Cheltenham Festival winner Dame De Compagnie made a victorious debut over fences in the Western House Hotel Gift Vouchers Novices’ Chase at Ayr.
Not seen since justifying 5-1 favouritism in the ultra-competitive Coral Cup last March, the eight-year-old mare had to travel a long way from Henderson’s Lambourn base to find a suitable beginning for her new career.
Despite one blunder on the first circuit, she jumped well in the main – and while she faced a fine rival in Cornerstone Lad, a Fighting Fifth winner over hurdles, Dame De Compagnie had far too much pace in the straight and pulled nine lengths clear under Nico de Boinville.
The sponsors cut the winner into 5-1 from 10s for the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but Henderson appears lukewarm on that idea.
“She was great, she made just the one mistake, and when she did it I said ‘she won’t do that again’ – and she didn’t,” he said of the 1-2 favourite.
“I’m not sure there’s an awful lot she can go for in March. She’d ideally want two and a half miles, but then you meet Envoi Allen (in the Marsh Novices’ Chase).
“There’s the new mares’ chase, but that’s not really for novices – after just one run, that would be asking quite a lot.
“She beat a Fighting Fifth winner there, but to be fair the other horse hasn’t run to the form he showed when beating Buveur D’Air since – though I’m sure the handicapper might try to tell me he has!
“The trouble was we couldn’t find a two-and-a-half-mile novice chase for her – there was a lack of opportunities, and she was ready to go.
“I didn’t really want to run her over two miles. But with nothing else coming up, we had to get her in the box and head north.
“We’ll have to do some thinking (for her next target).”
Earlier on the card, Olly Murphy’s Champagnesuperover (6-4 favourite) got off the mark over obstacles in the EBF “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle, and jockey Adrian Heskin went on to double up on Warren Greatrex’s Timeless Beauty (7-2 favourite).