Hometown Hero scored for the first time under rules at Market Rasen when claiming the Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle under Bridget Andrews.
The seven-year-old is a prior point-to-point winner and has hit his stride this season after a significant absence due to injury, finishing second in a Ludlow maiden late last month.
The 11-10 favourite after that performance, the Dan Skelton-trained gelding locked horns with Mick and David Easterby’s Luke on the run-in and eventually prevailed by just a neck, a result that stood after a steward’s inquiry into late interference.
“He’s improved every time since he missed a year with an injury, he’s progressed really nicely and hopefully he can keep going forward,” said Andrews.
“It’s always tricky after a lay-off but fair play, he’s stepped forward every time and it’s good to get his head in front.
“I do get on well with him, he’s missed quite a bit of time as he’s seven and you’ll probably see a better horse when he goes over fences.
“He’s going to be a bit late to that game, but he’s still got improvement to come.”
Charlie Longsdon’s Guetapan Collonges followed up a success at Wetherby out with another at Market Rasen, this time in the three-mile Book Summer Plate Date Now! Handicap Chase.
The 13-8 favourite did not jump fluently and looked beaten midway through the race, but in the latter stages he rallied and showed his resilience – and stamina befitting his pedigree – when running on to a one-and-a-quarter-length victory under Will Kennedy.
“He’s still only six, he is a baby and things need to come together and click for him,” said Longsdon.
“It wasn’t fun to watch, but it’s all experience and he will improve and come on from that.
“He’s a tough horse but he jumped shockingly and he never got into a rhythm, which makes life very difficult.
“Once everything goes right and when the penny drops he’s going to be a nice horse, but at the moment he’s making it look hard work.”
Bold Plan returned to winning ways for Evan Williams and his daughter Isabel when taking the Thank You Uncle Henry’s Farm Shop Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle in convincing style, having started as the 5-2 favourite.
The eight-year-old, who was a useful novice chaser earlier in career, reverted to hurdles for the fifth time this season and took advantage of his falling handicap mark in the five-runner contest over two and a half miles.
Running prominently from the off, he took up the lead with two flights remaining and galloped on unchallenged to prevail by two and a quarter lengths on the line.
“He was a joy, he’s a lovely horse to ride at home and he was lovely to ride today,” the jockey said.
“He jumped impeccably and he really quickened when I asked him to after the last.
“He was really straightforward, foot-perfect, really.
“He’s been running in some really competitive races against good horses so he’ll have enjoyed getting his head in front today.”
Ben Haslam’s Lightning Attack took his handicap hurdle debut when triumphing under Richie McLernon in the Weatherbys nhstallions.co.uk Handicap Hurdle.
The bay was a two-time winner on the Flat previously and joined Haslam’s yard last summer, finding himself well beaten in three hurdle starts this season so far.
Supported at 9-2 on his first handicap performance, he was always close to the lead and seized his opportunity when Step To The Top fell two from home, securing a four-and-half-length success.
Rebecca Menzies’ Schalke lost his maiden tag in the Nunns Mazda And Isuzu Grimsby Handicap Hurdle, triumphing at 6-1 under Brian Hughes after four beaten runs this term.
“We needed that for him, he’s been a bit unlucky,” Menzies said.
“His bumper form was very solid in the early days, we were hoping he was a horse that would improve in time and that seems to be the case.
“Everything’s clicked into place and I’m hoping he might take a step forward for that.
“He’s not been the easiest horse to win a race with, but he’ll go on nice ground so we’ll keep him going into the spring and summer.”
Jessie Lightfoot then took the three-mile Racing TV Novices’ Handicap Chase at 9-2 for Lilly Pinchin and John Groucott, with the final race, the Come Racing February 22nd Mares’ Handicap Chase, going the way of 5-1 chance Rosearelli for James Bowen and Ali Stronge.