Nassalam is to put his Festival credentials on the line in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham this month.
The four-year-old lost his unbeaten record in Britain when runner-up to Adagio in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on Saturday, but trainer Gary Moore was delighted with the performance and the way Nassalam has taken the race.
The French import was sent off evens favourite for the Grade One after two wide-margin victories against vastly inferior opposition at Fontwell – and he just fell narrowly short on his steep rise in class.
“He’s come out of the race very well indeed. I’m very pleased the way he’s come out of it,” said his West Sussex trainer.
“It was a massive step up to what he’d done. The ground would have been quick enough for us. I think we’d be a bit better on softer ground.
“When they go round Chepstow in three minutes 56 seconds it’s not heavy ground, and our horse is probably more suited to heavy ground.
“It’s all a learning curve. It’s the first time he’s a been in a battle. He never raced on the Flat, and his wins have been uncompetitive.
“I was delighted. He just got beat by a better horse on the day.
“He’ll probably go for the Trial at Cheltenham (on January 30) as long as the ground is soft.”
Moore reports his Champion Hurdle hope Goshen, meanwhile, on course for Sandown next month.
Goshen was found to have a fibrillating heart when last of 10 in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December, on his first run back over jumps since coming down at the final flight when holding a big lead in the Triumph in March.
“He’s on target for Sandown (Contenders’ Hurdle on February 6), very much so,” said Moore.
“His work is good. I couldn’t be more pleased with him.”
Goshen is owned by Steven Packham, whose colours could be carried by Fifty Ball in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury next month.
The six-year-old is on a hat-trick after winning the last two of his four starts at Ascot and Sandown since he joined the Moore stable from France.
“He goes for the Betfair Hurdle. That will be his next run,” said the trainer.
“He was impressive at Sandown. I’m not sure how the race has turned out, but I know his previous run at Ascot was quite good.”
Benatar may line up next in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase at Ascot on January 23 – depending how the field for the two-mile one-furlong Grade One takes shape at the five-day confirmation stage.
There were just 12 initial entries, and Moore would consider running the nine-year-old if he had a fair chance of picking up some prize money.
Benatar was a very encouraging third in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month, on his first start since January 2019.
“I will see what the five-day entries are like for the Clarence House,” said Moore.
“If he’s got a chance of nicking third or fourth prize he might run there. If not I’ll save him for something else.”
“We’ll look at the five-day stage and see what’s in it.
“It might cut up. Generally these two-mile races are cutting up.”