THIRD INTENTION and Utopian shared the limelight - and the crowd enjoyed the sunlight - as Fontwell Park’s first weekend meeting of 2012 proved a fitting tribute to the late, great Josh Gifford.
The National Spirit Hurdle was the big race of the day and was a Tizzard family triumph - as jockey Joe rode to victory on Third Intention, trained by his father Colin and owned by Colin’s brother Robert.
But the day began and ended with everyone’s thoughts turning to the recent death of Gifford.
A minute’s silence before the race was held in memory of the Sussex-based racing legend - and his trainer son Nick had a job to contain his emotions after his runner Utopian, the 9/4 favourite, won the last, the Live Pool Information At totepool.com Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
Third Intention was impressive in winning the Grade 2 totepool-sponsored feature race - for which the field were led out by 2008 and 2009 winner Lough Derg - to give punters one of the card’s guiding pointers for March’s Cheltenham Festival.
The five-year-old took up the running with two to jump and eased clear of Topolski and Duc De Regniere.
Outsider Afsoun and Duc De Regniere had led early on while The Knoxs, trained by Paul Nicholls, threatened briefly with half a circuit to go, but Tizzard guided the 11-10 favourite to take up the running over the second-last flight and he didn’t look back.
Stan James cut Third Intention to 14-1 (from 25) for the Coral Cup and 12-1 (from 25) for the County Hurdle.
Trainer Tizzard said: “I was a little bit worried about coming here so quickly after Newbury but perhaps he needed it a bit there. He’ll run in either the Coral Cup or County Hurdle at Cheltenham.”
Another to have a good day at the sun-blessed meeting was Richard Johnson, recently crowned Fontwell’s top jockey of 2011.
He was celebrating a double after riding 15/8 favourite Oscar Davy, trained by Phillip Hobbs, to the win in the toteplacepot Lough Derg Novices’ Hurdle and 5/1 shot Mortimers Cross to victory in the totequadpot Handicap Chase for trainer John Needham.
Noel Fehily took the toteexacta Novices’ Chase on 2/1 favourite Chariot Charger for Hampshire handler Emma Lavelle, the Queen’s horse Barbers Shop warmed up for Cheltenham by winning the totepool Supports The Racehorse Sanctuary Foxhunters Trial Hunters’ Chase after going off 6/4 favourite, and Sussex father-and-son trainer-jockey duo Gary and Joshua Moore teamed up for success with 7/2 joint favourite Sircozy in the Bet totepool Text tote To 89660 Handicap Hurdle.
The meeting attracted a large number of fans and had an All About The Horse theme, with pony rides, a racehorse simulator, an appearance by the Warhorse theatre group and the chance to meet retired racehorses.
* Don’t miss the Observer on Thursday for a report and pictures from National Spirit Hurdle day plus Fontwell Park general manager Holly Glover’s latest exclusive Focus on Fontwell column.