Jacob is centre stage again as Zambella completes Listed hat-trick

Daryl Jacob made his fleeting visit to Leicester a triumphant one aboard Zambella, who maintained her unbeaten record over fences with a tenacious success in the Pertemps Network Mares’ Chase.

After riding the first five-timer of his career at Wincanton on Saturday, Grand National-winning jockey Jacob took centre stage once again with victory in the Listed feature on the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained six-year-old.

The 8-13 favourite dug deep after the last to defeat Cut The Mustard by two and a half lengths and add to her previous Listed victories this season at Bangor and Warwick.

Jacob said: “She is very game. She is tough, and three from three over fences, and is getting better.

“Two and a half is a good trip for her, but two miles on heavy ground is just as good. You’ve just got to find your feet a bit and find nice opportunities.

“She has won three Listed chases now, and there was no hiding place out there today.

“The ear plugs just keep her relaxed, because when she came over she was very keen and an excitable filly, but they seem to be working at the moment.”

Fontaine Collonges, left, on the way to completing trebles for Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch in the Pertemps Network Novices’ Hurdle (Mike Egerton/PA Images)
Fontaine Collonges (left) on the way to completing trebles for Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch in the Pertemps Network Novices’ Hurdle (Mike Egerton/PA Images)

Trainer Venetia Williams and jockey Charlie Deutsch took the plaudits with a near 44-1 treble, completed by the victory of Fontaine Collonges in the Pertemps Network Novices’ Hurdle, which the 5-6 favourite landed by a neck.

Williams said: “I must admit a couple of days ago, after declarations, I thought she was our strongest chance of the day.

“I was going to step her up in trip – but with testing conditions here and that long uphill finish, I thought it might compensate a bit.

“Half way up the run-in, I was cursing myself for not stepping up in trip – but bless her, she got back up.”

Jack Valentine (5-2) got the ball rolling for Williams and Deutsch, making his debut over fences a winning one by four lengths in the Pertemps Network Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Williams said: “We thought we still had unfinished business over hurdles, so we kind of delayed chasing a little bit, but clearly this is the way forward.

“I know Charlie has ridden one or two winners lately where people have said it is perfectly judged – but in those cases it has been the horses’ inability to go quicker earlier. In this case, though, it was very well judged.

The Crooner (6-1) formed the middle leg of the haul, prevailing by three-quarters of a length in the Pertemps Network Handicap Chase to make it two wins from as many starts at the track.

Williams said: “He had been a little bit disappointing, and I was actually scratching my head a bit.

“He needed every yard to get there. This is the only place he has won at, because he won a hurdle here last season.”

Jonjo O’Neill junior carried the silks his father, and namesake, wore to glory in the 1980 Champion Hurdle aboard Sea Pigeon – steering When You’re Ready to glory by a head in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.

O’Neill junior said: “The silks were great for dad, and I used them for pony racing, and it is nice to be back in them. They’ve been in the family a good while.

On the 3-1 shot trained by his dad, he added: “He ran over two and a half the last day – and he didn’t run too badly – but two miles in this ground up the hill at Leicester, we thought wouldn’t be too bad for him.

“All mine did was stay, and I was hoping the line was far enough away so he could get back up – luckily we just got back up.”

Jacob fondly recalls ‘the boss’ Robert Alner after Wincanton five-timer

Daryl Jacob made special mention of his former boss, the late Robert Alner, as he reflected on the first five-timer of his career at Wincanton.

Jacob joined Alner on his arrival from Ireland, and the Dorset trainer played an important part in the early stages of his riding career. He will forever remember those days in the early 2000s, progressing from point-to-points to his first Grade One triumph on The Listener in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in 2006.

Alner was paralysed in a car accident in 2007 but carried on training in a joint licence with his wife Sally, until they retired in 2010. Alner died last February, aged 76.

“I’ve had a few four-timers when I was riding for the boss and Sally Alner point-to-pointing. They were always very good days, and days I will never forget. They were the grass roots,” said Jacob.

“The boss would have been looking down yesterday and he would have been very proud of me – especially being at his local track as well.”

Appropriately, the first of Jacob’s five winners on Saturday was for Alner’s son-in-law Robert Walford, on Ede’iffs Elton in a staying handicap chase.

“The boss had plenty of nice winners at Wincanton, and I had a nice winner for Rob Walford there yesterday. That was great as well,” he said.

“He was part of our old set-up down at the Alners with the boss and Sally, so it was very pleasing to ride Rob a winner at his local track as well.”

That victory got the ball rolling – with Alan King’s Messire Des Obeaux, the Paul Nicholls-trained Capeland, Ben Pauling’s Anightinlambourn and Jackson Hill, from Milton Harris’ stable, doing their bit to complete Jacob’s golden day.

“All the horses performed well. I had some nice rides going into the day, so it was great it all came together,” he added.

“It’s a nice feat – five winners for five different trainers and lovely horses. I was particularly impressed with Messire Des Obeaux. It was fantastic for him to win the Dipper after all the injuries he’s had.

“I just think credit to Alan King and his team for what they’ve done for this horse. He’s still retains plenty of ability.”

Messire delivers in Dipper heat

Messire Des Obeaux showed his two younger rivals the way home in the Paddy Power Dipper Novices’ Chase at Wincanton.

Winner of the Grade One Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury on New Year’s Eve of 2016, Alan King’s charge went on to be placed at both the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree the following spring, before injury kept him off the track for almost three years.

His return from a 1,034-day hiatus at Huntingdon last February was not devoid of promise, but it nevertheless looked as though his best days may perhaps be behind him.

However, following a heart-warming success on his chasing debut at Wincanton last month, the nine-year-old returned to Somerset for a Grade Two contest saved from the abandoned fixture at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day – and proved up to the task in the hands of Daryl Jacob.

Settled at the rear of the three-runner field for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey, Messire Des Obeaux could be spotted travelling best rounding the home turn, and it was just a question of what he would find when push came to shove.

In the end he showed he had plenty in the locker, with a flying leap at the final fence sealing a near five-length verdict over Dan Skelton’s 1-2 favourite Protektorat.

Speaking from home, King said: “That definitely brought a smile to my face – I’m delighted.

“He wasn’t going to run in the race if it was run at Cheltenham as that would have been way too soon – he wasn’t even entered for it. The race only came into the equation after it was moved and if he hadn’t run here, he’d probably have gone to Huntingdon for a novice handicap.

“He seems as good as he ever was. I can’t think of bringing one back from that long off the track to win, not at that level anyway.

“He is a good horse and that is the reason we persevered and persuaded the owners to bring him back, as they were going to retire him in France. I begged them to bring him back for another crack. A lot of work has gone in to get him back, from my vets and all the team here.

“It doesn’t always come off, so it’s lovely when it does.”

Daryl Jacob enjoyed a memorable afternoon
Daryl Jacob enjoyed a memorable afternoon (Simon Cooper/PA)

Considering future plans for his charge, the trainer added: “We’ll take it one day at a time. We’ll probably enter him for the Festival, but I am a little bit nervous about taking horses that have had leg problems to Cheltenham, just with the undulations and everything.

“I’m not saying he won’t go there, but I would be slightly worried about it.”

Messire Des Obeaux starred in a remarkable five-timer on the card for Jacob.

The leading rider also struck gold aboard Robert Walford’s Ede’iffs Elton (7-2 favourite), the Paul Nicholls-trained Capeland (6-1), Ben Pauling’s Anightinlambourn (3-1) and Jackson Hill (7-1) from Milton Harris’ yard.

Messire Des Obeaux delights King with comeback win on chasing debut

Alan King was thrilled to see Messire Des Obeaux roll back the years with a heart-warming victory on his debut over fences at Wincanton.

Winner of the Grade One Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury on New Year’s Eve of 2016, Messire Des Obeaux went on to be placed at both the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree the following spring, before injury kept him off the track for almost three years.

His return from a 1034-day hiatus at Huntingdon in February of this year was not devoid of promise, but it nevertheless looked as though his best days may perhaps be behind him.

Back from a subsequent 10-month absence for the Like Racing TV On Facebook Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase, Messire Des Obeaux was a well supported 7-2 chance under Daryl Jacob and fenced fluently throughout the two-and-a-half-mile contest.

He held a clear lead jumping the first fence in the home straight – and while 15-8 favourite Coconut Splash was closing him down on the run-in, King’s charge had enough in the tank to score by two and a quarter lengths.

“That gave me a lot of pleasure,” said the Barbury Castle handler.

“It’s been a long way back, but the team have worked really hard to get to this point, and we’ve felt for some time that he’s retained an awful lot of his ability.

“We’ll see how he is after this race – there are no plans. It was a special moment watching him win today.”

King admits there was a time when he thought Messire Des Obeaux might never return to competitive action.

He added: “He got a tendon injury at Aintree and went back to France afterwards, and it took a hell of a long time to get him back.

“At one stage he was going to be retired, but I pleaded with the owners to send him back to me to see if we could get him back. Thank goodness they did.

“We’ll enjoy today and hope all’s well in the morning.”

Sizable Sam (left) clears the last at Wincanton
Sizable Sam (left) clears the last at Wincanton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Sizable Sam looks a smart recruit for Jeremy Scott, judged on his all-the-way success in the Watch On Racing TV Novices’ Hurdle.

The Warwick bumper winner was runner-up on his hurdling debut at this venue last month, and comfortably went one better in the hands of Matt Griffiths as the 4-5 favourite

Scott, whose former stable star Melodic Rendezvous won an Elite Hurdle and a Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, said: “The soft ground probably wasn’t ideal, but he’s won in spite of that and hopefully he’s an exciting prospect.

“I’m not sure how much he’ll do this season. All trainers say they’ll be better when they jump a fence, but I think in this case he probably will be.

“It’s nice to have a horse like him.”

Flagrant Delitiep was one of three winners for Harry Cobden
Flagrant Delitiep was one of three winners for Harry Cobden (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Harry Cobden boosted his hopes of being crowned champion jockey for the first time with a treble on the card.

The rider teamed up with boss Paul Nicholls to win with Brewers Project (6-5 favourite) and Friend Or Foe (9-4 favourite) over hurdles, while the middle leg of his hat-trick came aboard Robert Walford’s Flagrant Delitiep in the Use The Tracker Handicap Chase.

With reigning champion Brian Hughes out of luck at Catterick on Tuesday, Cobden closes the gap to seven winners (74 to 67).

Zambella completes Listed double with game Warwick effort

Daryl Jacob praised the attitude of Zambella, who maintained her unbeaten record over fences with a front-running success in the feature Wigley Group Lady Godiva Mares’ Novices’ Chase at Warwick.

Having made a winning chasing debut in a Listed contest at Bangor last time out, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained five-year-old followed up at the same level on her first start over two and a half miles.

Although jumping out to the right on occasion, the 9-4 favourite rallied gamely before finding plenty for pressure to defeat Midnightreferendum by three and three-quarter lengths.

Jacob said: “Zambella is a good jumper, but just occasionally lacks a bit of concentration at times in her races.

“It was good performance stepping up in trip and giving weight away, as it is not easy as there were some good mares in the race.

“I thought she ground it out nicely up the home straight.

“She’s getting a bit older and wiser – hopefully she’ll be a nice mare who we can place in the right races through the season and pick up some nice prize money.

Hamilton Dici and Chester Williams on their way to winning the Wigley Group Merry Christmas Juvenile Maiden Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)
Hamilton Dici and Chester Williams on their way to winning the Wigley Group Merry Christmas Juvenile Maiden Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

Former jockey, and new mum, Lizzie Kelly celebrated her first winner since quitting the saddle in July after Hamilton Dici landed the Wigley Group Merry Christmas Juvenile Hurdle.

The Jane Williams-trained four-year-old, sporting the silks of Kelly and her husband Ed Partridge’s Valentine Bloodstock Racing outfit, made all to deny Ambassador by a head.

Chester Williams, rider, said of the 11-2 winner: “It was a learning experience for him, but he did it well and is a first winner for Lizzie and Ed’s Valentine Bloodstock

“I’m really pleased for them as it is just the sort of horse you need to get started.

“He was still green enough there, but he picked up very well when the other horse came to him and that helped him after the last.”

Jay Bee Why left trainer Alan King pleasantly surprised after pulling clear in stylish fashion to claim the Wigley Group Support Our SMEs Maiden Hurdle by nine and a half lengths.

King said: “It is a bit of a surprise because I only thought he was just ready. I thought he was very good last season, but he completely boiled over before and during the bumper at Newbury.

“We tidied up his wind this season and I put a hood on him in the preliminaries today and he was good.

“I just hoped he would run a nice race and run properly today, but he looked quite useful.”

King d'Argent on his way to making a triumphant debut over fences at Warwick (Tim Goode/PA)
King d’Argent on his way to making a triumphant debut over fences at Warwick (Tim Goode/PA)

Dan Skelton has introduced a number of useful recruits to fences this season, and King d’Argent looked another judged on his three-length success in the Wigley Building & Development Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Skelton said of the 11-4 favourite: “To be fair, he was quite a good juvenile and he was fourth in the Fred Winter two years ago.

“He has blossomed since he started schooling over fences and I’m just delighted with the way he has attacked them and he really liked that.

“How high we can go, I don’t know, but that is a good start.”

Lorcan Murtagh partnered his first winner since joining forces with trainer Harry Fry after Might I (16-1) struck gold by a length and a quarter in the Wigley Group Daimler Powerhouse Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.

The winning rider, who was previously based with Donald McCain, said: “He gave me a lovely feel. I got there a mile too soon, but there was nothing taking me into the race.

“I’ve been with Harry for two months now and that is my first winner for him, so it is nice to get that monkey off my back.”

Victory for Might I completed an across-the-card double for Fry, who was also on the mark at Taunton with Boothill.

Caribean Boy too hot for Fiddler in Grade Two contest

Caribean Boy proved too good for odds-on favourite Fiddlerontheroof in the Ladbrokes Committed To Safer Gambling Novices’ Chase at Newbury.

Only three went to post for the Grade Two event, but they were all classy individuals with Paul Nicholls’ Getaway Trump making up the trio.

Caribean Boy (100-30) took full advantage of his last opportunity at novice level, as the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding will now have to move up to full company due to his victory over fences at Haydock in February.

The six-year-old jumped well out in front and even though he was headed in the straight by Fiddlerontheroof, Daryl Jacob always looked confident and he quickened away again after the last to win by four lengths.

Caribean Boy is entered in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham on December 12 and Betfair cut him to 8-1 from 10s for that event.

Henderson said: “He was good with his jumping, but he always was to be fair. Unfortunately his novice career got stopped, but at least we were able to go on until now as this was his last day as a novice.

“He is a gross horse and getting him fit is not an easy game. Lewis (Morgan) does him and Mister Coffey as well and he does a good job with them. He is a little bit heavier than some of the lads in the yard and they have to work a bit harder, which probably isn’t a bad thing.

“The thing that has surprised me is that he is straight enough to do that. He is not a horse that roars around the place. His strength is that he is a great big bull of a horse and he does always jump and he loves doing that.

“We chatted at breakfast with Daryl and we said when he won at Haydock last season, he got to the front and bowled along and jumped. This horse really likes it up there, but he doesn’t have to be there.

“The other thing I have to say is that I think he is a better horse in soft ground, as he loves really soft ground. He keeps up a really good gallop that would test quite a lot of horses.”

Henderson expressed some doubt about heading to Cheltenham next month, but a Festival run is very much in his sights.

He added: “I think the Ryanair is the obvious race. Daryl doesn’t think we need to go further and he thinks you could bring him back to two and he would step on it even more in heavy ground. I don’t think there is any need to do that as I think two and a half is perfect for him.

“It (Caspian Caviar) might be quick enough, but I’ll talk to Simon (Munir), Isaac (Souede, owners) and Anthony Bromley (racing manager), who will have some fantastic idea I’m sure.

“It’s only two weeks and it would probably not be the right thing to be doing. He has had a good blow and he took a blow when the other horse joined him, Daryl had to sit still for a moment and he then took a blow in the run in.

“If you are going to get the benefit of the race, you are not going to get it in two weeks’ time. That would do (Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton in January). You wouldn’t want to go there on quick ground, but January it should be all right.”

Bristol De Mai records famous hat-trick in Betfair Chase

Bristol De Mai lifted a third Betfair Chase with a gutsy performance in testing conditions at Haydock.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ popular grey thrives at the Merseyside circuit and had won this Grade One contest in 2017 and 2018, before seeing his hat-trick bid derailed by Lostinstranslation last year.

Bristol De Mai firmly had his revenge on that rival this time, however, as he produced an impressive round of jumping in the hands of Daryl Jacob.

Prominent throughout, Bristol De Mai was in control turning for home as both Clan Des Obeaux and 7-4 favourite Lostintranslation lined up to challenge.

The latter dropped away tamely, leaving Clan Des Obeaux to test Bristol De Mai – but the nine-year-old had plenty in reserve and after clearing the last, he galloped all the way to the line to score by two lengths.

Following his previous Betfair Chase victories, Bristol De Mai went on to tackle the King George VI Chase at Kempton without success, but Anthony Bromley, racing manager for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, has a different Boxing Day option in mind this term.

He said: “We specifically didn’t enter him in the King George, so we might have to think what to do next. But we might have to run in a handicap – because what else can you do?

“There’s the Cotswold Chase, but that’s not until the end of January – it’s a long time waiting until then, so the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby, something like that.

“It’s a shame there hasn’t been a crowd here today. Merseyside really takes to this horse.”

Bristol De Mai was springheeled in the Betfair Chase
Bristol De Mai was springheeled in the Betfair Chase (Mike Egerton/PA)

Jacob said: “He’s a real credit to the whole team.

“It was great – I was looking at the rain (forecast) all week up at Haydock. The heavens opened up a little bit before the first race, and I texted Simon and Isaac to say ‘I’ve never been so happy to ride in the rain’.

“It was ideal to have Bellshill up there. Obviously, getting a little bit older he’s getting a little bit cute, so I needed him up there at times to bring me along again.

“I think this is just the ideal track for him really – flat, left-handed, and he’s always at his best on those.”

Jacob pointed towards a certain race in April as being ideal for Bristol De Mai.

He said: “I’d love to see him in the Grand National.

“His jumping is very good – he’s brave when you need him to be, but as you could see down the back straight there, he was good and clever to pop them. I’d love to have one crack at him – he’s nine now, rising 10, so I suppose if there’s a year that’s going to be his it’s going to be this year.”

Paul Nicholls felt the ground had scuppered Clan Des Obeaux, with his charge having had a hard race ahead of his planned King George defence next month.

Clan Des Obeaux has a King George defence on his agenda
Clan Des Obeaux has a King George defence on his agenda (Steven Paston/PA)

He said: “The rain today didn’t help him at all. On that heavy ground, he didn’t truly get that three-two. Sam (Twiston-Davies) gave him a brilliant ride, but he was beaten by a mud lark and a real true stayer.

“I’m just thinking all the way what might have happened on better ground. He just could have done without all that rain as the ground has gone very heavy. The rain has beat him, but he has run a blinding race. It was an encouraging run for Kempton.

“Cyrname and him have had a role reversal. If you think Cyrname had a really hard race a year ago on this day and Clan has had a real hard race this time.

“He is a tough horse and I’d like to think he will be all right, but he knows he has had a race today. I’m thrilled though and it was a good run.”

Lostintranslation (right) beat Bristol De Mai last year, but disappointed in his defence
Lostintranslation (right) beat Bristol De Mai last year, but disappointed in his defence (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Connections of the Colin Tizzard-trained Lostintranslation also pointed to the ground taking its toll.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He never travelled on that ground. Robbie (Power) said after he jumped the first, he could feel he was hating it.

“Robbie has always said he’s a better horse on better ground and he finished last here in a novice hurdle one day. He did well to get round as he wants a bit more bounce in the ground.”

Mrs Hyde continues swift progression with Wetherby win

Mrs Hyde proved too strong for Grade One-winning mare Verdana Blue in the bet365 Mares’ Hurdle at Wetherby.

Nicky Henderson’s 2018 Christmas Hurdle heroine was the 5-6 favourite to get back on the winning trail, having filled the runner-up spot behind Silver Streak in a Listed event at Kempton a fortnight ago.

Verdana Blue had upwards of 22lb in hand over her six rivals in West Yorkshire on official ratings, but came up short in the rain-softened ground.

The Brian Ellison-trained Mrs Hyde had won on the same Kempton card a couple of weeks ago and was a 6-1 shot to double her Listed tally in the hands of Daryl Jacob.

Verdana Blue loomed up ominously in the home straight, but Mrs Hyde refused to bend on the run-in and saw her off by a neck.

“She’s never stopped improving,” said Ellison.

“When she won at Southwell and Perth during the summer, she made the running, but after she got beat at Market Rasen we decided we’d drop her in and give her a chance. It worked at Kempton and it’s worked again today.

“Daryl said he got to the front a bit early today. The plan was to sit until the last and try to pick the favourite off.

“She’s won on soft ground today and won on good to firm. She’s tough.”

Brian Ellison was delighted with Mrs Hyde's performance
Brian Ellison was delighted with Mrs Hyde’s performance (Brian Lawless/PA)

Considering future plans, the trainer added: “She’s won four of her last five races now and we might just give her a break.

“I know she’s won twice left-handed now, but I do think she’s better right-handed, so we could go back to Kempton or somewhere like that.”

Sean Bowen delivered Irish raider Hear No Evil with a well-timed challenge to claim the Price Promise At bet365 Handicap Chase.

The 16-1 shot was settled at the rear of the field for much of the three-mile contest, but came home strongly to score by nine and a half lengths from Grange Ranger.

It was a welcome boost for trainer Noel Kelly, who had to withdraw stable star Decor Irlandais from the Grade Two bet365 Hurdle later in the afternoon.

He said: “Decor Irlandais is here, but he pulled off a shoe. It’s a bit frustrating, but at least he didn’t break a tendon or something. It’s only a pulled shoe and it’s not the end of the world.

“We bought this horse (Hear No Evil) out of Dan Skelton’s yard. We said to Sean ‘take your time and if they go too fast, he’ll keeping plugging on’. He gave him a brilliant ride, I thought.”

Skelton’s Ashtown Lad displayed courage and class in equal measure to win a bet365 Novices’ Hurdle run in atrocious conditions.

Narrowly beaten over the course and distance on his previous outing, the 11-10 favourite was sent straight to the lead by Harry Skelton and jumped slickly and travelled strongly, despite the driving rain, on his way to a near three-length verdict.

A sodden Dan Skelton said: “He’s a very nice horse and he has a good attitude, obviously, to go from the front in that weather.

“He’s a chaser really and I always felt like this was a good horse.

“I’m not sure what we’ll do now. I’ll talk to Darren (Yates, owner) and decide.”

Minella For Me after winning at Wetherby
Minella For Me after winning at Wetherby (Ashley Iveson/PA)

Tom George and Johnny Burke combined to claim the bet365 Handicap Chase with 9-1 shot Minella For Me.

Carrying the colours of owner Simon Clarke, whose popular grey Nacarat won the Charlie Hall Chase on this card a decade ago, Minella For Me passed the post with five and a half lengths in hand over 100-30 favourite Guy.

Burke said: “He’s a very honest horse. He used to be quite keen, but he’s grown up a lot and is settling well and jumping well.

“He’s a good, fun horse for his owner Simon, who has been a great supporter of Tom.”

Burke went on to complete a double aboard Jonjo O’Neill’s 4-1 favourite Arrivederci in the concluding bet365 Handicap Hurdle.

Rouge Vif puts down marker for two-mile championship honours

Rouge Vif staked an early claim for some of this season’s top-two mile chases with a stunning performance on his return to Cheltenham.

Winner of the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick in February, the six-year-old was last seen finishing third in the Arkle Trophy at the Festival in March.

He appears to have improved significantly since, judged on an impressive weight-carrying performance in the Bentley Flying Spur Handicap Chase – travelling with enthusiasm and jumping with aplomb under Daryl Jacob on his way to a seven-and-a-half-length success.

Whittington was claiming the two-mile contest for the second year in succession, having saddled another stable star in Saint Calvados to secure victory 12 months ago.

“He was awesome,” said the Wantage handler.

“He has got a god ground action and is just so slick to jump out of it – on better ground you see him at his best.

“He was in his comfort zone there and has loved it today. I hoped he had improved for a summer break as I ride him myself most days and he feels a more powerful animal.

“He has obviously strengthened up a lot, but to win a handicap off a mark of 156 like that is impressive – he has slightly surprised me.”

Bookmakers were quick to slash Rouge Vif’s odds for both the Tingle Creek at Sandown and the Queen Mother Champion Chase back at Cheltenham.

Whittington is keen to let the dust settle before considering future plans, adding: “Today he looked like a proper two-miler. Daryl says he will stay two-and-a-half, but I don’t think we will be going up in trip yet.

“Coming back here for the Shloer Chase in three weeks’ time is a potential option, but we will have to get home and discuss and talk to Andrew (Brooks, owner), as it will be his decision and we will go from there.”

Trainer Dr Richard Newland and conditional jockey Cillin Leonard teamed up to land the Handicap Hurdle for the second year in succession, this time with Captain Tom Cat.

The same combination claimed victory with Duke Street in 2019, and this year’s candidate appeared to hold excellent claims following back-to-back wins at Uttoxeter during the summer.

Always on the pace, the 15-2 chance kicked clear from the home turn and had enough in the tank to hold Debestyman at bay by two lengths.

Captain Tom Cat leads over the final flight at Cheltenham
Captain Tom Cat leads over the final flight at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Newland said: “He won those two novice hurdles in the summer, I thought he was impressive in the second one and thought he might be reasonably well handicapped.

“We were actually going to run in the conditional jockeys’ race later in the day, but I just decided in the last week or two he would better suited to this as they’d go more of a gallop and the step up in trip has obviously worked for him.

“He’s got a lovely, big stride and a lovely way of doing things – he just gallops and jumps and will make a great chaser.

“It was a very good ride and a super performance from the horse today. There are plenty more races in him, but it is probably more likely over fences where it will get really interesting.”

Fusil Raffles makes victorious chasing bow at Uttoxeter

Fusil Raffles made a winning start to his new career over fences in the SSR Congratulates Phil Bell 55 Today Novices’ Chase at Uttoxeter.

A Grade One-winning juvenile hurdler, Fusil Raffles was last seen finishing well beaten in the Champion Hurdle, when he had his major market rival for this contest, Gumball, one place behind.

Fusil Raffles jumped well throughout as Gumball, despite some hairy leaps at the head of affairs, set a brisk tempo.

Quick Grabim, winner of the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle when trained by Willie Mullins, moved up menacingly down the back straight as Fusil Raffles began to look tapped for speed.

However, on the run between the second last and final fence, Fusil Raffles got a second wind and Daryl Jacob moved him upsides.

Another safe jump sealed the deal and the 5-6 favourite pulled four lengths clear of Quick Grabim. Betfair gave the winner a 25-1 quote for the Arkle in March.

Henderson said: “He jumped very well, but took a big blow turning in. They went very hard, which they are always going to do when Gumball is around!

“Gumball has beaten Verdana Blue on the Flat and is rated higher than Fusil over hurdles, so they were always going to go fast and I thought he was good.

“It’s possible he might want two and a half miles – it’s not that he’s slow, but he stays two miles very well. I was delighted with him really.

“He is out early for one of mine. We brought him in early with the intention of running him in that Listed Hurdle at Kempton in October, but then I realised he’d be ready long before then.

“We started schooling over fences and realised he enjoyed it. I don’t know where next, but he does jump well and that’s a good start. He was just ready to run and we had to go to war today – it was a nice starting point.

“He can only do one thing and that is improve for it.”

Regarding the rest of his string, Henderson added: “A lot came in earlier, but only because they went out earlier.

“They got on some really good grass in the spring and they are bigger than normal, they were doing too well. They are not forward, but you can’t afford to be – that’s the biggest danger.

“We’re ready to press on, but you can’t because there’s no ground and no races for them yet – but we are still only in September. We’ll have a few for Chepstow in October, normally we aren’t ready for that.”

When it was suggested Altior could start his season in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham on November 15, Henderson said: “You could look at that, but then you’ve got the Tingle Creek (Sandown, December 5) as well.”