September 18, 2021

Wargrave on target at Southwell

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Wargrave fuelled more “mad dreams” for trainer George Baker when he added a maiden victory over hurdles at Southwell to a remarkable equine CV which already contains a ‘white turf’ title at St Moritz.

Wargrave won the Grosser Preis von St Moritz on his stable debut for Baker in February, having previously run in the Group One National Stakes as a two-year-old for Fozzy Stack in Ireland and since taken in Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood this summer.

After the son of Galileo had proved himself equally adept over jumps, beating odds-on favourite Hooper by a length in the Sky Sports Racing HD Virgin 535 Maiden Hurdle, Baker cited “America, via the Guatemalan Derby” as possible future destinations.

Slightly closer to home for the Sussex trainer, but on no smaller stage, Wargrave has sparked hopes of spring targets at Aintree or Cheltenham if he can manage to “sneak into” a big handicap.

“I brought him all the way up here to Southwell, from the southern Riviera of Sussex, hoping it would snow – because he goes on that!” Baker said with a smile, after the four-year-old had prevailed at 11-4 under Adrian Heskin, on just his second attempt over hurdles.

“I’m delighted with him,” he added.

“We do have a bit of a mantra – ‘have horse, will travel’, always pressing the gamble button and going off to strange places and fun places with winning chances.”

Baker is perhaps best known for the globetrotting exploits of his 2013 Royal Hunt Cup winner Belgian Bill – and in Wargrave, he appears to have unearthed another kindred spirit.

“Belgian Bill took us round the world, and this fellow likewise,” he said.

“Who knows where we’ll end up? He might be a type for America at some point – we’ll see, one step at a time.

“America, via the Guatemalan Derby – I think that would be the obvious one.”

Other targets will come first, on home soil.

“By the end of the season, maybe he’ll be sneaking into the bottom of one of those better handicaps if things drop right,” said Baker.

“We’re never ones for getting ahead of ourselves. But I think a flat track probably suits – so I suppose if everything went perfectly, he’d maybe the type who could end up in a nice race at Aintree, because I’d have thought that track would probably suit him.

“But there’s another place called Cheltenham along the way. To add a Cheltenham winner to our Royal Ascot winner would be beyond my wildest dreams.

“But you have to have mad dreams in this game, as we all know. So I’ll drive home from here with a few.”

Wargrave has already made a lifelong dream come true for his owner Paul Bowden.

“He was a proper horse on the Flat,” said Baker.

“He’s been a real star, and I’m delighted for his owner Paul. He’s been a great supporter of ours, and his dream was to win that race in St Moritz – now the dream is racing on a bit longer!

“He did a great job for us in St Moritz, which is what the owner bought him for – he wanted a horse to win that big race over there.

“He got that job done, (but) then got a bit bored of the stalls through the summer.”

The solution was a comparatively short journey for Wargrave, for expert jumping tuition from triple Gold Cup-winner Best Mate’s former trainer and schooling doyenne Henrietta Knight.

Baker said: “If you want your horses to jump well, you send them to the best, so we sent him down to Hen’s, and all credit to her – she’s been a massive part of turning this horse’s mind around.

“He was just a bit sour through the summer, and he went down there for two weeks with Hen, and that’s been the making of him – he jumped beautifully at Exeter the other day.

“We’re mainly a Flat yard, but we love having a few jumpers round the place.

“He’s an exciting horse for a different discipline – if we can have a bit of fun with him over hurdles, so be it.”

Wargrave was not the only notable winner on the day when jumping returned for the first time to Southwell following a two-month suspension of its National Hunt fixture list while investigations were carried out into a spate of fatalities.

Despite two fallers and other non-completions on the eight-race card, there were no reports of serious injury.

Paul Nicholls’ Barbados Buck’s, meanwhile, also scored over hurdles for the first time.

The Stewart family’s well-related five-year-old served notice of his potential by relishing a step up in trip to win the Free Tips Daily On Novices’ Hurdle by two and a quarter lengths at 11-4 under Bryony Frost.