Some of the best things come in small packages and Saint Palais defied his diminutive size to land a decent renewal of the Follow @masionbetrace on Twitter Mandarin Handicap Chase in the hands of Harry Bannister at Newbury on Wednesday.
The three-and-a-quarter-mile race, won in the past by the likes of Jodami, Master Smudge, Night Nurse, Zongalero, Ten Plus and Party Politics, may have lost much of its lustre in recent years, but is still a good test. And a stiff one this year, given the going, officially described as soft, heavy in places.
Yet the Richard Bandey-trained four-year-old took advantage of his weight allowance to score by a length and a quarter from Gericault Roque (11-4), with Nestor Park (7-1) a further 11 lengths back in third, as he completed a hat-trick for the nearby Kingsclere yard.
“I have been trying to convince (owner) Tim Syder that the horse is 16 hands, but in reality he is 15.3 with his shoes on,” said Bandey.
“Harry (Bannister) said he struggled with his jumping a bit in this ground, but he has a great constitution and is as tough as old boots. He doesn’t do an awful lot in front and he was tanking turning in.
“Hopefully we will run him a couple more times this season, but we will mind him. I want him winning chases when he is a six or seven-year-old, not a spent five-year-old with nowhere to go. He is the best one I’ve got so we want to look after him.”
He added: “He has been working well at home on the back of his win at Wetherby and it was always going to be test. I’m over the moon. It is very special.
“I’d like to think we’ll take a chance in a Graded race at the end of the season. Maybe the Future Champions race at Ayr is something we will look at.”
Peking Rose was cut to 25-1 (from 40-1) by Betfair for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle after turning the MansionBet Watch And Bet ‘Introductory’ Hurdle into a procession.
Under Paddy Brennan, the evens favourite ploughed through the mud and a strong headwind to open his account for the season, clearly showing improvement on his Ascot hurdling bow in October.
The in-form Fergal O’Brien-trained six-year-old had 11 lengths to spare from Hardi Du Mensil in the extended two-mile heat, but the trainer admitted he may bypass the Cheltenham Festival and wait for Aintree.
O’Brien said: “It was always the plan to ride him prominently. We thought we needed to go up in trip, but once the ground turned soft to heavy, we were just going to be handy and go forward, that is why we came here, really.
“We had him in a Listed race at Cheltenham on Saturday – that’s what we thought of him.
“He is just been a lovely horse to train. The owners (Coln Valley Partnership) have been very patient. He ran very well at Carlisle last year and then he went to Ascot and then didn’t run again until the following year at Aintree (when runner-up in a Grade Two bumper).
“He has matured and he is getting better. I would be more of an Aintree man I think. I’m not sure. Two and half (miles) is probably his ideal trip.”
Gran Luna (100-30 favourite) made it three from three at Newbury as Nico De Boinville got the better of 7lb claimer Joe Anderson aboard Voice Of Calm in a titanic battle after the last in the MansionBet Bet £10 Get £10 Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.
The pair had it to themselves from some way out, but Gran Luna took her record to three wins from four over hurdles with a head verdict.
“She likes it around here, doesn’t she?” said winning trainer Nicky Henderson.
“She is tough and she wants further. You are thinking that two miles in this ground would take some getting anyway. She wants to go up to two and a half (miles), really.
“She probably wants better ground but at least she stays. That is three out of three here.”
The progressive Gallic Geordie (9-4 favourite) completed a hat-trick of wins in good style under Adam Wedge, with the bottom-weight in the MansionBet Faller Insurance Handicap Chase supplementing his two victories at Lingfield with a four-and-a-half-length success from The Russian Doyen.
The lightly-raced eight-year-old has had his problems, but in-form trainer Sam Drinkwater felt that the testing conditions helped.
He said: “Heavy ground is key to him. He has had pins in his legs, heart problems, the lot. He has literally had everything go wrong with him.
“He is just a horse in form and they can run up a sequence. He was 6lb well in, but heaven knows what the handicapper will do. It is a nice problem to have.”
In conditions that suited those who raced prominently, Dashel Drasher (4-1) showed his versatility and guts galore, taking the Bank A Winner With MansionBet Handicap Hurdle under a fine ride from Rex Dingle.
The top weight, who won three chases at Ascot last term, including a Grade One, was reverting to hurdles and made most of the running, to fend off the persistent challenge of Beauport by half a length.
Co-owner Richard Lock, representing winning trainer Jeremy Scott, who was at a funeral, said: “We will probably go for the Silviniaco Conti Chase (at Kempton) if he comes out of this all right.
“We knew he needed the last run. We didn’t fancy going in a handicap at Cheltenham on Saturday, so we switched here to hurdles.
“We thought we’d drop back and get a run into him and then pop on from there. If he had gone to the Silviniaco Conti without a run, we would be concerned he might have needed a run. We will probably go to Ascot after that.”