In recent weeks Tom Lacey appears to have found plenty of improvement in Lossiemouth, who took apart four rivals in the Ballymore Winter Novices’ Hurdle, scoring by 14 lengths in the two-and-a-half mile Grade Two contest at a murky Sandown Park.
Sent off at 7-1, Stan Sheppard’s mount had won handicaps at Ascot and Ffos Las since his return to action and completed the hat-trick in scintillating fashion, with Viva Lavilla picking up the minor honours in second.
Lossiemouth received a 25-1 quote for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle from both Coral and Paddy Power, and a 20-1 quote for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle from the latter firm after giving Sheppard the biggest win of his career and his 16th of the season.
“Lossiemouth races a bit behind the bridle, and that is why he has the blinkers on. I thought halfway down the back, ‘I’m not sure how much I have got here’. Gavin Sheehan went to the front (on Brave Kingdom) and I wanted to stay close to him, and every time I gave him a boot or a squeeze, he picked up the bridle again.
“He is a big horse but I would say he wouldn’t jump a fence, because he doesn’t have the right brain for that.”
On the subject of future targets, Lacey could consider Grade One options for his six-year-old.
He said: “You could think about the Tolworth back here or the Challow at Newbury. Although the Tolworth would be back at two (miles) that is often a grind in soft ground if the rain comes. We will just get him home and think about it.”
Bothwell Bridge looks an exciting chaser in the making for Nicky Henderson if his three-and-a-quarter-length victory in the Betfair Daily Rewards Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase is taken at face value.
The six-year-old jumped with aplomb to score on his seasonal and chasing debut in the colours of Nick Mustoe, who is set to become chairman of Sandown Park in January, taking over from Peter Jenson, who steps down on Saturday.
Nico de Boinville made plenty of ground over his fences aboard the 11-4 favourite and had plenty to spare to see off Mahler’s Promise.
Henderson said: “I’m not sure he really wants three miles. At the moment he will definitely stay at this two and a half miles.
“His jumping is his greatest asset and while the others were trying to press on the gallop, he could sit still and make it in the air the whole time. He will come on a fair bit for it.
“He has been very good from the first fence he saw six weeks ago. He has always looked like a chaser and it is what we were always waiting for. He was always good schooling from day one. It was quite an exhibition – it was a bit showy, wasn’t it?
“That is what he has always been good at and that is his strength at the moment. He is a good horse.
“It was a nice race, since this is the first horse I’ve had running in Nick Mustoe’s colours.”
Harry Fry knows a top-class juvenile hurdler when he sees one and he appears to have another smart recruit on his hands in the shape of the strapping Forever Blessed (4-9 favourite), who powered clear to land the two-mile Pinsent Masons Introductory Juvenile Hurdle by 18 lengths in the hands of Sean Bowen.
The Zoffany gelding had won on debut at Ffos Las and followed up in fine style, despite showing little respect for a couple of hurdles.
Fry said: “He had won well at Ffos Las when we didn’t really know what we had on our hands, as he had not run before. The first time I set eyes on him was a WhatsApp video of him cross-country schooling in Ireland at the age of two.
“To win in the manner he did at Ffos Las was very pleasing and it was a case of seeing if that was a fluke or not.
“We were keen to learn a bit more, waited for soft ground and it is all systems go for Chepstow on Welsh National day for the Grade One juvenile.”
Leading amateur jockey James King helped Bali Body to produce a faultless display in landing the Sargent Fifty Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase, justifying 15-8 favouritism by a cosy three and a half lengths from Rolling Dylan.
A progressive hurdler, he had finished third on his first start over fences at Warwick last month and the Dr Richard Newland-trained six-year-old had clearly benefited from that experience.
King said: “It is a huge thrill, especially when you ride a horse like him – he just gallops and jumps. The further he goes the better he got and I was actually taking a pull around the home bend to just let something come to his girth. He was the unexposed horse in the race.
“There is a lot of water under the bridge between now and then, but something like the Midlands National might be on the agenda.”
Katie Powell, who was stretchered off the track after a nasty fall from the Sheila Lewis-trained Volcano, was taken to hospital for “further assessment” according to clerk of the course Andrew Cooper. “She has a suspected dislocated shoulder,” he added.
The Philip Hobbs-trained Pileon received a 16-1 quote from William Hill for the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival after an authoritative five-length victory in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.
Pileon (5-2 favourite) failed to fire initially over fences last year, but the handicapper reacted accordingly and jockey Ben Jones drew clear over the last to score with plenty to spare from The Cobb.
Jones said: “He has been a bit frustrating, but to be fair, I think we have finally found the key to him – we were handy away and just give him a bit of light and he was always travelling. He’s a classy horse.
“If everything fell right for him on the day, he has a right good chance in the Pertemps. He goes well around Cheltenham and he likes these tough-going tracks, so as long as the ground is in our favour – sticky, tacky, softer ground is what he loves.”
Cheekpieces seemed to work the oracle for One True King (11-4 favourite), who overcame top-weight to land the two-mile Betfair Exchange Handicap Chase in the hands of 3lb claimer Jordan Nailor.
Runner-up at Ffos Las last month, he went one better, showing plenty of grit to beat Darebin by a length and three-quarters.
Winning trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said: “It was a nice performance and we are still learning a lot as it is a 0-125 chase, but he jumps beautifully and I’m sure he will get better as he goes a bit further.”