Snow Leopardess will head straight for the Randox Grand National after claiming her third win of the season in determined fashion at Exeter.
The grey daughter of Martaline has returned better than ever this term – beating subsequent Sky Bet Chase winner Windsor Avenue on her reappearance at Bangor before winning over the Grand National fences in a thrilling Becher Chase in December.
Going back over regulation obstacles for the Virgin Bet Mares’ Chase, Snow Leopardess was the even-money favourite in the hands of Jonathan Burke and got the job done in fine style.
The 10-year-old looked like she could have a real race on her hands rounding the home turn, with the pacesetting Chilli Filli and Momella both bang in contention for Listed honours.
But the further Snow Leopardess went, the better she looked – galloping on strongly in the testing conditions and producing a typically assured leap at the final fence to seal her comfortable success.
Coral left the winner unchanged at 20-1 for the Grand National and Longsdon confirmed all roads lead to Aintree in April.
He said: “Relief is my main emotion. It’s great to get that out of the way and hopefully we can gear up towards the Grand National now.
“She had a harder race than I wanted to give her today, so I think we’ll head straight to Aintree.
“It’s fantastic to see her win again. She only got going in the home straight.
“Before today she was rated 145 and I’ve spoken to the handicapper a couple of times. The bottom weight in the National was 145 last year and the handicapper said ‘you probably will get in, but there’s a chance you might not’.”
With Challow winner Stage Star a significant non-runner, a field of five went to post for the other Listed race on the card – the Virgin Bet Novices’ Hurdle.
In Stage Star’s absence, Fergal O’Brien’s Peking Rose was the prohibitively priced favourite at 1-2, but he had to settle for second behind the Dan Skelton-trained Lac De Constance.
A winner over the course and distance on his hurdling debut in December, the 11-8 shot followed up with a near three-length verdict under the trainer’s brother, Harry.
The winner is entered in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but appears unlikely to take up the engagement.
“We were keen always to come back here as he is a big, strapping horse. We wanted a big track on slow ground and that is what we got today,” said the winning rider.
“I don’t think I would have come off the bridle had the second horse not made the mistake three out as I was cantering away.
“He is a good horse. We will have to look after him. Today was perfect on soft ground on a slow track. Hopefully, he could be quite good.”