Galloping grey gets new term off to a flyer to delight jumping faithful; Tom O'Ryan is part of a huge Wetherby crowd who know the jumps season starts now - not May.
FORGET, if you can, the fact that we're already six months into the jumps season. Brilliant Cheltenham Bumper winner Cue Card may already have proved he's not only a fluent galloper, but also a fine jumper of hurdles; the ultra-popular Monet's Garden, courtesy of his hat-trick of wins in the Old Roan Chase, may already have proved that there's no better sight than a bold-jumping, front-running grey; and a certain AP McCoy may already have proved that he's a man with a continuing mission, with 100 winners already, including that trojan mid-week effort on reluctant hero Drill Sergeant.
For many, though, the true jumps season didn't start, as the calendar says, in the closing days of April. It kicked off yesterday at Wetherby and Ascot.
Both had showpiece races with a prize fund of pounds 100,000 and staged cards with the guts of pounds 200,000 on offer.
Perhaps Racing For Change should take note - the beginning of the National Hunt campaign coincides with Halloween. Wetherby regulars certainly needed no reminding.
They flocked through the gates in their thousands - 9,000 to be precise - for this annual last-weekend-of-October gathering, day two of a fixture which brings tweed suits, corduroy trousers and polo-necked sweaters out of summer hibernation, as well as a whole lot more. Familiar names were in abundance.
The genuine attraction of the jumping game, apart from the thrills and excitement, is that horses turn up year on year. Horses such as Fair Along. He was here 12 months ago when he won the John Smith's Hurdle.
Yesterday, he won it again, another Grade 2 triumph for his owner Alan Peterson, who, just for good measure, completed an outstanding big-race double at Ascot with Massini's Maguire, while Fair Along's trainer Philip Hobbs underlined the strength and wellbeing of his string with a trio of winners at the Berkshire venue.
If Fair Along and his talented young rider Rhys Flint were treated to the warmest of receptions by an appreciative Yorkshire crowd, the assembled throng cooed their pleasure at seeing Nacarat carry off the Charlie Hall Chase.
One week on from witnessing Monet's Garden leap like a salmon around his favourite Aintree circuit, here was another Persil-white horse with agility to match his athleticism, who captivated an audience with a spring-heeled display, apart from a single error three from home which brought a collective groan from the grandstand.
It was a blip, nothing more, and the thoroughly likeable Nacarat galloped home like the good 'un he is for a popular success in a race named after a trainer who was a legend at Wetherby.
BASED at nearby Towton, WA 'Charlie' Hall sent out his first winner as a trainer - Cudworth in 1945 - on this course, where, remarkably, he recorded no fewer than 169 winners from a total 584 jumps scorers in a 31-year career, which saw him crowned champion in 1955-56. Ten of those track victories came from the ultra-popular Clear Cut, while Hall's most prestigious triumphs were provided by such as Magnetic Fin in the Scottish Grand National and Doorknocker in the Champion Hurdle.
While you do, of course, have to be of a certain vintage to remember Hall's exploits as a trainer, considerably younger folk will remember Sam Thomas guiding Denman to victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Hennessy Gold Cup. Thomas has had his downs since then, largely through bad luck, bad injuries or a combination of both.
Yesterday, on Nacarat, he proved he is more than capable of holding centre stage on major days. There should be plenty more to come for him.
It is a stark reminder of just how competitive it is, and how tough it can be to make a decent living as a jump jockey, unless you have the backing of a top-notch stable, that Thomas has had fewer than 100 mounts this season.
Furthermore, Nacarat was only his sixth winner. Everyone needs a springboard now and again, and the flying grey could project Thomas back to bigger and better things.
As for the jumps season, we are now up and running, despite the focus returning to Flat racing next Saturday, not least for the climax of the thrilling jockeys' championship battle between Paul Hanagan and Richard Hughes, and, of course, the Breeders' Cup from Churchill Downs.
After that, though, it's jumping all the way for five months. The start of it was yesterday. It promises to be a thrilling ride before the finishing post is reached by which time the clocks (did you remember to turn them back last night?) will have returned to British Summer Time.
Nacarat: produced a spring-heeled display to win the Charlie Hall Chase