Whateley out to paint Ascot and Haydock blue
21 November 2014
On an afternoon that boasts some of the best chasing talent in the country it is the light and dark blue colours of Diana Whateley that staples together the action at Haydock and Ascot.
Whateley’s colours have been a significant aspect to the National Hunt season since the autumn hues came into play, and Menorah and Wishfull Thinking both carry her standard on Saturday.
Menorah is 9-1 to depose Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, while Wishfull Thinking is just 5-2 to win the Amlin 1965 Chase in Berkshire.
Menorah and Wishfull Thinking are two of six horses that have struck for Whateley this season from 18 runners, all of whom spent the summer at Anabel Murphy’s farm in Warwickshire.
Whateley’s string is split between Philip Hobbs and Donald McCain.
Rock The Kasbah is the only horse that has won twice, while Sausalito Sunrise and Ballytober have also entered the winners’ enclosure.
Garde La Victoire was the latest to make a high-profile strike.
He led from as soon as the tape went up at Cheltenham on Sunday and held on on grimly up the hill on rain-softened ground to land the Greatwood Hurdle under Richard Johnson.
“I felt disbelief,” Whateley said at her memory of her latest win.
“We were very unhappy with the ground and I didn’t think he’d like it.
“All week we were talking to Philip about it and he just said: ‘you know what? You won’t win any race just standing in the stable.’
“Even on the morning of the race we were not sure. My husband doesn’t like it much when ours front run. I felt sure they were going to pick him off on the run-in.”
Menorah won the Greatwood Hurdle in 2010 after he won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival.
The ten-year-old has now won the International Hurdle, the Manifesto Chase, the Peterborough Chase and this season caused an upset when taking the controversial Charlie Hall Chase last month.
Thanks to Menorah, success is no longer the heart-pounding, knee-weakening experience that it once was for Whateley although winning still tastes as sweet.
“I don’t think we quite realized the enormity of winning the Greatwood with Menorah,” she said.
“Now we know how difficult it is and what an achievement it is. It is exquisite.”
And it gets better. Captain Chris, who won last season’s Amlin Chase, left Murphy’s last month to return to Hobbs’s Minehead base ahead of an ambitious tilt at the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Hobbs sits at the top of the trainers’ standings thanks to his electric start to the season proper that included total domination alongside Johnson of last week’s Open meeting at Cheltenham.
His horses are running at a strike-rate of 21% this month but rain in Lancashire promises to put more of an accent on stamina than the usual speed at the flat Haydock track. It is unlikely to aid Menorah's cause.
"The horses are obviously in great form and we know Menorah was in great form when he won at Wetherby,” Johnson said.
"Fingers crossed they don't get too much rain. I think that's the main concern for both myself and Philip.
"It's disappointing he's not going to get his favoured conditions, but at the same time he deserves to be in the race tomorrow and we'll see what happens.
"I'm sure when he gets on the better ground in the spring he'll be happier."
No horse has ever won the Betfair Chase on the back of a poor run that season. Layoffs have been defied, but Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card look to have a lot on their plates, no matter how undercooked they were supposed to be respectively in the Charlie Hall Chase and Haldon Gold Cup.
Grahame Whateley, Diana’s husband, has always said the secret of his huge financial success has been meticulous planning.
Those best-laid plans look to be reaping serious rewards at this stage of the season.
Menorah may have been around the block one too many times for an average Betfair Chase winner and lacks the real class of former winners such as Imperial Commander and Kauto Star. He is in the form of his life, however, his jockey is judging pace to perfection, his trainer is banging in the winners, and his owner is ever so hopeful.
“Whatever we are doing it is certainly working,” Whateley said. They might just pull it off.
Geoffrey Riddle's Saturday tip:
2.05 Ascot: Wishfull Thinking at 11-4