Nicholls aiming for Welsh National with Highland Hunter

If the roar that greeted Bryony Frost’s win in the Tingle Creek at Sandown Park on Saturday almost lifted the roof of the grandstand, the thrilling finish between Highland Hunter and Deise Aba in the Betfair Exchange London National Handicap Chase was almost on a par.

The pair slugged it out in testing conditions up the hill after the last and in the end it was the Paul Nicholls-trained Highland Hunter (9-1) who took the spoils by a nose under Harry Cobden.

Nicholls, securing a quickfire double after Greaneteen’s Grade One success under Frost, said the win in the extended three-and-a-half-mile test was more of a shock.

“That was really a prep race for the Welsh National. I have to be honest with you, I didn’t think he was ready,” admitted the Ditcheat handler.

“I have never seen him travel better or jump better. He obviously blew up jumping the second-last, and harry has accepted it, but he stayed on strong.

“He will go to Chepstow now with a 4lb penalty as he can’t be reassessed. He will improve for that run. I only trained him for that race. I was going to give him one race, then Chepstow.

“To be fair to Keegan, who rides him every day, he has been telling me all along he has improved. And he was right. And carrying 11st 12lb as well, first time out it was a real good performance. Just the job. I was amazed.

“The ground was always going to suit him with that bit of overnight rain. It is good to be racing on some decent ground. I’m pleasantly surprised by that one. That’s how I would sum it up.”

A treble for Nicholls – and double for Cobden – was brought up by Samarrive in the Betfair Daily Rewards December Handicap Hurdle that brought the card to a close.

The 8-1 winner was eight and a half lengths clear of Zambezi Fix, and looks to have a bright future.

Nicholls said: “Kempton was obviously all right, so after that we thought we’d come here en route to Ascot for the Betfair Exchange Trophy, with a 4lb penalty. He loves cut in the ground, but I have not had him long enough to learn about him.

“I watched him at Cheltenham and he travelled extremely well down the hill and got lost turning in and he went right. He will learn all the time and is a nice horse. I had it in my mind Sandown, Ascot, break, Imperial Cup, something like that.

“And then put him away, as what a chaser he will be.”

It has been a long road for Naturally High, who took the Betfair My Odds Boost Novices’ Handicap Hurdle by four and three-quarter lengths from Kamaxos under Jamie Moore.

Moore’s father, trainer Gary Moore, explained that the six-year-old, who ran in the French Derby as a three-year-old, had suffered innumerable problems and it was a mammoth job to get him back on a racecourse.

“He has done it well,” he said of his charge, who was returned the 11-8 favourite. “I thought he was a ridiculous price for what he had done before in his life.

“He has been plagued by serious operations and it has been a miracle to get him to a racecourse, let alone win a race.

“If I showed you the operation he had on his head, you’d be sick, I promise you.

“He was a good horse in France. He had a leg in front, busted a pelvis in behind and then he goes and gets another thing. You start to wonder what else can go wrong with the horse, and he is such a lovely ‘person’.”

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