Richard Johnson took advantage of the start of Tony McCoy’s five-day suspension to cut the champion’s lead in this jump jockeys’ title race.
Johnson, runner-up to McCoy for the last six seasons, only trails by seven (138-131) thanks to a double on Grey Report and Willie John Daly for trainer Philip Hobbs at Fontwell.
The meeting had been in doubt and before racing the stewards omitted the first fence at the top of the hill in the back straight, the last fence before the winning post and the final hurdle before the winning post because of the state of the going.
But it made no difference to Grey Report, the 10-11 favourite for the opening Crown Racing “Fontwell Tipster Competition” “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle.
Grey Report made every yard of the running despite his welter burden of 12st 4lb.
The grey stuck to the inside throughout and was never really threatened to beat Wrags To Riches and Narwhal by 17 lengths and 12.
Johnson revealed there was no tactical plan.
“Because the horse pulls to his left and that’s the way he runs. He has done wonderfully well under that weight on this holding ground,” he said.
Sarah Hobbs, wife of the trainer, said: “We are delighted with that. What a performance when you consider what he was carrying.
“He loves making the running and has learned to relax a lot more. He is going to make a lovely two-and-a-half mile to three mile chaser in time.”
The Johnson-Hobbs combination struck again with Willie John Daly in the Crown Racing “Freephone 08000 724624” Novices’ Hurdle to clinch a 6-1 double.
Willie John Daly showed great resolution to beat Harapour by four lengths.
Johnson said that when the runner-up got to them Willie John Daly battled on well and Mrs Hobbs added that their gelding would get further than this extended two and three-quarter miles.
“He is extremely courageous, and like our previous winner, just loves it as soft as this,” Mrs Hobbs added.
Colonel Frank followed Grey Report’s example by making all in the three-runner Crown Racing “1st For Service” Beginners’ Chase.
JP McNamara partnered Brendan Powell’s gelding to a distance victory over Watch The Dove, with Good Bone a further length back in third.
Afterwards the jockey said: “He was always in second gear, as he had a few pounds over them and was a bit of a class above the other two.”
Powell was delighted with his purchase from Bill Smith, the former jockey who was there to see the success.
The trainer said: “I’ve also got his brother and sister at home. The Colonel is a good prospect. I loved the way he jumped out of that ground and travelled.
“He can only improve and is the most promising I have got. Hopefully he could go for the SunAlliance, but I would like to win another little race with him before that.”
Rookie trainer Nick Gifford, son of the legendary Josh, almost pulled Major Catch out of the Crown Racing Star of the Future Maiden National Hunt Flat Race because of the conditions.
However, the gelding, proved Gifford right by galloping home by 25 lengths from Random Precision.
Said Gifford: “Barry Geraghty rode him at Ascot and gave me a rave report. That shows he was right and I’m delighted because he jumps hurdles for fun at home and will get further than this two and a quarter miles and I’m glad I kept him in here.”