Expensive point-to-point purchase Gallyhill was made to work extremely hard for a winning debut under rules at Newbury.
Bought for £450,000 by Henrietta Knight for owner Mike Grech and sent to Nicky Henderson, the six-year-old won his point at Kirkistown by two and a half lengths.
Sent off the 30-100 favourite in a field of 15 for the MansionBet Is Proud To Sponsor British Racing Novices’ Hurdle, his task was made easier by the withdrawal of what looked to be chief market rival Hoi Polloi on account of the worsening ground conditions.
The extended two-mile affair was run in heavy rain with visibility poor as big outsider Calgary Tiger opened up a sizeable advantage.
By the third-last Gallyhill had cruised up into the lead, but Robin’s Dream headed him after the last.
Nico de Boinville will have been glad a gap was left on the rail, as Gallyhill rallied to the cause and won going away by a length and a quarter.
Henderson said: “It was quite nasty out there and I couldn’t see very much, but Nico said he took a big blow and did well to get back in front.
“He’s a staying chaser and his next run will be over two and a half miles.”
Henderson appeared to have strong claims of an early double on the card with Birchdale in the following MansionBet-sponsored limited handicap chase.
However, JP McManus’ runner found disappointingly little in the straight and it was the owner’s apparent second-string, the Phillip Hobbs-trained Dostal Phil, who claimed the spoils.
The 7-1 chance moved ominously into contention under Richard Johnson and fairly sprinted away – as much as the testing conditions would allow – to win by five and a half lengths from Funambule Sivola.
Johnson said: “He travelled well throughout and in the main I was pleased with his jumping.
“He was a little bit big at a couple early on, but he got better as the race progressed.”
Hobbs and Johnson then hit the mark again, in the British EBF Mares’ “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle when Little River Bay defied a welter burden.
Conceding 12lb to all of her rivals courtesy of wins at Wincanton and Fontwell, she looked booked for second for much of the straight as Tequila Blaze made a bold bid.
Johnson kept his mount on the far side of the track and the 5-2 favourite stuck on gamely to win by two and a half lengths.
“I thought the ground might be a bit fresher on the far side, which is why I went in that direction, and I thought it was a very pleasing effort under a double penalty as there looked to be some decent types,” said Johnson.
“Hopefully she can go on to better things.”
The lightly-raced Fagan (5-1), formerly trained by Gordon Elliott but now with Alex Hales, defied top-weight under Harry Bannister in the MansionBet’s Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap Chase.
Second to Unowhatimeanharry in the 2016 Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, he joined Hales a year ago but was winning for the first time.
Bannister said: “It’s the first time I’ve ridden him, but I was conscious that as he idles I shouldn’t hit the front too soon.
“It probably suited him that the race was run strongly and I could give him a chance. He has a good set of gears and that little bit of class shone through.”
Stuart Edmunds was on the mark with Maskada (12-1) in the mares’ handicap hurdle and is hoping it signals the end of a quiet spell.
“My horses weren’t quite right over Christmas so I gave them jabs and waited and it looks like they’ve come back now,” he said.
“This mare won a juvenile in bad ground at Warwick and after a toss up with Fakenham I’m glad we came here.
“She’ll jump a fence, but I imagine we will carry on in mares’ handicaps.”
Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies were celebrating when Gowel Road (5-2 favourite) lumped top-weight to victory in the MansionBet’s Faller Insurance Handicap Hurdle.
“He’s a nice horse and when he ran here last time he was a bit green. It wasn’t a very good race and it got him a handicap mark,” said the jockey.
Ben Pauling won the closing bumper for the third successive year, this time with Fine Casting (2-1).