Paul Nicholls wondered if Half Dozen had a problem after Harry Cobden’s mount was a market drifter ahead of the Black Mountain Botanicals Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at Hereford.
Yet the strapping six-year-old made light work of his nine rivals in the two-mile heat, scoring by a length and a half at odds of 8-1.
The champion trainer said: “We thought his leg had fallen off, because he drifted from 4-1 to 10-1 or something.
“We thought he had a nice little chance, but he has just been big and backward, needed lots of time and experience.
“He was very keen early in the season, he just wants a bit of time. He will make a nice chaser next year.”
Jane Williams has enjoyed plenty of success at the track in recent weeks and Honneur d’Ajonc (100-30) took the spoils in the Hereford Motor Group Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase in the hands of David Noonan.
A trio were in with a chance at the last, but the six-year-old forged clear to go one better than he had at Leicester a month ago.
The Devon handler said: “He isn’t very big, but he is agile. He is a classy horse by Diamond Boy. I’d like to find a few more of them.
“I bought him in the July sale as a two-year-old. He was inexpensive, because he was small, but he was a very good juvenile. We took an extra year, because we didn’t think he’d be a chaser, but in fact, he’s been a fabulous chaser.
“Patrick Waldron, who has just come into racing ownership, his colours only just arrived and he had a winner with his first runner. How about that! That’s a lucky owner – that’s what we want, lucky owners!”
Only The Bold (2-1) followed up his impressive chasing debut at Bangor in November, defying a 10lb penalty under Fergus Gillard and powering to a five-length success in the Ely Memorial Fund Handicap Chase.
Winning trainer David Pipe said: “This is a lot better ground than he had at Bangor and it probably happened quick enough for him today, but Fergus was patient on him. They went a good gallop and they did it nicely in the end.
“There are no big plans for him. He is not over-big, so whether he will jump round the big tracks or not, I don’t know. We’ll see. He is by Jeremy and a typical one by him. He beat (Grade Two-winning hurdler and chaser) Tommy’s Oscar in his point-to-point.
“We’ll what the handicapper does and obviously he is still a novice as well.”
Galop De Chasse came with a well-timed run under Charlie Deutsch to claim the Sky Sports Racing Sky 415 Handicap Chase, beating Rose Sea Has by a comfortable length and a half in something of a rough two-mile race.
Venetia Williams, who was ending a surprising 20-runner barren spell, said: “He has been knocking on the door for quite a long time, with seconds and thirds, so it is great to come to the local course and get his head in front. It was quite a competitively-run race.”
Atlanta Brave (5-6 favourite) followed up his recent Chepstow success, relishing a step up in trip to take the Cazoo Novices’ Hurdle by a cosy three-quarters of a length success from Hauraki Golf.
Kerry Lee’s string is in great heart and the strapping five-year-old looks every inch a chaser in the making.
Lee said: “He is such a lovely horse and is a delight to train. He is so easy to do anything and everything with.
“He is quite far forward for his age and size, because he is a very big horse, and you can only imagine he will improve with age and experience.
“I wanted to give him another relatively low-key run, but we will look at a bigger prize in the spring. He is a three-mile chaser in the making, so anything we do now is bonus territory.”
The wait goes on for jockey Denis O’Regan, whose bid to complete a full set of victories at jumps tracks in Britain and Ireland saw him draw a blank with his two rides.
“We’ll just keep chipping away and hope we get there one day,” he said with a customary smile.
It was a red-letter day for Heidi Palin, who gained her first success under rules when Bennys King caused a 20-1 shock in the hunter chase, beating Magic Saint by three-quarters of a length.