Welsh Champion Hurdle glory for Nemean Lion

Kerry Lee was delighted to claim a home victory with Nemean Lion in the Dragonbet Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las.

The six-year-old hit the front at the second last travelling smoothly under Richard Patrick but was challenged by Anyharminasking after the final flight.

However, the 3-1 joint-favourite galloped on strongly to prevail by a length and a half, while the runner-up paid the price for veering left on the run-in.

Lee trains at Bell House in Presteigne and the Welsh connection with this success does not end there.

“One thing I must say is it’s the Welsh Champion Hurdle, ridden by a Welsh jockey and shod by a Welsh farrier, that’s really very pleasing,” the trainer told Sky Sports Racing.

Nemean Lion had not been seen since landing a Grade Two novice hurdle at Kelso in March and Lee’s patience in waiting for suitable ground was rewarded.

She added: “We went up to Ayr for the Scottish Champion Hurdle last season but had to turn back home again because the ground was much too quick, because this is the kind of ground we need.

“All credit to Richard for doing a lot of work with him at home. It took a lot of time for the penny to drop.

“We got away with it a bit as a novice but I didn’t think we’d get away with it stepping up into this season, that’s why I really wanted to come here before the Greatwood or anything like that, because a smaller field gave him more time.

“We’ll have to see what the handicapper does and what the ground is like, because we have Black Poppy who likes fast ground and this one who doesn’t.”

Haverfordwest rider Patrick said: “It was very smooth. I thought early doors I was doing too much and tried to switch in and get some cover and he did switch off nicely.

“For a horse that can make some jumping mistakes, he was A1 today. We’ve done a lot of work at home but fair play to Kerry, it’s her first runner of the season and to come out and win a race like that is very impressive.

“I think he just loves this game. I ride him a lot when I go into Kerry’s and the more graft you give him, the better – he’s just got a great attitude.

“It’s nice to see him take the next step from his novice season last year, so hopefully we can have a lot more fun.”

Big-money buy Mt Fugi Park looked a horse with a bright future when making a winning debut for Jonjo O’Neill in the Dragonbet Born From The Betting Ring Maiden Hurdle.

The five-year-old son of Walk In The Park was purchased for £290,000 after claiming an Irish point-to-point for Monbeg Stables in February and the 11-4 shot went some way towards justifying that price tag when outstaying the Paul Nicholls-trained odds-on favourite Wrappedupinmay.

“We bought him as a three-mile chaser but he looks like he’s going to be able to perform to a decent level this year, hopefully,” said winning jockey Jonjo O’Neill junior.

“He came from a very good school in the Monbegs, so he’d have done plenty beforehand, but we never had any intention of running him in a bumper.

“Obviously, he was well trained to win his point-to-point, so we just let him down and did a little bit of schooling with him, but it was all about this year.

“He’s very, very relaxed for a Walk In The Park, and jumps very nicely. He was a bit rusty early in the race but as the race went on, he started to pick up and was very good – he galloped all the way to the line.

“It’s very nice for the Tanzanite syndicate, as this is the first horse they’ve got and it’s a good start for them, although they’ve got another one out in a couple of weeks.”

Despite carrying top weight, 9-4 market leader Matata made short work of his rivals in the Dragonbet New Website Norton’s Coin Trophy Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase for Nigel Twiston-Davies.

“He was very good,” declared rider Daryl Jacob. “I didn’t want to rush him but he took me to the front with some clever jumps and was always going well.”

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