Saturday, February 1 – the day the National Spirit Hurdle die was cast.
On the face of it, there was little to get pulses racing on Welsh Champion Hurdle day at Ffos Las.
That was unless you were John Flint – the Bridgend trainer who was left stunned by what he witnessed at the track in Dyfed, Wales.
And after making doubly certain his eyes had not deceived him, the likeable handler set the wheels in motion for Kayf Moss’ win in Sunday’s National Spirit Hurdle – a result that will go down as one of the biggest shocks in the history of Fontwell’s richest race.
You see, Flint knew the time was right to launch a West Sussex raid with his six-year-old son of Kayf Tara.
He knew it because his stopwatch told him so – twice.
Saphir Du Rheu won the feature race at Ffos Las that day – the two-and-a-half-mile Welsh Champion Hurdle.
Little more than 90 minutes after Paul Nicholls’ 158-rated talent had tasted glory, Flint saddled Kayf Moss in the Professional Security Management Handicap Hurdle – run over the same trip.
The Welsh trainer looked on with pride as his progressive hurdler made a mockery of a mark of 110 by thrashing runner-up Buckhorn Tom by 27 lengths.
But the margin of victory under jockey Tom O’Brien was not what caught Flint’s eye.
It was the fact his front-running ace had stopped the clock a whopping nine seconds quicker than Saphir Du Rheu – on ground that was getting steadily worse.
And knowing Nicholls was aiming his winner at the National Spirit Hurdle – the seven-time champion trainer had revealed as much after landing the Lanzarote Hurdle in January – Flint’s mind was made up.
He would take on Saphir Du Rheu in the biggest race of the season at Fontwell. And he would win.
Flint said: ‘We came to Fontwell because the time at Ffos Las – over the same trip as Paul Nicholls’ horse – was nine seconds quicker.
‘I couldn’t believe it, so I went home, played the video and timed it myself. And it was right!
‘So I said we have got to go to Fontwell because we have a live chance.
‘They were all out at Ffos Las that day and Tom said he just loved the ground.
‘So we thought we would bring him here (Fontwell) and he would have a chance.
‘It was good prize money – £28,000 for the winning horse – so it was definitely worth us coming!’
Saphir Du Rheu stopped the clock in a time of 5min 31sec when he won the Welsh Champion Hurdle by a head.
Kayf Moss clocked 5:22 and was put up 20lb by the handicapper.
However, his mark was still 35lb lower than that of 2/5-favourite Saphir Du Rheu when they went to post at Fontwell.
But he proceeded to make all under Rhys Flint, who had shrugged off a mild break to his leg inside 21 days to ride his dad’s 16/1-shot, and claim success by a head.
Meister Eckhart, last term’s runner-up, was second again, while Chris Pea Green relegated Saphir Du Rheu to fourth.
‘Since we have fitted blinkers he has just improved,’ said Flint of the race’s biggest-priced winner since Male-Ana-Mou, who landed odds of 25/1 in 2000.
‘The handicapper was right putting him up 20lb (after Ffos Las).
‘I thought he might have been a little bit harsh at the time but he was right. He’s very good at his job!
‘We have got an entry in the Coral Cup (at the Cheltenham Festival) next month but it will all depend on what the handicapper does to us after this win.’