Paul Nicholls already has one eye on a tilt at the Stayers’ Hurdle with McFabulous after he starred in a Friday four-timer for the yard at Chepstow.
The Grade Two Unibet Persian War Novices’ Hurdle was the feature event on the the first afternoon of a two-day fixture in Wales regarded by many as the start of the jumps season proper.
Having enjoyed an extended break following the curtailment of the last campaign due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Nicholls string appear to be firing on all cylinders already as the multiple champion bids to take back his title from Nicky Henderson
Grade Two bumper winner McFabulous was disappointing on his first couple of starts over obstacles last winter, but having got his act together in the new year with wins at Market Rasen and in the EBF Final at Kempton, he was a 4-6 favourite for his reappearance.
Odds-on backers will have had few concerns, with Harry Cobden’s mount hitting the front with a huge leap two flights from the finish and readily holding the gritty Courtandbould at bay by three lengths.
Nicholls told Sky Sports Racing: “I’m delighted with that – we’ve always thought he was a good horse.
“He had a few little issues early on last season with schooling and just took a while to get his act together – he handicapped himself really, which meant he could win the EBF Final.
“He travelled well into the race (today), jumped to the front and won with his ears pricked – it’s a proper start to the season.”
He added: “He was a little bit timid last year, but he’s grown up now and my view this year would be to have a crack at the Stayers’ Hurdle with him.
“I suspect the next stop will be the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and then we’ll see if we’re good enough to down the Stayers’ Hurdle route. If we’re not, we’ll go chasing.”
Nicholls and Cobden got the afternoon off to a flyer with 6-1 shot Thyme White, who dominated his rivals in the Paul Ferguson’s Jumpers To Follow 4-Y-O Hurdle.
Making his first appearance since finishing down the field in the Boodles Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, Thyme White travelled powerfully into the home straight before pulling three lengths clear of The Pink’n.
“I was hoping he’d improve – he was a big, weak horse last year,” said Nicholls.
“We’ve always liked him and the obvious step from here is the Greatwood Hurdle, I suppose – that’s where we’ll go next.”
Flic Ou Voyou (4-7 favourite) brought up the treble for Team Ditcheat, who following five successive placed efforts, finally opened his jumping account with a runaway victory in division one of the Unibet 3 Uniboosts A Day Novices’ Hurdle.
The most thrilling finish of the day came in the Professor Caroline Tisdall Supports Heroic Jumpers Veterans’ Handicap Chase, with the Nicholls-trained Present Man (12-1) edging out Crosspark and Dancing Shadow in a titanic three-way tussle under Bryony Frost.
Dual bumper winner Soaring Glory (4-5 favourite) made a successful debut over flights for Jonjo O’Neill senior and junior in division two of the two-mile novice hurdle, lunging late to deny Nicholls’ Bravemansgame.
Enrilo looked to have every chance of making it five on the day in the Tom Malone Bloodstock Novices’ Chase with 10-11 favourite Enrilo, but he was ultimately unable to shake off the persistent challenge of Nick Gifford’s 10-1 shot The Mighty Don, ridden by James Davies.
“We really liked him at home. Today wasn’t the be all and end all, but he’s jumped well and got better through the race and has a nice turn of foot,” said the winning rider.
Dan Skelton’s Wild Romance (13-2) finished with a flourish under Bridget Andrews to claim top honours inn the Dragon TV And Film Studios/EBF Mares’ “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle.