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Lord Du Mesnil advertises National claims at Haydock

Lord Du Mesnil booked his ticket for another date on Merseyside with a gutsy display in the William Hill Grand National Trial at Haydock.

Second 12 months ago, Richard Hobson’s stable star led them all a merry dance from the outset – and showed stamina and guts aplenty at the finish.

Having seemingly put the race to bed two out, Venetia Williams’ Achille arrived late on the scene but Lord Du Mesnil and Paul O’Brien were not to be denied.

Relishing the thorough test and showing that the extra distance in the Randox Grand National will surely be no problem, the 8-1 chance pulled out more to win by half a length. The Two Amigos ran another creditable race to be third.

“That was a great performance today to carry 2lb more than last year, I’m chuffed to bits,” said Hobson.

“That’s the first time he’s had his ground this year – at Chepstow the ground had been covered for 10 days and was almost good to soft.

“When he gets in that rhythm he’s a hard horse to pass, his jumping is always great on the whole and Paul gave him a lovely ride.

“If it could just be soft for us, over four-miles-two that would be enough, but obviously anything quicker and it’s not going to be his race. I’ve always said the ground is the key to him.

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“He’s got an entry in the Ultima (at Cheltenham), but I think we’ll avoid that and keep him fresh for the Grand National. He’s got a beautiful weight and we know he stays well. It’s not every year you have a Grand National horse.”

Hobson – for whom it was a poignant victory, as his father, Russell, a former trainer, died just two weeks ago – added: “Paul knows him inside out, it just hasn’t been his year up to now, the Sefton was too short and at Chepstow it wasn’t soft enough.

“He has overheated in the past, but he didn’t today. Paul got off as a precaution.”

The Nick Williams-trained Galahad Quest (12-1) had finished behind Marown when they last met but turned that form around with the favourite in the williamhill.com Best Odds Guaranteed Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.

The two had it between them up the long Haydock straight once The Ferry Master had dropped away, but it was Galahad Quest, who had arguably jumped better, who prevailed by two and a half lengths.

David Noonan was on board and said: “The first-time tongue tie has obviously worked.

“He jumped well in the main, it’s all experience for the future and hopefully he can have a nice career.”

Fergal O’Brien’s Alaphilippe (100-30) was an easy winner of the Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle and is set to head to Cheltenham.

Paddy Brennan was on board and while he acknowledged Sean Bowen on Young Buck appeared to be going slightly better when coming down three out, he fancied his chances.

“I think he’s very good. I know Sean was going well, but I felt my lad was just about to get motoring,” said Brennan.

“I’ve been around long enough to know what should be going (to Cheltenham) and what shouldn’t and he should, but for Fergal O’Brien’s stable today is a good day.”

The remarkable Bushypark (8-1) won for the fifth time this season in the Pertemps Qualifier.

Phil Kirby’s seven-year-old began his winning spree at Sedgefield off a mark of 83 and bar a defeat in an all-weather bumper last time out, he has progressed with each outing, taking this off 120 under Henry Brooke.

“He’s been brilliant, obviously we never expected him to keep going as he has, but he’s very straightforward,” said Kirby.

“We’d like to go for the (Pertemps) final, but we knew we had to come here and win well to stand a chance of getting in – hopefully he’s done enough. If it’s soft, we’d go. He’ll make a nice chaser for next year.”

Paul Nicholls’ Monmiral (evens favourite) was an impressive winner of the William Hill Juvenile Hurdle.

Given the ease with which he beat Nassalam he is arguably the best four-year-old in Britain, but he is not even entered in the Triumph Hurdle with Nicholls always favouring Aintree.

Bowen was on board and doubled up through the Nicholls-trained Bob And Co (11-8 favourite) in the hunter chase.

Third Wind takes Rendlesham spoils

Third Wind held on from the rallying Lisnagar Oscar to provide Hughie Morrison with a big-race winner in the William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock.

Not currently in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, the winner was beating last year’s Stayers’ hero, who in turn was returning to form following a wind operation for Rebecca Curtis.

The runner-up was in fact giving 6lb to the winner and only went down by half a length, so it was no surprise to see Lisnagar Oscar cut to 16-1 from 25s for a Festival repeat by Betfair.

Third Wind was dropped right in at the rear by Tom Cannon, as Donna’s Diamond and Lisnagar Oscar ensured it was a true test.

When Donna’s Diamond dropped away, Sean Bowen was left in the lead and held a two-length advantage at the third-last.

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Third Wind was closing all the time and took up the running after the final flight, but to Lisnagar Oscar’s credit – and to Curtis’ delight – he battled all the way to the line to be beaten just three-quarters of a length.

The two big disappointments were last year’s winner Emitom and Itchy Feet, both of whom were back over hurdles having been chasing.

“We didn’t put him in the Stayers’ Hurdle because we thought he got beaten fair and square at Ascot (in the Long Walk),” said Morrison.

“He obviously enjoys a flat track and I think he won with a bit in hand probably, he doesn’t do a lot when he hits the front.

“But he was getting 6lb from the second and I think that would put him fourth or fifth in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

“I haven’t spoken to the owner yet and we’ll sit back and enjoy this – and if the owners can’t go to Cheltenham, they’re less interested in going as well. The race at Aintree might appeal.”

Cannon said: “I’ve ridden against him a few times, but this was the first time I’d ridden him. I’d spoken to Tom O’Brien who usually rides, and obviously Hughie who gave me the lowdown.

“We were lucky they went a good gallop and he got in a good rhythm. I was able to stay on the rail, but I didn’t want to hit the front too soon as it’s such a long run-in.

“I was thinking if I had to take a pull and come round that wouldn’t matter, but as it happened I got a clean run.”

Lisnagar Oscar is heading back to Cheltenham, where he won last year's Stayers' Hurdle
Lisnagar Oscar is heading back to Cheltenham, where he won last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

For Curtis, all roads now lead to the defence of Lisnagar Oscar’s Stayers’ Hurdle crown.

“I’m really pleased with that. We gave him a wind op and it’s clearly worked. I’m delighted,” she said.

“It’s not easy giving weight away so I’m delighted and it’s next stop Cheltenham.

“Some might have thought it was a fluke last year, but we never have and he always runs his best races at Cheltenham.”

Itchy Feet aiming to book Festival ticket at Haydock

Itchy Feet could earn himself a crack at the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle with a bold showing at Haydock on Saturday.

Olly Murphy’s stable star reverts to the smaller obstacles for the William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle, having run exclusively over fences since October 2019, and also tests his stamina at three miles for the first time.

Earlier this season, the seven-year-old finished third in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree and second in the 1965 Chase at Ascot, before returning to the latter venue to finish second in a conditions chase a couple of months ago.

He suffered a broken blood vessel on his most recent outing, but Murphy expects to have a clearer idea of potential targets for the spring after this weekend’s Grade Two event.

He said: “He’s in good form and should handle the ground fine.

“Going over three miles for the first time is going to be a big question, but I think he’ll stay. I’ve wanted to run him over three miles for a while – he gets a nice weight allowance off a few horses in the race, and I’m looking forward to running him.

“He’d have to be running very well to warrant running in a Stayers’ Hurdle, but if he wins or runs very well that’s the route we’ll take.”

Itchy Feet is set to face seven rivals on Merseyside, including last year’s winner Emitom – who also switches back to hurdles following a spell chasing for Warren Greatrex.

David Pipe saddles bargain-buy Main Fact, who rattled off nine successive victories in 2020, the most recent of which came in the Grade Three Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle over this course and distance in November.

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Main Fact has been a real money-spinner for his connections
Main Fact has been a real money-spinner for his connections (Tim Goode/PA)

The Pond House handler believes the eight-year-old is better than he showed when tailed off in the Long Walk at Ascot on his latest appearance.

“He’ll love the ground, and we think he might be a little bit better going back left-handed,” said Pipe.

“I’m not sure he ran his true race at Ascot, but he was beaten a long way. We’ll find out on Saturday if he’s better than that.

“It looks a competitive race, and there’s a few with question marks. Our horse is in good form at home, and it will be interesting.”

Rebecca Curtis will be hoping a wind operation can help last year’s shock Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar bounce back from a couple of ordinary efforts so far this term, with Nicky Henderson’s On The Blind Side another to consider in an open contest.

Ramses de Teillee in winning action at Cheltenham
Ramses de Teillee in winning action at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The most valuable race on the card is the £75,000 William Hill Grand National Trial.

Pipe is represented by top-weight Ramses De Teillee, who was last seen finishing down the field in the Welsh Grand National.

“He made a mistake at the first fence at Chepstow and was always on the back foot after that,” said the trainer.

“He’s won at Haydock before, and conditions will suit. He’s got a lot of weight – so we’re taking 5lb off, with Fergus Gillard on board.

“If he turns up on his A-game then he’s got an each-way chance.”

Other contenders include Welsh Grand National runner-up The Two Amigos, and a pair of course-and-distance winners in Lord Du Mesnil and Perfect Candidate.

Lord Du Mesnil was beaten a long way in the Welsh National, but trainer Richard Hobson is optimistic of an improved performance.

He said: “It doesn’t really matter how fast they go. The thing is when it’s heavy ground, nothing’s going to go faster than him anyway.

“Obviously, we’ve had a few issues with him since Cheltenham (last spring), but he seems to be going the right way now.

“If he gets his ground at the weekend, and the way he’s been working, I would say he’d have a big shout.”

Perfect Candidate loves Haydock
Perfect Candidate loves Haydock (Mike Egerton/PA)

Perfect Candidate is in the twilight of his career at the age of 14, but proved he is no back number when winning at Haydock for the second time in November.

Trainer Fergal O’Brien said: “We’re looking forward to running him. There can’t be many 14-year-olds rated as high as he is now.

“If he can get round then he won’t be a million miles away. I suppose it all depends on if he can keep up with them.

“He owes us absolutely nothing. He loves Haydock, and Paddy (Brennan) knows him very well.”

Evergreen Perfect Candidate fits the bill for Haydock trial

Perfect Candidate is expected to put up another bold display when the veteran tackles the William Hill Grand National Trial at Haydock on Saturday.

The 14-year-old was a wide-margin winner at the track in attritional conditions last time out, forcing the handicapper to put him back up to a rating of 142.

Having been something of a Cheltenham specialist in his younger days, he has reserved his best for Merseyside the last two years, winning twice and finishing second to Lord Du Mesnil on another occasion.

“I suppose he did win by a long way last time, but he did put him up a lot (8lb),” said trainer Fergal O’Brien.

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“He’s in good form. We’ve been waiting for everything to fall right. There’s been a couple of other races he could have gone for, but I think it’s very important that Paddy (Brennan) rides him.

“He’ll go and take his chance and we’ll see how he gets on – he doesn’t owe us anything and Paddy will look after him.

“We used to say he loved Cheltenham but now Haydock suits, he’s an out-and-out stayer and the races are there for him.”

Lord Du Mesnil will take Perfect Candidate on again, with trainer Richard Hobson of the belief his stable star has put a recent issue which has caused him to over-heat after his races behind him.

“We’re happy with him now. He has a deficiency, and it took a while to work out exactly what it is,” said Hobson.

“I’m not saying sorting it out is definitely going to stop him from over-heating – it doesn’t affect him during the race, it’s after the race.

“What we’ve been treating him with is magnesium, basically, and potassium. He’s been low on them.

“It’s a strange one really. All the other horses in the yard aren’t – so why he suddenly is (and) we’ve had to boost his magnesium and potassium up, I don’t know.

“But that’s the reason, and we hope we’ve got to the bottom of it – and he’ll put up a big display.

“As long as it rains, and he gets his proper soft ground, that’s what he wants.”

Lord Du Mesnil won the Tommy Whittle and Last Fling Chase at the track last season before finishing second in this contest to Smooth Stepper, after which he was second to Ravenhill at Cheltenham.

Emitom has ‘mojo back’ for Rendlesham defence

Warren Greatrex is confident Emitom has got his “mojo” back in time to defend his title as he returns to the smaller obstacles in the William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock.

The seven-year-old was fourth in the Stayers’ Hurdle to Lisnagar Oscar in March, following his victory in this race a month earlier, and Greatrex had hoped he would take high rank among the novice chasers this season.

However, defeats at Uttoxeter and Ffos Las forced a rethink. With Emitom having had a wind operation as well, the Upper Lamourn trainer is happy to retain his novice status for another season – should he fail to win the Stayers’ Hurdle.

“We are reverting back to hurdles (on Saturday) following a spell chasing. He has had his wind done and he is working very well,” said Greatrex.

“He seems to have his mojo back and seems in great nick. The chase races were good, and he jumped well, but he was a bit lacklustre – and whether his wind was just affecting him, I’m not sure.

“We will go to Haydock this week and see what happens. But he seems in good form, and his work is as good as ever.

“If he was to go on and win a Stayers’ Hurdle then we probably wouldn’t go back over fences, but if he didn’t win that we probably would look at going back over fences with him.”

Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar, Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet and Thomas Darby and Nicky Henderson’s On The Blind Side are all in the reckoning at Haydock – to ensure it will be far from an easy task for Emitom.

Teillee and Mesnil feature among 15 seeking National Trial gold

Ramses De Teillee tops the weights as Lord Du Mesnil remains on course to try to go one better than last year in Haydock’s William Hill Grand National Trial Handicap Chase.

Richard Hobson’s Randox Grand National entry, just outdone by shock winner Smooth Stepper here 12 months ago, is among 15 confirmations for Saturday’s Grade Three handicap over an extended three and a half miles.

Lord Du Mesnil, last seen when only ninth in the rescheduled Welsh Grand National at Chepstow six weeks ago, is joined among the Haydock possibles by several old rivals.

Nicky Martin’s The Two Amigos was in front of him as runner-up at Chepstow, but could manage only a distant fourth in this race last year.

David Pipe’s Ramses De Teillee, winner of the Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle on this card 12 months ago, was a long way behind both Lord Du Mesnil and The Two Amigos at Chepstow.

Also still in the reckoning this time are the lightly-raced Sojourn, runner-up here in December for Anthony Honeyball, Fergal O’Brien’s veteran Perfect Candidate, Alan King’s Warwick Classic Handicap Chase hero Notachance and ex-French Ascot winner Enqarde, for Dr Richard Newland.

Enqarde also has the option of heading back to Ascot for another three-mile handicap on Saturday, but his trainer is favouring both the left-handed track and move up in distance.

“It will probably be Haydock,” said Newland.

“He did jump slightly left (at Ascot), and I just think also the extra trip will probably suit him.

“Obviously, three miles (and) four furlongs on very heavy ground at Haydock is going to be hard work for any horse.

“But yes, he’s in good form, so I can’t see why we wouldn’t have a go at it.”

There are 13 in the mix for the Prestige, with Jeremy Scott’s dual Wincanton winner Sizable Sam and Young Buck, for Paul Nicholls, catching the eye.

Jennie Candlish’s Mint Condition, a narrow runner-up at Warwick last time, also has an alternative entry in the other Grade Two on the card – the William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle.

In potential opposition there, among 13 entries, are last year’s winner Emitom – for Warren Greatrex – shock 2020 Stayers Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar, for Rebecca Curtis, and Pipe’s course-and-distance winner Main Fact.

Henderson remains upbeat on Buveur D’Air despite comeback defeat

Nicky Henderson was disappointed but not dismayed after dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air suffered defeat on his long-awaited return to action at Haydock.

Having claimed Cheltenham Festival glory in both 2017 and 2018, the JP McManus-owned 10-year-old fell when bidding for the hat-trick the following season.

Hopes of regaining his crown last March were dashed by a freak injury suffered in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, where he returned with a piece of wood lodged in his foot, which later required surgery and a significant period of rehabilitation.

It has been a long road back for Buveur D’Air, but such was his well being, Henderson changed a long-term plan to run at Sandown next month and instead bring him out a fortnight earlier in The New One Unibet Hurdle on Merseyside.

Despite 14-month absence, he was widely expected to make a successful return against two rivals – but despite receiving weight from both eventual winner Navajo Pass and last year’s victor Ballyandy, the 8-11 favourite was unable to reel in Donald McCain’s front-runner.

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However, Henderson was optimistic overall as he assessed the performance post-race.

“He’s jumped like he always used to – it’s very quick and accurate, isn’t it?,” said the Seven Barrows handler

“Nico (de Boinville) thought he’d got the winner covered going to the last, but then he took a big blow.

Nicky Henderson with Buveur D'Air
Nicky Henderson with Buveur D’Air (Steven Paston/PA)

“He doesn’t like that very heavy ground. People will say I would say that, but there you go.

“He’s got a run under his belt and will come on tons for that. I’m still pleased we got on and did that today, rather than wait for Sandown in a fortnight’s time, as he wouldn’t be any straighter then – and we’ve now got more time to play with between now and March.”

Buveur D’Air is a general 20-1 shot to become the fifth horse to win a third Champion Hurdle, with Epatante – who won the race in her stablemate’s absence last season – the 9-4 favourite, despite also being beaten on her latest outing in the Christmas Hurdle.

Of Buveur D’Air, Henderson added: “We’ll stick to the plan and go for the Champion Hurdle.

“I’m disappointed not to win today. Of course you want to win and win on the bridle, but that was hardly going to happen in that ground – they’ve done well to race, to be honest with you.

“I do (think the old Buveur d’Air is in there), and he was bound to need it today. He looked big to me, the scales were saying that he’s lighter than he looks, but he does look big, and he needed to go and do something like that.

“I’d have preferred a different result, but that’s what we have to take. We know where we are and know what we’ve got to do.

“He pulled up sound and everything is right. There are no lumps or bumps – or pieces of wood sticking out!

“He’ll be tired tonight, there’s no doubt about that. He’s not going to run again before the Champion Hurdle, but you can go back to work and I’d say he’s almost certain to have a racecourse gallop somewhere.”

Navajo Pass upsets Buveur D’Air at Haydock

Navajo Pass inflicted a surprise defeat on the returning Buveur D’Air in Haydock’s The New One Unibet Hurdle.

Donald McCain’s winner was sent off the 4-1 outsider of three to beat dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air and Ballyandy – who took this Grade Two 12 months ago.

But forceful tactics paid off as Navajo Pass led from the outset and kept enough in reserve to see off Buveur D’Air, who challenged after the last hurdle but could not reel in his rival and had to settle for a four-and-a-quarter length second.

Sent off the 8-11 favourite, Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air was having his first run in 14 months, since suffering an injury that required surgery when also beaten at short odds in the 2019 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

A thrilled McCain said of his Sean Quinlan-ridden winner: “He’s going to be a very smart horse.

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“This is a season where you usually get lost a bit because it’s his first season out of juvenile hurdles. We’ve been running in handicaps with huge weights and today he was taking on two horses that were twice his age!

“It’s hard, but we knew he was fit, we knew he could jump and we knew he was in good nick after winning up at Musselburgh.

“We could have floated round for third, but I spoke to Tim (Leslie, owner) before and we said we’d take a punt and make it a test and see what happens.

“We were obviously counting on Buveur D’Air needing the run in bad old Haydock ground. To get the old horse back from the injury he had is a big effort from Nicky and his team.

Navajo Pass on his way to victory
Navajo Pass on his way to victory (David Davies/PA)

“We just came here thinking there was nowhere else to go before the spring festivals and it’s worked out.”

Navajo Pass is not entered in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Asked whether supplementing was a possibility, McCain added: “We’ll speak to Tim. I don’t think he’s a Champion Hurdle horse – I don’t think he’s got the natural speed for a Champion Hurdle, but I might be wrong.

“My first thoughts were he’s going to be more suited to Aintree, if anywhere. I know Tim likes Aintree and we love Aintree, obviously.

“We’ll just enjoy today for now. I can’t emphasise enough that he’s next year’s horse.”

Bookmaker reaction to the comeback defeat of Buveur D’Air saw his ante-post price for this year’s Champion Hurdle double from 10-1 to 20-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power.

Henderson said: “Of course we’re disappointed, but the winner set a really good gallop and I think they were going as fast as they could behind him, to be honest.

“It looked as though he (Buveur D’Air) was going to get there comfortably, but when he got to the last he just had a big blow.

“That ground is not for him, but he’s done well and his jumping was as good as ever – he jumped every hurdle like he used to.

“I’d expect him to come on hugely. He’ll definitely still go for the Champion Hurdle and he won’t run beforehand.”

Royale Pagaille rises to Peter Marsh challenge

Royale Pagaille looks a horse destined for the very top judged on a brilliant display in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock.

The French import was beaten on his first two starts for trainer Venetia Williams and leading owner Rich Ricci last season, but appears much improved this winter, with this his third successive victory.

A novice chase success on Merseyside was followed by an emphatic victory on his handicap debut at Kempton over the Christmas period – and even a 16lb hike in the weights to a lofty mark of 156 was nowhere near enough to stop him completing his hat-trick in devastating style.

Initially ridden with restraint by Tom Scudamore, Royale Pagaille jumped and travelled with such fluency that he tanked his way to the from racing down the back straight for the second time.

While most of his rivals had cried enough in the ultra-testing conditions rounding the home turn, Scudamore’s mount was remarkably still full of running – and safely negotiated the remaining obstacles in the straight to score by 16 lengths.

Scudamore said: “To do that in this ground – win off a mark of 156 by 16 lengths – is very impressive. You don’t get too many horses that are able to do that.

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“I don’t know him well enough to know if this ground is important to him, but he’s handled it well enough today.

“He’s jumped from fence to fence and travelled so well. He’d got them cooked at the top of the straight.

“It was a huge thrill and a pleasure to be able to ride him today.”

The seven-year-old has several options at the Cheltenham Festival, having been entered for three of the four novice chases, as well as the Cheltenham Gold Cup – for which Coral go as short as 12-1.

Scudamore said: “I’ll leave plans entirely up to Venetia and Rich Ricci. I was just lucky to be able to ride him today.

“He’s a second-season novice. I’ve ridden some very nice novice chases and he’s up there with the best of them.

“Whatever they go for, whether it’s the RSA (now Festival Novices’ Chase), or the Gold Cup or the National Hunt Chase, the world is most certainly his oyster.”

Williams was at Ascot, where she was guarded on a Gold Cup bid, but nevertheless delighted with her charge’s progress.

She said: “I bought him at the Arqana Sale at Deauville in November 2019, and it took me until 12 months later to sell him, and that’s when Rich and Susannah (Ricci) stepped in.

“Looking at the times (at Haydock), I don’t imagine it was too heavy up there – but the handicapper will hike him up again, and it will force me to put him in rare areas near the top.

“This is his third season as a novice chaser, and in the first two he didn’t win, but he’s very progressive now.

“But I was delighted. He’s a perfect example of a horse that’s needed time.

“I can’t say he will definitely go for the Gold Cup, and there will be much discussion before any decisions are reached.”

Silver signals bright future with polished display at Haydock

Fergal O’Brien believes the future is bright for Silver Hallmark following an impressive all-the-way victory in the Read Nicky Henderson’s Unibet Blog Novices’ Chase at Haydock.

A field of four runners went to post for the opener on Merseyside, with Henderson’s Allart the 10-11 favourite to double his Grade Two tally after a striking chasing debut at Ascot last month.

Silver Hallmark (2-1), narrowly beaten by Fiddlerontheroof on his first attempt over fences at Exeter in November, was sent straight to the lead on his first start since – and jumped well in the hands of Adam Wedge for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey.

His task was undoubtedly made easier when Allart crashed out racing down the back straight – but O’Brien’s charge can still be expected to go on to bigger and better things, judged on the way he powered through the testing conditions to score by four and a half lengths.

O’Brien did not make the trip to the north west, but said: “I’m delighted with him – he’s been very well at home.

“He came back from Exeter with a little nick, which took a bit of time to come right, but he’s been in great form.

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“Adam gave him a lovely ride. It was only his second run over fences and only the sixth run of his life, including his point-to-point. Haydock takes a bit of jumping, and I’m delighted with how it’s worked out.”

Silver Hallmark has not been entered for any of the novice chases at the Cheltenham Festival, with O’Brien instead eyeing a possible appearance at Aintree’s Grand National meeting.

He added: “We were in a quandary whether to stick over hurdles or go chasing with him, but Mr and Mrs Rucker (owners) said he was bought as a chaser – and I thought it was worth having a crack at a Grade Two today, and if he lost his novice status, so be it.

“I didn’t put him in any of the novice chases at Cheltenham, because I just felt he was lacking a bit of experience.

“Ground is important to him. I don’t think he wants it as bad as today, but soft ground would be important, so if it came up soft at Aintree then we’d definitely have a look at something like that.”

Faivoir lunged late to claim a last-gasp victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle.

Dan Skelton’s six-year-old faced a significant step up in class for this Grade Two test – and looked booked for minor honours jumping the final flight, with Donald McCain’s Minella Drama seemingly in control.

However, Faivoir ate into his lead on the run-in and got up in the dying strides to prevail by a neck at 7-1.

Winning jockey Bridget Andrews was emotional after the race as she reflected on the recent death of stable favourite Mohaayed, who was fatally injured at Market Rasen last Saturday.

Andrews had previously partnered Mohaayed to win the 2018 County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Faivoir winning at Cheltenham earlier this season
Faivoir winning at Cheltenham earlier this season (David Davies/PA)

“Last week was tough – Mohaayed played a big part in my career,” she said.

“I’m delighted for this horse today, and delighted for his owners. He’s actually been brilliant for me, because I’m four from four on him now.

“I think that trip (two miles) is fine for him on this ground. He’s still quite green and has a bit of an awkward way of going. He lugged in behind a little bit – but once I pulled him out and got upsides, I was away then.

“I don’t know what Dan’s plans are going to be. We tried him in a handicap at Sandown, and he didn’t really like the hustle and bustle.”

Following an inquiry, the Haydock stewards handed a four-day suspension to Andrews for careless riding, having edged left on the bend entering the straight and failed to “leave sufficient racing room for the two runners on her inside”.

Haydock goes ahead

Haydock’s Peter Marsh meeting will go ahead after the course passed an early-morning inspection.

Saturday’s seven-race card was subject to a scheduled 8am check because of the threat of frost, having already survived the ravages of the midweek Storm Christoph.

However, the inspection was brought forward to 7am, and a Tweet from Haydock’s official account confirmed shortly after 7.15am that the course was fit for racing.

Taunton’s eight-race card was given the go-ahead before a scheduled 8am inspection there too, as overnight conditions relented sufficiently.

Haydock will stage four Grade Two events, including the feature Peter Marsh Handicap Chase – while dual champion hurdler Buveur D’Air makes his long-awaited return from injury against just two rivals in the The New One Unibet Hurdle.

An update from the track read: “Today’s precautionary inspection has passed! The Going is Heavy.”

Temperatures had been forecast to fall below freezing overnight, but they did not do so.

There remains a “slight chance of sleety snow flurries” at the Merseyside venue – but Haydock’s card, which had already passed a Thursday inspection after being waterlogged in places earlier in the week, will get under way at 12.55.

The ground at Taunton is soft, heavy in places – as it is at Ascot, where the Grade One Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House is the highlight of a seven-race card.

Navan, the sole Saturday card scheduled in Ireland, will not however take place – after the course failed an 8am inspection, with the track “frozen and unfit for racing”.

Buveur D’Air all set for Haydock return

Buveur D’Air makes his long-awaited return after 420 days on the sidelines at Haydock – but The New One Unibet Hurdle is unlikely to be a “gimme”, despite only two horses taking on the former champion.

The Nicky Henderson-trained 10-year-old receives weight from both his rivals on Saturday and is proven in testing conditions, although the Grade Two affair may not have been the first race on the Seven Barrows trainer’s agenda for the JP McManus-owned gelding.

However, Henderson has been delighted with how Buveur D’Air has got himself into a position to race again, after he picked up a nasty injury to his hoof at Newcastle in November 2019, with a six-inch splinter from a hurdle becoming stuck in his foot, requiring surgery.

Nicky Henderson with Buveur D'Air at his Seven Barrows yard in Lambourn
Nicky Henderson with Buveur D’Air at his Seven Barrows yard in Lambourn (Steven Paston/PA)

“This wasn’t the original plan, but he was so well and came to himself much quicker than I anticipated so we decided to come here and it will be great to see him back on a racetrack,” Henderson – whose current champion Epatante was beaten at odds-on in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day – said in his Unibet blog.

“It was very much touch and go as to whether he’d even race again because he had to have his foot literally put back together, but we have changed the way he trains and he never sets foot on anything other than grass and everything has gone well.

“Yes there are only three runners and yes he receives weight, but it’s still a horse race and he has to jump and gallop round safely so it’s certainly no ‘gimme’. But I couldn’t be happier with him.”

Ballyandy was successful at Haydock 12 months ago
Ballyandy was successful at Haydock 12 months ago (Julian Herbert/PA)

Nigel Twiston-Davies feels Ballyandy will be no pushover as he bids to win this race for the second year running.

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“Ballyandy has been a wonderful horse for us and we’re looking forward to seeing him run,” said the Naunton handler.

“He won the race last year on testing ground, so hopefully he can once again go close.

“He is taking on the returning Buveur D’Air but, given the ground and his form this season, we are hopeful of a good run. He came out of the Christmas Hurdle well and this has been the plan since.”

Navajo Pass has a bit to find on ratings, but trainer Donald McCain is happy to take his chance in such a small field.

“Obviously we’re up against it off 149, he’s just turned five,” said the Cheshire handler.

“We’ve nowhere to go unless we want to carry a huge weight in a handicap, which is what we were doing at the start of the season and couldn’t do it.

“I think two miles on this ground will be fine. I’ve got an owner (Tim Leslie) that’s prepared to take a punt, so we’ll see.

“He’s a nice horse, he’s probably next season’s horse in that sense. For last season’s juveniles this can be a tough year. He’s a smashing horse, he can only keep on improving and you can’t turn your back on a three-runner race at Haydock.”

Allart takes the next step in his chasing career
Allart takes the next step in his chasing career (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Henderson is looking forward to seeing how Allart fares in the Read Nicky Henderson’s Unibet Blog Novices’ Chase after he made a winning fencing debut.

“I thought he put up a good display at Ascot on his chasing debut where he got better as the race went on and it was very good education for him,” he said.

“He’s come out of that in very good form and has worked and schooled well since so this looks a good race for him and he goes there with an obvious favourite’s chance.”

Anthony Honeyball still has high hopes for Acey Milan in the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase, after his better-fancied contender Sam Brown was declared a late non-runner because of stiffness.

Acey Milan (right) is a second Peter Marsh challenger for Anthony Honeyball
Acey Milan (right) is a second Peter Marsh challenger for Anthony Honeyball (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Assessing Acey Milan’s chances, the Dorset trainer said: “He ran well over hurdles there last season and he’s won round Aintree first time out this season. I quite like the look of him on paper.

“The ground was a bit quick for him at Newbury, and I don’t know what happened at Plumpton. Nothing came to light after it.

“I’m hoping a flat track like Haydock with more runners is what he wants. I think he might be dangerous off 10st 4lb if everything is right with him. He could be an interesting contender off that weight.”

McCain is looking forward to stepping Minella Drama up to Grade Two company in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle.

The six-year-old is still learning his trade, but has won his last two starts after being runner-up to Llandinabo Lad on his hurdling debut.

McCain said: “He’s a grand horse, he’s a little bit raw still and a bit to learn.

“Two miles round there should be fine and this has been the target since Bangor.”

Llandinabo Lad, trained by Tom Symonds, reopposes, while the other three runners – Faivoir, Nada To Prada and Anythinforlove – won on their latest starts.

Buveur D’Air declared for Haydock return

Buveur D’Air will face just two rivals when he makes his comeback in The New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday.

The dual Champion Hurdle hero is in line for his eagerly-awaited return after being sidelined since he picked up a nasty injury to his hoof at Newcastle in November 2019.

The Nicky Henderson-trained 10-year-old had a six-inch splinter stuck in his foot when beaten in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, requiring surgery.

Nicky Henderson has been encouraged by Buveur D'Air in recent weeks
Nicky Henderson has been encouraged by Buveur D’Air in recent weeks (Steven Paston/PA)

It has been a long road, but Buveur D’Air has been pleasing Henderson of late and is now ready to return to the fray.

The Grade Two contest sees him take on last year’s winner Ballyandy, from the Nigel Twiston-Davies stable, and Donald McCain’s Navajo Pass.

Royale Pagaille heads a field of 10 for the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase.

The Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old relishes testing conditions and has registered convincing victories on this course and at Kempton this season.

Sam’s Adventure, trained by Brian Ellison, demonstrated his liking for a test of stamina when landing the Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase over course and distance last month.

Anthony Honeyball is two-handed with Sam Brown and Acey Milan. The latter is one of five horses running from outside the handicap. The others are Lamanver Pippin, Potters Legend, Just Your Type and Claud And Goldie.

Allart, a highly-promising winner on his fencing debut at Ascot last month, will be a warm order for the race carrying his trainer’s name, the Read Nicky Henderson’s Unibet Blog Novices’ Chase.

The seven-year-old is one of five declared for the Grade Two contest over two and a half miles.

The quartet of Empire Steel, Marown, Silber Hallmark and Galahad Quest should provide decent opposition.

The other Grade Two on the card is the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle, which also has a field of five.

Tom Symonds saddles course and distance scorer Llandinabo Lad, while Michael Scudamore’s Nada To Prada took a Listed contest on this course last month.

Falvoir, Minella Drama and Anythingforlove complete the quintet.

Hopes rise for Haydock

Officials at Haydock are “pretty hopeful” Saturday’s meeting will go ahead after the course surprisingly passed a Thursday morning inspection.

Prospects of racing at the Merseyside venue appeared bleak on Wednesday, with the ground already described as heavy, waterlogged in places and further rain expected from Storm Christoph.

It was widely expected that a fixture featuring four Grade Two races would be abandoned after clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright called an inspection for 8am on Thursday morning.

However, despite a further 35 millimetres of rain falling on Wednesday, and many parts of the north-west suffering from flooding, Tellwright reported conditions at Haydock to be raceable.

He said: “It is remarkable – we’re fit to race today.

“I suppose we can take certain quantities of rain – and beyond that, it’s just going down the drain.”

A further precautionary inspection has been called for 8am on Saturday morning because of the threat of frost.

Tellwright added: “We’ve called a precautionary inspection for Saturday morning, just to cover us for the forecast frost.

“We’d be pretty hopeful that shouldn’t be an issue. It (the course) is under frost covers. They won’t work as well as they would on dry ground, but we’ll cross our fingers and expect to race.

“In terms of rain, we’re forecast the odd shower, but nothing in the context of what we’ve had in the previous three days.”

Elsewhere, both Ludlow and Wincanton passed 8am inspections for Thursday’s seven-race cards.

At Ludlow, the ground is heavy, soft in places, on the hurdles course and soft over fences – while at Wincanton it is heavy all round.

Friday’s card at Ffos Las was abandoned following an inspection on Thursday morning, with the ground waterlogged, while racing at Musselburgh the same day is subject to a precautionary 8am check, with freezing temperatures the concern.

Haydock reprieve – but Saturday inspection called

Haydock’s meeting on Saturday will be subject to an inspection on race-day morning after the course passed an initial check on Thursday.

An inspection was called for 8am on Thursday, with the ground already described 24 hours earlier as heavy, waterlogged in places and further rain expected from Storm Christoph.

The track passed that early assessment of conditions, but a second inspection was announced for 8am on Saturday before a fixture featuring four Grade Two races – and the possible return of dual champion hurdler Buveur D’Air – can go ahead.

The remaining threat to the feature card is from a forecast cold snap, according to a Tweet on Haydock’s official account.

It read: “Today’s inspection has passed for Saturday’s Peter Marsh Chase raceday. The track is currently fit to race. Another precautionary inspection is due at 8am on Saturday due to risk of frost.”

Elsewhere, both Ludlow and Wincanton passed 8am inspections for Thursday’s seven-race cards.

At Ludlow, the ground is heavy, soft in places, on the hurdles course and soft over fences – while at Wincanton it is heavy all round.

Friday’s card at Ffos Las was abandoned following an inspection on Thursday morning, with the ground waterlogged.