MONMOUTHSHIRE raised racing trainer Sam Thomas saw the £150,000 Coral Trophy Handicap Chase snatched from under Al Dancer’s nose after an epic effort from the 28-1 shot at Kempton Park.

The former jockey, who won Cheltenham’s Gold Cup riding Denman to victory in 2008, can be proud of his horse after running 15-2 shot Forward Plan so close.

But he and owner Dai Walters - who has fought back from horrific injuries sustained 15 months ago in a helicopter crash that Thomas escaped physically unscathed from – tasted victory with 13-8 favourite Lump Sum in the Grade 2 Coral Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle under Sam Twiston-Davies, coming home 4 1/2L clear of Fiercely Proud after going clear at the last.   

The horse had won last time out at Doncaster, and Thomas, who grew up in Abergavenny, said: “I’m delighted. We’re not having as many runners as we may be have done in the last season or two and as a trainer I don’t have as much confidence as I should do going into races like that – I was nervous beforehand.

“I was delighted to see the horse transfer that Doncaster form, but he’s a smashing horse and learning all the time.” 

Not entered in any of the Grade 1 novice hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival, he could still end up at the seasonal highlight next week (March 12-15) in one of the handicaps with the County Hurdle (over two miles) and the Martin Pipe (over 2m4f and a bit) his options.

Thomas has a serious horse to aim at the Festival now he’s qualified for the handicaps by virtue of having his fourth run over hurdles.

The 11-year-old Al Dancer lit up Kempton Park in the Coral Trophy Handicap Chase under Dylan Johnston by front-running to within sight of the line.

Sporting Life said: “This was a terrific ride in defeat, Johnston taking the race by the scruff of the neck after his fellow jockeys declined to take up the running, and he got his mount into a superb rhythm up front only for the petrol gauge to start flashing after the last.”

It looked like the Al Dancer might just hang on, but an astonishing late burst from Forward Plan just denied the gallant grey approaching the winning line.

Winning jockey Ben Godfrey timed his charge perfectly on the home straight, with the 15-2 chance taking victory by 1 1/4Ls.

If Al Dancer is to go to the Festival it will be for the Ultima Handicap Chase on a stiffer track over a furlong further, so perhaps it’s a shame he was denied his day in the sun while Thomas had him in such good shape.