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Tuesday 5 April 2022


History records that the Winter Novices' Hurdle, run over 2 miles 4½ furlongs, on heavy going, at Leicester on December 11, 2019, was won by the 2/9 favourite Kepagge, who kept on well in the final half-a-furlong to beat his nearest pursuer Bendy Bow by 1¼ lengths. Hardly an 'unlikely' outcome, you might think, but the bare result fails to tell the whole story; in fact, far from it.

Trained by David Pipe and ridden by Tom Scudamore, Kepagge had made his debut under National Hunt rules at Chepstow the previous month, where he made all the running to win a National Hunt Flat Race by 4 lengths. At Leicester, the five-year-old gelding faced an apparently facile task against three, modest rivals – all of whom were fellow hurdling debutantes – a fact that was reflected by his prohibitive starting price.

Kepagge set off at the head of affairs, albeit at a dawdling crawl, but backed off the first flight of hurdles so badly that he lost momentum and only just 'fiddled' over the obstacle. He recovered on the long run to the second flight, but wandered on the approach to the obstacle and jumped violently left, all but unseating Tom Scudamore. At that stage, his less-than-keen attitude drew the attention of Betfair layers and he was matched at the maximum price available, 999/1, to the tune of £500 or more.

Kepagge was again ponderous at flights three and four, but warmed to the task as the pace increased, slightly, heading down the back straight for the final time. He led, going best of all, approaching the second last flight, but again jumped slowly at the final flight, allowing Bendy Bow to challenge for the lead. However, close home, Kepagge only had to be pushed out with hands and heels to score what had looked, at one stage, a highly improbable victory.


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