By Tom Peacock at Ascot
In a National Hunt era increasingly obsessed with the countdown to the Cheltenham Festival, sometimes it is important to remember the here and now.
The Betfair Ascot Chase was a proper Grade One on paper and all of its ingredients combined to produce a result which managed to feel heart-warming, bittersweet, nostalgic and optimistic for the future all at the same time.
Ultimate praise must go to Ruth Jefferson, whose father Malcolm’s funeral had taken place only 24 hours earlier. She has taken over the training of what might very well be the finest jumper to have been developed by one of the country’s most astute and fondly-remembered practitioners, and plucked the fruits of the family's labour here.
Waiting Patiently, also remarkably a first top-level win for the north’s pre-eminent jockey Brian Hughes, is still unbeaten in seven runs over fences and remains one of the most exciting young prospects around.
Stepping up markedly in class from Listed events at Carlisle and Kempton, the 2-1 favourite was settled some way off a pace set by Cue Card, a two-time previous winner of this race and, at the age of 12, is something of an equine Roger Federer with his frequent new leases of life.
With his old ally Paddy Brennan back aboard, Cue Card led for most of the way and was still hanging in there at the second last as Waiting Patiently and Frodon - whose jockey Bryony Frost had already made more headlines by winning the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase on Black Corton - were circling.
Waiting Patiently, who was by now clearly travelling the best, forged away at the last and only a slight loss of attention on the run-in reducing his margin to two and three-quarter lengths.
“Dad would have loved to have been here,” explained Ruth Jefferson, remaining incredibly composed and upbeat despite the circumstances.
“He did say it would be good to get him beat as it would lower expectations, but he did hold him in very high regard.
“He'd be proud and I must thank him because Richard (Collins, owner) sent the horse to him not me!" she said.
"I'm thrilled to bits, thrilled for Richard and for everyone at home. I think dad would be crying now.”
Jefferson plans to continue the work of her father and continue waiting patiently herself - “it sums him up,” she said in reference to the horse’s name. She will not ask too many questions of the victor, who prefers cut in the ground.
“I do think he’ll stay three miles - Brian isn’t as convinced as we are about it. There are plenty of races over two and a half miles and he is in the Ryanair, but it depends if he gets his ground. I imagine we won’t make a decision until 10 minutes before declaration time.
“This might have been his Cheltenham. Everyone is obsessed with Cheltenham apart from us. There’s Aintree, Punchestown as well.”
What really completed this occasion was the hearty applause offered to Cue Card as he returned to the paddock. He had also finished runner-up on his previous start, but that was when beaten out of sight by Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase at Ascot in late November.
“I’m just so glad he’s done it, he’s a good boy,” said a rather emotional Colin Tizzard. “That was probably as good as ever - Waiting Patiently is an outstanding horse.”
Quite whether Cue Card has another go at the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup after two consecutive falls in the race remains to be seen.
There is the intriguing possibility of him attempting to regain the Ryanair. Given that his enthusiasm and pace seem intact, that might be the better target.
“There's two options, one we've got unfinished business with and one we've won before,” Tizzard said. “I suppose it depends which race looks easier. It’ll be up to Jean (Bishop, owner)."
Hughes, who was to complete a treble on the card and has been aboard Waiting Patiently since his debut over fences and transfer from the retired Keith Reveley, summed the afternoon up best.
“It means everything really, (Malcolm Jefferson) always had faith in this horse,” he said. “I’m sure if he’s looking down he’ll be bollocking me because I got there too soon and I hit him twice.
“I’m not supposed to hit him, I panicked in front. This horse has immense ability. It’s quite amazing for Ruth in her first week, she trains a Grade One winner.”
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