WESTERN Diva carried the colours made famous by 1988 Champion Hurdle winner Celtic Shot to a hard-fought victory at the Kingston Blount Racing Club meeting in Oxfordshire on Saturday.
Adlestrop trainer-rider Claire Hardwick sported the pink and grey silks of the Cheltenham Festival hero - owned and bred by the late David Horton - in the Kingston Blount Racing Club Members' Conditions Race, sponsored by the Bullingdon Club, and, having taken up the running going up the hill for the last time, the nine-year-old mare stayed on best in the tacky ground to beat Will Fight by eight lengths despite a slow jump at the final fence. Western Diva is owned by the Mini Dreams Partnership, which is headed by Horton's daughter, Sue Horton, who said, "I had been out of racing since dad died and everyone was saying you must get back in and Helen Hart, Claire's mum, who I have known for a long time, said we have got this mare are you interested. I took one look at her and liked her." Horton, who lives at Broadway, was full of praise for Hardwick, saying, "Claire and the whole team have done a fantastic job. She has not been the easiest mare to train." Western Diva had fallen at Chaddesley Corbett last time out, and Hardwick added, "Today was all about trying to get back on track because we have had quite a frustrating season with her."
Hardwick completed a riding double by taking the Bull And Butcher Ladies' Open on Dabinett Moon, from Fran Marriott's Chipping Norton stables. Sent into the lead five from home, the ten-year-old quickly went clear after Goodnight Vienna made a bad mistake at the next fence, passing the post a distance ahead of Tabitha Worsley's mount, who was the only other finisher. Dabinett Moon had been pulled up in a hunters' chase at Bangor-on-Dee in heavy ground on her previous start. Christopher Marriott, who owns the mare with his wife, said, "It was really deep mud and carrying 12 stone over those bigger fences she couldn't handle it. Only four runners finished." It was her 14th career success and Fran Marriott added, "What is amazing about her is when Claire says go, she goes."
Fred Hutsby, who trains at Wellesbourne in Warwickshire, enjoyed a welcome change of fortune when Mistercobar and Wilco gave him his first winners of the season, with Sam Lee riding a first career double in the opening two races. Mistercobar took up the running going out on to the final circuit of the Brentham Cricket Club four, five and six-year-olds open maiden, and with his rivals unable to cope with the testing conditions came home the only finisher with hot favourite Redmond Hall refusing at the last when well-beaten. The six-year-old was bought from Mark Gichero for the Wayward Pilgrims Partnership and a relieved Hutsby said, "We have had so much bad luck with seconds and you start to doubt yourself with what's gone wrong. It's been a long time, but it's gone right today. He is not an easy horse to train, but he has been showing plenty of ability in his runs and he jumps."
Hutsby was quickly back in the winner's enclosure after Wilco showed a good attitude to claim the French Horn at Sonning six-year-olds and over open maiden for owner-breeder Jane Organ. The seven-year-old battled back after being headed three from home, before quickening seven lengths clear of Cnoc Sion after the last fence. Hutsby said, "I am shocked because two or three out we were going nowhere and he has flown. He was impressive." Lee also admitted to being surprised by Wilco's performance, "It's my first ever double and it feels good," he said. "I have not got a clue where that came from. I can't stop smiling."
Nick Meek revealed how riding Legal Legend had maintained his interest in the game after partnering the 11-year-old, trained by Christopher Henn at Steane Park, near Brackley, to a gutsy victory in the Men's Open. Meek's mount and Creepy went clear on the final circuit, and having finally got the better of his rival going to the last, Legal Legend had just enough left to record a two-lengths verdict, with 5-4 favourite Supreme Danehill 30 lengths back in third. The successful rider, whose only two previous mounts this season had come on the Jon Connell-owned gelding, said, "He is a very genuine horse. He tried his heart out and kept galloping. He just struggles with a bit of a turn of foot and on that ground you have got to keep staying as he does. I am chuffed to bits for him. Legal Legend is the only horse I have been riding. I have cut down a lot this year. I have been looking to get out of the game, but this lad just keeps you interested." Connell added: "He always gives 100 per cent and deserved to win. He has not won for two seasons and has always found one or two too good for him."
Harpenden owner Denys Moylan felt an operation to improve Subtitle's breathing was instrumental in the 12-year-old recording his first win in this country in the Connolly's Red Mills Intermediate Race. Trained by Joan Johnston at Hinton-in-the-Hedges, near Brackley, the gelding was formerly with Shay Slevin in Ireland where he won three point-to-points. Subtitle made all the running under Phil York to pass the post seven lengths ahead of evens favourite Welsh's Castle - the only other finisher from the six starters. Moylan said, "He has had a wind operation - a tie forward. That was the tenth winner we have had with Joan Johnston and she does very well with them." York added, "It was a little bit of a surprise to me that he was going so well three out when I thought he would be running out of petrol, but everyone else was struggling."
Michael Kehoe thinks there's plenty of improvement in Keel Over after the seven-year-old followed up his Horseheath win for his Stewkley stables, near Leighton Buzzard, by claiming the Lawney Hill Racing Restricted Race. Johnny Bailey sent the son of Gamut into the lead at the fifth-last, and he kept up the gallop to hold off the strong-finishing Top Man Tim by a length, with Pass The Glass the same distance back in third. Kehoe, who trains Keel Over for his mother-in-law, Joy Tetley and Harry Dolan, commented, "This horse is a nice horse. He is still learning. He has improved since Horseheath and I think he will come on again." Bailey added, "I think his Irish form shows it has taken time for the penny to drop. He will only improve."