by Lucy Russell-Hughes

RYEDALE trainer David O’Meara was celebrating another big weekend winner when Escobar landed the Balmoral Handicap on British Champions Day at Ascot last Saturday.

The tough and consistent gelding had to overcome some trouble in running but he pounced late off the pace to take the mile contest at odds of 16-1.

He fought off the challenges of the Cambridgeshire winner and hot favourite, Lord North, and was a worthy winner of the race having filled the runner up spot 12 months ago.

Ridden to victory by jockey Adam Kirby who was welcomed into the Ascot winner’s enclosure by crowds of people chanting his name, he said “It’s always great to get a winner here.”

Kirby was carrying the familiar dartboard silks of owners The Withernsea Thoroughbred Limited. The same ownership teamed up with O’Meara just seven days previous to scoop another big Saturday prize when Gulliver won the Coral Sprint Trophy at York.

The competitive Balmoral Handicap closes the card on Champions Day and it’s a race that’s proved lucky for O’Meara in the past. He saddled Lord Glitters to win in 2017 and this year’s winner Escobar went one better than his second place effort in 2018.

“It looked from a long way like he wasn’t going to get there but he’s a very classy horse on his day. I didn’t think he would go as well as he did on the really soft ground but it’s great and it’s been a good race for us,” said O’Meara.

It was the five-year-old’s second win of the year after he landed a class two event on the Knavesmire in the summer and has been a model of consistency ever since.

His familiar pilot Kirby spoke after netting the cool £155,000 first place prize.

“He’s a lovely horse, he’s exciting to ride and I’m pleased he kept going for me. I’ve always said when I first started riding him that there’s a big prize in this horse somewhere. I’m really chuffed for him,” he said.

Elsewhere on the card, Sands Of Mali was unable to repeat the win of last year in the British Champions Sprint for the Richard Fahey stable, he travelled well with the early pace but dropped out of contention.

Lord Glitters finished mid-division in the Group One Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, however the John Quinn trained Safe Voyage ran a very creditable race in defeat, beaten only two lengths into third by Richard Hannon’s King Of Change.

Safe Voyage has had a campaign his trainer ought to be proud of; for it was only a fortnight ago he finished fourth in another Group One on Arc day at Paris Longchamp.

There was more local success on Saturday on the flat circuit when the Tim Easterby trained Count D’orsay took the honours in the Catterick Dash.

The three-year-old gelding has been a revelation since joining the Easterby team in July and he was steered to victory in the five furlong affair by David Allan to record his third win for his new trainer.

Count D’orsay finished second behind the favourite Moss Gill at York just seven days before, but he reversed that form and held on well to land the spoils.

The team were also triumphant further south last week at Yarmouth Racecourse when Mac Ailey was a very welcome winner at the 13th attempt of asking.

He scored comfortably in the mile and two furlong contest in the hands of Rachel Richardson and she said “He’s done it really nicely, the step up in trip has helped him and he’s gone through the ground really well.”

Easterby’s horses have proved just as effective on the National Hunt scene as he saddled two impressive winners on Carlisle’s card last week with Multellie and Attention Seaker.

Both were big price winners but both proved the trainer’s versatility as a dual purpose license holder.

Multellie transferred his winning flat form to hurdles when scoring the novice hurdle nicely under pilot Jamie Hamilton.

It was Attention Seaker who made it a double on the day for Easterby when running out a ready winner and giving jockey Lee Cosgrove his first success under rules.

Another Malton yard in flying form is that of Brian Ellison’s.

Currently operating at a very healthy strike rate of 35 per cent Ellison has saddled six winners in the last seven days, most notably he enjoyed a treble on Sunday at Sedgefield.

First in the winners enclosure was Robeam after he took the Juvenile Maiden Hurdle, formerly trained by Richard Fahey, he was ridden to a 32-length victory by Danny Cook.

Then Windsor Avenue scored first time over fences in a Beginners’ Chase in the Definitly Red silks for owner Phil Martin and jockey Brian Hughes, and it proved Ellison’s most popular winner of the afternoon.

“He’s one of my best novices, he’s really good. What he’s done at home has been amazing, he can be a bit brave at times but his jumping is great,” said his trainer.

Ellison revealed he had a very sleepless night before the race. “I think he’s a horse with a big future. I’ve never been so nervous before running a horse, I think so much of him,” he added.

Henry Brooke then partnered Snookered to a comprehensive win in the class three handicap hurdle to mark a joyous day for connections.

Speaking after Snookered’s success Brooke said “He’s really tough, game and sticks his head down. Brian’s done a great job with him.

"It takes a lot to get a horse to win three races on the bounce, so it’s a great effort.”

Ellison’s good form looks set to continue as he could have some exciting runners in the upcoming days.

The classy Forest Bihan and the equally classy Nietzsche both hold entries for the opening meeting at Cheltenham this Saturday.

Forest Bihan is also in the line-up for the prestigious Grade Two Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase at Aintree on Sunday.