With only one more flat fixture at Ffos Las this year (on Sunday 26th September) the focus is moving towards jump racing.
The traditional opening meeting of the winter/autumn season in the UK takes place at our sister course Chepstow on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th October – these days known as the Unibet Jump Season Opener. This year’s prize money is £400,000, an increase of £163,000.
The feature race on Day One of the meeting is the £60,000 Unibet Persian War Novices’ Hurdle. The race is named after an outstanding horse who won three consecutive Champion Hurdles in 1968-70. He only just missed out on a fourth by being in less than tip-top condition when lining up for the 1971 race and coming up against another exceptional horse, Bula.
For his first two championships Persian War was trained close to Chepstow racecourse by ex-jockey Colin Davies, but his owner was hard to please and the horse was moved to another stable. The race named after him was first run at Chepstow in 2000 and, being confined to novices and run over two and a half miles, it has proved to be a stepping stone for several future staying hurdlers and chasers.
Silviniaco Conti won the race in 2010 and went on to be a consistent top class chaser, and though he never excelled at Cheltenham his 16 victories elsewhere earned over £1m. They included seven Grade 1s, notably the King George VI Chase on at Kempton in 2013 and 2014.
One of the best Persian War Hurdles for producing future stars was that of 2014. The winner, Blaklion, would later win the RSA at Cheltenham, Aintree’s Becher Chase and finish fourth in the Grand National when favourite. The runner-up, Vicente, wasn’t at his best on the soft going at Chepstow and showed his true colours later by winning two Scottish Nationals.
Thyme Hill was a classy winner in 2019. He was an unlucky fourth at the next Cheltenham Festival, beaten a length and a half after twice being denied a clear run. He has become one of the top British staying hurdlers, winning Aintree’s Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle this year.
The 2020 running went to Paul Nicholls for the fifth time in the last eleven years, with McFabulous, who has since taken his career record to 7-13.
Finally, the death has been announced of leading jump racing owner Andy Stewart at the age of 70. His famous red, white and black silks will be forever associated with the four-time Stayers' Hurdle winner Big Buck's. He won the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las in 2014 with Saphir Du Rheu trained his long time ally Paul Nicholls.
Stewart, who was a stockbroker and international businessman, also owned Grade 1 stars including Celestial Halo and Cenkos as well as smart performers such as Poquelin and two-time Foxhunter Chase winner Pacha Du Polder.