Wicklewood will attempt to score a fifth victory at Towcester on Thursday when he tackles the 2m conditional jockeys’ handicap chase at 3.50pm.
While not unusual for course specialists to constantly return to this local track once establishing proven ability to tackle its steep gradients, there is something unique about the way the 10-year-old gelding has suddenly discovered his true métier at a time when a more obvious move would have been to give up and find a new career.
Wicklewood’s four Towcester wins arrived inside an 11 month period and it is fair to say no-one exactly saw it coming. Talk about ‘if at first you don’t succeed’, the son of Mujahid could teach Robert The Bruce and spider a few things about patience and perseverance…
Trained by Mark Gillard at Holwell near Sherborne in Dorset, Wicklewood had explored most racing angles in running 48 times, competing on the flat, in bumpers, over hurdles and then fences before finally getting his head in front.
Significantly, he had never been to Towcester at that point but that all changed on May 1, 2014, a day which proved a landmark for Wicklewood when he passed the post five lengths ahead of Beauchamp Viking over a distance of two miles. Perhaps to prove it wasn’t a fluke he managed a repeat performance 22 days later when stepped up in trip to 2m 4f. Again he was ridden by Gary Derwin with the margin once more five lengths, Bally Lagan this time following him home in second place.
His third Towcester win came in December 2014 when he trotted up by 13 lengths over two and a half miles, ridden by Tom Cannon.
That course and distance sequence success was completed on March 23 last year when Cannon was in the saddle for a length and a half victory from 9/4 favourite Lord Landen.
Perhaps not surprisingly given his overall profile, Wicklewood has invariably dipped beneath the betting radar at Towcester, being returned for his wins at 13/2, 6/1, 8/1 and 12/1. Of course backing at Wicklewood at Towcester is hardly a foolproof system with his win record in Northamptonshire now standing at 4/11 but included in that figure he has also been a runner-up, while finishing third on two occasions.
It is hardly rocket science Gillard should be keen to run back at the track and the trainer is keener than ever to grab opportunities here when they arise, even though his stable strike rate is not so impressive in 2015/16.
He said: “We have been running him back over hurdles a few times as he has a much lower mark there, but he seems to be a better chaser.”
Gillard added: “He has won on soft and heavy ground at a variety of trips so he is actually quite versatile as to that, but there is no doubt Towcester is his course. If you had asked me before we first came here whether it would suit him I would have said he didn’t have a Scooby-Doo of a chance as he is quite a soft individual and Towcester is a tough track. However with the slower pace of the races there he can get himself into a rhythm.
“Last season we had 18 winners from 16 horses in the yard and this time round it is only two from 20 horses. To an extent we are paying for last season as the handicapper has killed them but Wicklewood is back below his best winning mark and it will depend how competitive the race is.”
The first race at Towcester on Thursday is the Daventry Handicap Hurdle over 2m 5f at 1.10pm.