Champion trainer Paul Nicholls set himself up nicely for another big weekend with a double at Ascot.
Having earlier taken the Grade Two Noel Novices’ Chase with Pic D’orhy, the Ditcheat handler struck again with another exciting prospect in the shape of Henri The Second in the Listed Lexicon Recruitment Championship Open National Hunt Flat Race.
The four-year-old followed up an impressive win at Chepstow with an equally authoritative display, as the 100-30 chance made most of the running under Harry Cobden to see off Authorised Speed. Though the official verdict was a length, Henri The Second easily had his rivals on their knees.
“He has hardly turned a hair. One more run and he’ll probably go novice hurdling,” said Nicholls.
“We’ll probably do what we did with Knappers Hill and Stage Star, go to Aintree and then put him away.
“The slower the ground would suit him better. Aintree is perfect. Run him in that and then he’ll go novice hurdling next October. He is all about the future. We’re excited by him.”
Jockey Sean Houlihan is enjoying life again, having recovered from a major back operation when falling in the Sussex National at Plumpton in April.
Partnering the Philip Hobbs-trained Earth Lord (5-1), the pair held off the late thrust of the staying-on Scarpia to win the Howden Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle by three-quarters of a length.
It resulted in Houlihan riding out his claim.
“It means a lot to me to ride winners like this,” said Houlihan.
“I set myself a little goal to get the winners by Christmas and it is nice to achieve that.”
He added: “He travelled really well and hurdled really well. It was tough for him because he was against a few seasoned handicapper and he is a novice. This was a nice race the guv’nor found.
“He coped with the ground really well and probably got there a bit soon, as he had a little look.
“He was idling a bit. He is a lovely horse but he is still inexperienced. He will have learned a ton from this.”
Having gone close with Scarpia, Nicky Henderson was again luckless in the Howden Maiden Hurdle when 15-8 favourite City Chief powered up the incline after the last flight but failed to reel in 22-1 chance Party Business.
Under a fine ride from 3lb claimer Charlie Todd, the Ian Williams-trained winner showed plenty of ability, which had thus far, failed to materialise.
“It was a good performance,” said Williams.
“He made a really nice debut over two miles at Warwick and just got into a little bit of aggro and his bumper form was solid, although probably not at the level of this, so it is good to see him exceed expectations.
“He is a quality horse but you always wonder when running against the big yards, how good they could be.
“Time will tell if this is a good race or not, but the first three finished well clear, so on balance, the form should hold up well.”
Venetia Williams has her string in good form and Brave Seasca (7-2) drew clear of his rivals in the Howden Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase in the hands of Gavin Sheehan to score by three lengths.
The six-year-old clearly showed no ill-effects of his 10-length success at Warwick last week to make it two from three over fences.
Williams said: “The handicapper fairly walloped him for his Warwick win, so this was the only opportunity we had to run with the penalty, so it was the obvious thing to do.
“The handicapper said we had 5lbs in hand, and that was the case, but they still have to go out and do it and it is a completely different racecourse and class of event.
“It is nice after the autumn we have had to come to Ascot and find this sort of ground.”