subject to a precautionary inspection at 8.30am because of the threat of frost while Wednesday’s meeting at Haydock has already been called off because of snow and Thursday’s at Uttoxeter has also been abandoned owing to waterlogging.