L'Unique Claims Matalan Prize
1 L'Unique 10/1
Watch out Quevega! Another French-bred filly named L’Unique has emerged as an exciting prospect who could take your tiara.
Trained by Alan King and ridden by Wayne Hutchinson – who wore the colours of Denis Barry – L’Unique landed the opening race at this year’s John Smith’s Grand National meeting, the Grade One Matalan Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle at odds of 10/1. In doing so she reversed placings with Irish Saint who beat her in the Grade Two Adonis Hurdle at Kempton on her latest outing, and became a candidate for victory in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at next year’s Cheltenham Festival.
That race has been dominated by its five-time winner Quevega, but L’Unique looks a worthy contender, and bookmaker Paddy Power quoted her at 7/1 following today’s victory, in which she beat Runswick Royal by one and a quarter lengths, with Irish Saint another five lengths back in third.
King, who has won today’s race in four of the past seven years, said: “I would have settled for a place in the first four, but she’s obviously strengthened up a bit and I’m thrilled with her. There was no pace at Kempton and we had to commit a long way out, but she’s improved since then.
“That’s probably the best ground she’s raced on, and we deliberately missed Cheltenham to give her time and being mindful that she’s strengthening all the time. I think she’ll go any type of ground.
“Wayne had her in a lovely position and her jumping was very accurate. That’s the last you’ll see of her this season – we resisted the temptation to put her in at Punchestown and I’m glad we did. She’ll have a good summer and then start back over hurdles again next season. There are a lot of good mares’ races around now and she’ll go two and a half miles.
“She’s got plenty of size and she’s still leggy – she needs to fill into herself a bit more.
“I think L’Unique could be very good. She is different to my previous winners of this race in that she didn’t run on the Flat so this is only the fifth race of her life.”
Barry added: “Full credit to Alan, Wayne and Choc, who can’t be here today. They have done a fantastic job with this filly and she is credit to the yard and everybody connected with her.
“We were hopeful she would run into a bit of prize money. We knew we were up against a couple of decent horses but I am absolutely delighted. We hope next year she will be a much better filly.”
L’Unique ensured that she is just that to jockey Wayne Hutchinson who recorded his sole Grade 1 victory in the Matalan Anniversary 4YO Juvenile Hurdle aboard the Alan King-trained filly.
Hutchinson, fresh from riding 33/1 shot Medinas to glory for his boss in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, was unsurprisingly delighted to get the 2013 John Smith’s Grand National Meeting off to such a flying start for the King stable.
He said: “She travelled like a trouper and hasn’t missed a beat on her jumping. She was so impressive but she’s still raw and she’s going to make up into a lovely mare for next year.
“All credit to the governor, he’s brought her here in great shape. She won a mares’ Listed race here earlier in the season and he thought she would perhaps prefer this race to Cheltenham. We always thought she was nice, she’s come here a fresh horse and the better ground has suited her.
“She’s such a lovely mover and has really shown her class today.”
Hutchinson is second jockey to Robert ‘Choc’ Thornton at King’s BarburyCastle base but has proved an able deputy at the big Festivals with his colleague out of action with a broken arm and fractured vertebrae.
He added: “It’s lovely to get a win so early. It calms the nerves and helps with the butterflies but every race we’re competing in over the next few days is important.”
Matalan Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1)
RUNSWICK ROYAL DELIGHTS HAMILTONS IN DEFEAT
Ian and Ann Hamilton were delighted with the performance of 20/1 shot Runswick Royal who finished second behind L’Unique in the opening race of this year’s John Smith’s Grand National meeting, the Matalan Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle.
The four-year-old had won on his previous two starts at Sedgefield and Newcastle and was putting his best work in at the end of the race, closing with every yard to go down by a length-and-a-quarter.
“We’re thrilled to bits as he’s run his heart out,” said trainer Ann Hamilton. “He’s such a lovely horse and he could do no more.”
Runswick Royal runs in the colours of Hamilton’s husband Ian, who was in a more reflective mood after his gelding had just been beaten.
“It would have been better if he’d have won!” said Hamilton. “He’s run a blinder though at a big price – the bookies don’t tend to consider us little permit-holders.
“He’ll be roughed off now for the season and we’ll decide over the summer what to do with him. He’ll be high enough in the handicap now for a horse in the north but he’ll definitely jump a fence in time.”
“We’ve got a cracking record at Aintree and have had two winners, a pulled-up and now a second from four runners.”
One of those winners came 10 years ago to this day when Divet Hill won the John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ Chase by 11 lengths from General Wolfe with Dale Jewett in the saddle and Hamilton is hoping Runswick Royal could develop into something similar.
“I’d love to see him over these big fences in time,” said Hamilton. “He’s going to be a grand jumper and I’m sure we’ll be back here.”
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