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Chianti Classico digs deep for Ultima honours

Chianti Classico and David BassChianti Classico and David Bass
© Photo Healy Racing

Kim Bailey’s Chianti Classico produced a smooth round of jumping to take the Ultima Handicap Chase for David Bass and Kim Bailey.

The gelding was one of two runners in the contest for Bailey, and after Trelawne fell early on it was left to his stablemate to carry the hopes of the yard.

He did so dutifully and travelled well throughout to turn for home full of running and claim victory at 6-1, getting British trainers off the mark for the week.

Bass said: “It meant a lot, it’s actually quite a good feeling to win here. It’s a privilege to ride these horses. It’s hard to win here though – 2020 was the last time and it’s been too long.”

Bailey said: “I thought at one stage ‘oh no, David is getting too brave’, but he jumped for fun and was cantering coming down the hill wasn’t he?

“David has been confident the whole way through, so he was right. He was absolutely adamant from day one he was riding this horse (instead of Trelawne). He adores the horse and says he’s a complete terrier, and he’s done that today like a terrier.

“He’s as hard as nails, he’s not very big but he’s got so much ability and is so agile, he always has been.

“When Aiden Murphy and I bought him, we said we’d bring him here, but I never thought it would actually happen!

“We’ve been knocking at the door for a while, so it’s great for everybody that we got it today. It’s huge for the team, having a runner at Cheltenham is what it’s all about.

“Today has been the plan for a long time, we trained him for today.”

On Bass, he joked: “I’m not sure he’s that special, we’ve been trying to get rid of him for ages. We’ve got nothing in common, I’m not a vegan anyway!

“He’s been a huge supporter of the yard and we’ve been together for 11 years now. He’s a do-or-die pilot and I thought he was quite reserved today!”

There was, however, a sad postscript to the race as it was confirmed Highland Hunter had suffered a fatal injury.

Trained by Fergal O’Brien, the grey was formerly with Paul Nicholls, where he was the favourite horse of the late Keagan Kirkby, whose funeral procession he led last week.

O’Brien posted on X: “Absolutely devastated. Thanks for the messages we’re already receiving and those to come.” Lark In The Mornin ground it out up the hill to land the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle for Joseph O’Brien and J J Slevin.

The bay was a 9-1 chance and kept his powder dry early on in a rough and tumble race in which plenty of combinations parted ways.

Slevin was always handily placed, however, and pulled away from the field ahead of the final flight to hold off all challengers and prevail by two lengths.

O’Brien said: “We were worried about the ground. We had a pretty strong view that he wanted better ground but I thought J J gave him a fantastic ride and found the best of the ground.

“He saved ground all the way and he had plenty left in the locker jumping the last.

“I’m delighted for everyone connected with the horse, to have a winner here is very special.

“We thought he was coming here with a live chance but so much rain fell we actually had a conversation whether to run or not, luckily we did.”

Slevin added: “All along, we knew this was the plan. We know how difficult it is to have winners at the Festival but Jospeh told me better to have him in the last five than the first five, and that I’d know how he was coping with the ground after the first mile.

“I got a fright when he got to the front so early. It was a bit too soon, but he stayed on well up the hill. I said last week I would be happy to have one winner and that’s my first here since Band Of Outlaws.”