FONTWELL’S most prestigious race of the year rarely disappoints – and it certainly lived up to its billing this year.
The big money was on the £50,000 totepool National Spirit Hurdle going to the Paul Nicholls year for the second year in a row.
But the bookies who rated Nicholls’ runner Saphir Du Rheu as the odds-on favourite had reckoned without the most courageous of displays by Kayf Moss, who led all the way around the two-mile, four-furlong course.
And even without the superb and surprise effort from the six-year-old, who is trained by the jockey’s father John in Bridgend and began the contest priced at 16/1, Saphir was not even the next best performer.
He trailed in a disappointing fourth behind 9/2 and 6/1 shots Meister Eckhart and Chris Pea Green.
Thrilling the 2,400-strong crowd, Kayf Moss took the National Spirit crown in a photo finish from Robert Thornton on Meister Eckhart with Gary Moore’s Chris Pea Green a length-and-a-half back and the favourite another six lengths back.
For Flint junior, it was an amazing result just three weeks after suffering a serious leg injury.
His dad said: “Rhys broke his leg in the yard two days after winning on this horse at Leicester and was desperate to get back for him, knowing the chance he had, and he has done it in three weeks thanks to some new machine he has had on the leg.
“This win means plenty for us. We are only a little outfit compared to the big boys but it just shows with the right ammunition we can take them on.
“I knew from times of previous races that we could beat Saphir Du Rheu.”
The jockey’s delight was tempered by news the stewards had handed him a seven-day ban for using his whip more than the permitted level after the final hurdle.
He is suspended from March 9 to 15 so would be unable to ride Kayf Moss should he take up his entry in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham.
The National Spirit Hurdle might have been the big race of the day but the meeting – Fontwell’s first of the year after three successive abandonments – began with another important occasion, the Josh Gifford Memorial Novices’ Steeple Chase, the track’s annual race in honour of the Sussex racing legend.
Josh’s widow Althea, trainer son Nick Gifford and his wife Ruth were there to present the cup to Nick Peacock and Nick Roach, local owners of the winner Via Sundown.
And it was very much a Sussex affair after Gary Moore watched son Josh get the job done on the 7/2 contender, a half-a-length winner over 10/11 favourite Benvolio.
Fontwell bosses were delighted to get racing on.
Marketing manager George Hill said: “It is a relief after three meetings abandoned because of the amount of rainfall over the past few weeks.
“The totepool National Spirit Hurdle proved to be an exciting race.
“We had plenty of free entertainment throughout the day including fun-fair rides and face painters for the children to enjoy.
“We are back racing next Wednesday for our Cheltenham Preview Raceday in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund. The preview will take place immediately after racing in the Premier Bar.”
Admission next Wednesday is the same for all enclosures – get discounts by booking early at www.fontwellpark.co.uk
There’s more jumps action at Fontwell on March 15 and 25.
See tips and news for all Fontwell meetings on this website