Cheltenham - At The Races

Walt proves emotional winner for owner Phil Simmonds at Kempton

    Big handicap success proves just reward
  • Saturday 23 February 2019
  • News

Being persuaded not to turn his back on racing was something owner Phil Simmonds was even more thankful to trainer Neil Mulholland for after Walt struck gold in the 888Sport Handicap Chase at Kempton Park.

The loss of any horse is always hard to come to terms with – but after nearly walking away from the sport that captured his imagination as a teenager, the 50-year-old was rewarded for his perseverance in the prestigious Grade Three event.

Rallying to the cause under Sam Twiston-Davies, the eight-year-old showed an admirable attitude to deny top-weight Double Shuffle – who was conceding 20lb – by a length, to leave Simmonds experiencing the finer side of the sport.

Simmonds said after the 14-1 triumph: “I was thinking of giving up racing. We had a horse called Burns Cross. We bought him as a bumper horse. He had a great pedigree and unfortunately he had a small injury on his foot.

“He went to the best veterinary surgery we could find in Newmarket, but unfortunately he died coming round out of anaesthetic and broke his neck.

“Apparently it was about a 5,000-1 chance of it happening. When you have not been brought up with racing, you can’t comprehend it.

“I thought I’d had enough, I can’t live with that. Neil said stick with it and keep going. It’s tribute to him and him being so honest and frank with me.”

Having wanted to own a racehorse since a trip to Haydock, it was not until a meeting with the Limpley Stoke handler in Punchestown many years later that the software developer realised his lifelong ambition.

He added: “We’ve never been in racing ever and it was my dream to buy a racehorse.

“I went to Haydock when I was about 17 on a stag do or something and I thought to myself I want to be in there (winner’s enclosure).

“I knew nothing about racehorses, but I knew a few guys who had purchased horses and we wrote to three trainers and Neil responded very nicely.

“I met him at Punchestown and I said this what I’m thinking of doing and he said to me this is what you need to do and what path to take.

“From an owner’s point of view we need to support the Neil Mulhollands of the world. These guys are first class. It has shown today that if these guys have got the talent (to work with), they can do it.”

While Simmonds has built up a positive relationship with Mulholland, he feels the one struck up between Sam Twiston-Davies and the former Nicky Henderson-trained gelding has been key to his change in fortunes.

He said: “Well done Sam. He rode a fantastic race and they seem to have some chemistry together. You can see that today, the way he jumped the last. I just want to say ‘thank you’ to everyone involved.

“Walt is a fantastic horse and what a character. We went to Fontwell four races ago and we didn’t know what was going on. He seemed lethargic and couldn’t be bothered.

“Neil said ‘right I’m going to test him and everything’. He put the visor on and tongue tie and Sam on and he has been a revelation.”

A long night for all concerned was in store if the celebrations of victory at Taunton in December were anything to go by.

Simmonds quipped: “The last time he won at Taunton it was my works Christmas do and they threw me out (of the hotel).”

Mulholland said: “That was great. We just tried to freshen him up after last time. We won this race a couple of years ago with Pilgrims Bay and we thought this lad was a similar type of horse.

“With the ground being as it is we thought we would enter him and thankfully it has all worked out. I think the visor has done a good job. He enjoys being aggressively ridden and likes to be up there.

“I’d say the Ultima (Handicap Chase at Cheltenham) is probably where we will go. I will speak to Sam, but I think we will stay over this trip.”

He added of a change of luck from last weekend: “I thought Carole’s Destrier was unlucky in the Grand National trial (at Haydock) last week, I’ve never seen him travel so well in a race, but that is life.

“Thankfully seven days later we are here and it is good.”