As the old saying goes, winning the Derby makes you rich, winning the Grand National makes you famous. Winning a point to point just makes you happy, but what satisfaction there must be for the trainer who, on Sunday, became the first to get Don Poli to win a race since December 2015.
The wizard in question is Nick Pearce, 36, whose day job is as one of three head lads working at Dan Skelton’s Warwickshire winner factory. When Don Poli arrived at Skelton’s in the summer, Dan sent him a short way down the road to a yard where Pearce, who trained 80-odd pointing winners before joining the team, still works his magic on a veteran or two.
It is a rare privilege to be asked to revive the fortunes of Don Poli. We are in danger of forgetting that he won at consecutive Festivals, that he has three Grade One wins to his name and was placed in six more. In recent seasons, he has been living down to his long-held nickname, ‘Don Slowly’, and it was no surprise that he finished last in the Grand National, some 41 lengths behind the 18th horse.
And yet a merry band of masochists persist in calling themselves his fans. They presumably include his owner, Darren Yates, who paid a barmy £170,000 for him in April, as well as many of the punters who have spent the last four years tearing up tickets with his name on them.
Even at Alnwick on Sunday, he was in danger of getting outpaced on the first circuit, but he kept grinding away and the result was not in doubt from the third-last. It was evidence that Pearce has, at the very least, a happy and healthy horse on his hands. Don Slowly fans will take it as reason for hope that he can get involved in the Foxhunter races at Cheltenham and Aintree in the spring.
Pearce says he has got good results from taking a relaxed approach to the business of getting the great horse fit. “Don Poli gets ridden out with another older horse we’ve got for point to pointing, Workbench, they both go out together. They’ve been in training all their lives, so we give them a bit of variety and they seem to be thriving on it,” he told me on Monday.
“He’s very straightforward, a pleasure to have around. You wouldn’t know he was there. He gets ridden out most of the time in the dark in the mornings, or when I get my lunch break. He just fits in and he seems to enjoy that, he seems to enjoy not having a hard time.
“I’m more delighted for the horse than anything. He’s gone there and enjoyed himself, which was the main aim. That would have done his confidence no end of good.”
It must also have cheered Pearce and Don Poli’s new jockey, 19-year-old Tristan Durrell, since half of Northumberland evidently turned out to admire their efforts. “It was absolutely fantastic. I’ve never been made to feel so welcome. We were going there with an exceptionally nice horse with a grand reputation. Everyone was delighted to see him there and also to see him win.”
Don Poli may be back at Alnwick next month and, if all goes well, one more tilt at the Cheltenham Festival seems on the cards.
Tuesday’s best bets
There’s much to be said for course form at Fakenham and two recent winners there head the market for the three-mile handicap hurdle. I favour the mare Perfect Moment (1.10), who was having just her third run in a handicap when scoring last month and seemed on her way to victory when her main challenger unseated at the last.
She should be straighter for having that run behind her and, at 13-8, can see off Todd, who had to drop into selling company for his third course win.
Alex Hales has hit the target with his last three runners and could get a double here, starting with Stacey Sue (12.40), who showed promise on her hurdles debut. She’s 4-1 for the opening novice, while you can get 5-1 about Swilly Sunset (2.10) in a later handicap. He put up a fair effort on his first start for the yard when facing what turned out to be an impossible task behind Little Rory Mac at Market Rasen. Like Stacey Sue, he is fitted with a tongue tie for the first time here and is being supported as I type.
Catterick 12.25 Just Call Me Al 12.55 Sea Art 1.25 Pogue 1.55 Bhutan (nb) 2.25 Decor Irlandais 2.55 Las Tunas 3.25 Blueskyandsunshine
Fakenham 12.40 Stacey Sue 1.10 Perfect Moment (nap) 1.40 Kilbrew Boy 2.10 Swilly Sunset 2.40 Gold Fields 3.10 Xcitations
Lingfield Abandoned due to waterlogging