Emma Lavelle completed the most significant weekend of her career as a racehorse trainer when De Rasher Counter, given a confident ride by 20-year-old Welsh jockey Ben Jones, ran out winner of the most prestigious handicap chase outside of Aintree, the £250,000 Ladbrokes Trophy, at Newbury.
It came 24 hours after Lavelle’s stable star, Paisley Park, began the defence of his Stayers’ Hurdle title at the Berkshire course by winning the Long Distance Hurdle.
After over two decades as a trainer, her move to a new base at Ogbourne Maizey near Marlborough three years ago, after buying it from fellow trainer Peter Makin and redeveloping it, is beginning to pay greater dividends than she can ever have imagined.
"It’s a proper grown-up training place," she reflected of Bonita Stables. "We’ve had some lovely results. It’s enabled us to nurture the horses a bit better. I walked into it this morning and was thinking about its history [which includes this race’s 1967 and 1975 winners Rondetto and April Seventh] and how nice it is we’re doing it proud. We needed to move. We rented where we were and need to say a massive thank-you to my parents and the bank. Barry [Fenton, her husband] had a vision and redesigned the yard."
If anyone imagined that Lavelle was a one-horse trainer with Paisley Park, she put the theory to bed on Saturday.
The race could not have gone better for horse and jockey, who has taken jump racing by storm since turning professional three months ago. It was his fourth win from six starts for Lavelle and she said he rode with the "innocence of youth – unencumbered by the knowledge of what can go wrong".
Jones settled De Rasher Counter just behind the leaders, took up the running leaving the back straight five fences out and, from thereon, began to make the most of his way home.
After jumping the last fence four lengths clear, his biggest threat came from the 20-1 shot The Conditional, who finished with a wet sail, although he was never going to spoil the jockey’s celebrations as he crossed the line. Elegant Escape, last year’s runner up and this year’s top-weight ran a terrific race in third, with Beware The Bear fourth.
"I’m so proud of everyone, that we’ve been able to get this horse ready for the big day, it’s close to home, it’s so special for everyone," said Lavelle. "We’ve got amazing owners [the Makin’ Bacon Partnership] who are prepared to be patient. We could have gone to Cheltenham last spring but, mentally, he wasn’t ready. They were prepared to wait. I’m glad it came off because it so often doesn’t.
"I can’t believe it. Barry and I watched the race together. We never do that because we irritate each by commenting but it all went so smoothly.
A Welsh accent in the jump jockey’s weighing room is almost as common as Irish now and there is whole gang of young lads, including the Bowen brothers, Richard Patrick and Connor Brace, who grew up together in the hunting field and progressing though pony racing and point-to-pointing.
Jones’s father, Dai, was an amateur jockey and is now clerk of the course at Ffos Las. He was the first to congratulate his son as he pulled up. "He gets more emotional than I do," said the jockey. "He’s the first to say well done and the first to tell me what I’ve done wrong. He’ll probably tell me I didn’t smile enough over one fence!"
Jones, who is attached to the Philip Hobbs yard, where he still mucks out, added: "The horse made my life very easy. I almost thought we had another circuit to go he was going so well."
At Newcastle, there was a turn-up in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle when Buveur d’Air, the 2-13 favourite, was beaten a short-head by the front-running Micky Hammond-trained mud-loving 16-1 shot Cornerstone Lad.
It later transpired that Buveur d’Air had sustained a nasty cut, probably at the second last which he clattered while trying to reduce Cornerstone Lad’s lead.