Triumph Hurdle fourth Navajo Pass highlighted a New Year’s Day treble at Musselburgh for trainer Donald McCain.
Arguably the classiest horse on the card, he was carrying top weight in the Betway Handicap Hurdle, but was assisted by the very handy 7lb claim of conditional jockey Theo Gillard.
He showed his class as a juvenile last season, when he won a Grade Two at Doncaster before running a very fine race at the Cheltenham Festival.
While his first two starts this season did not offer too much encouragement, back down in grade and with Gillard’s claim, the 7-1 chance pulled almost 10 lengths clear of Newtown Boy.
McCain said: “All the good juveniles from last year have struggled and the only one to have won over hurdles is Henry de Bromhead’s (Aspire Tower).
“There’s a real lack of options for them. He had top weight in his last run against seasoned handicappers and when I was carrying the saddle over to him, I could barely lift it and I just thought it wasn’t fair on him.
“That’s why I’ve waited for better ground and it’s why we put Theo on today, to take seven off and he’s one of the best conditionals in the country for me.
“He was bought to last and he’s been trained to last. It’s nice to get his season back on track.
“I’ve always thought he was a staying hurdler rather than a prospective chaser. I know he’s only won a handicap at Musselburgh so I can’t get carried away, but long term I think he’s a Stayers’ Hurdle type.”
Earlier McCain teamed up with champion jockey Brian Hughes to win the Betway First Foot Juvenile Hurdle with Fiveandtwenty.
Sent off as the prohibitive 1-4 favourite on the back of a seamless hurdling debut over the same course and distance, she was not as impressive on this occasion.
The former Mark Johnston inmate had won by 26 lengths on her first run over obstacles and while she never looked like losing on this time, Hughes had to get fairly serious to beat Herbiers by two lengths.
“I think she found the ground testing enough, she’s only a light-framed filly and it was quite holding. Spring ground will suit her better,” said McCain.
“There are a couple of obvious races. There’s one at Musselburgh on their Trials Day, while there’s also a Listed fillies’ juvenile at Doncaster and black type would be important for her.
“We’ll be governed by ground, but you are only a juvenile once.”
Hughes was also on former smart Flat performer Blakeney Point in the Betway Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle.
A Listed winner for Roger Charlton, Hughes appeared to have delivered his mount perfectly after the last, but the 22-1 chance still had to fend off the late lunge of Voix Du Reve, a Grade One winner over fences in his days with Willie Mullins.
“It’s not usually my way to go straight from a novice into a big handicap, but it wasn’t a massive field, I knew he’d like the ground and it’s worked out,” said McCain.
“He does have loads of experience in big handicaps from the Flat which helps, but it was really satisfying to win a decent race with him.
“I don’t think he wants much further than two miles, surprisingly given he was a stayer on the Flat, and truthfully I don’t think he does a whole lot in front. He’s still unexposed over hurdles.”
Hughes then grabbed a treble for himself on Nick Alexander’s Eagle Ridge (9-4 favourite) in the Betway Casino Handicap Chase.
Carrying a penalty for a recent win at the track, he just held off the slightly unlucky Oscar Ceremony by a nose.
The long journey north proved worthwhile for Harry Skelton, who made most of the running on Romain De Senam (13-2) in the Betway ‘Auld Reekie’ Handicap Chase to continue the excellent form of his brother, Dan’s, yard.