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Appreciate It seeks to make Mullins Supreme again

Willie Mullins will once again be the toast of punters if Appreciate It can add to the yard’s record six victories in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

It is 26 years since Tourist Attraction provided the most successful trainer in Festival history with his very first victory at the showpiece meeting in the traditional curtain-raiser.

Ebaziyan was a shock winner for the master of Closutton in 2007, but Champagne Fever (2013), Vautour (2014), Douvan (2015) and Klassical Dream (2019) have all been well fancied and come up with the goods since.

Appreciate It, runner-up to stablemate Ferny Hollow in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago, is the latest product of the Mullins machine to bid for Supreme glory.

The champion trainer admits he expected to be running the seven-year-old in one of the longer Cheltenham novice hurdles at the start of the campaign, but he has more then earned his place in the two-mile opener with successive Grade Ones over that trip at Leopardstown.

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Mullins said: “I had him down as a stayer, so the fact that he has that turn of foot is good too.

“What he did at Christmas was terrific, and I’m wondering whether he was as good in himself at the Dublin Racing Festival last month, or was it a better race?

“He did what he had to when he had to, and we all thought he was in trouble turning for home, but when Ballyadam came to him he got the job done – which was the sign of a good horse – and he’s been in great form since.”

Appreciate It on the gallops at Cheltenham
Appreciate It on the gallops at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Mullins also saddles Blue Lord, who finished six lengths behind his stablemate when third in last month’s Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle – while the runner-up Ballyadam is in opposition again, having moved from Gordon Elliott’s yard to Henry de Bromhead.

The chief hope for the home team is Harry’s Fry’s Metier, who is unbeaten in three starts and could hardly have been more impressive when trouncing his rivals by 12 lengths in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown on his latest appearance.

“There’s only eight runners, but all the main contenders are there,” said Fry.

“We’re all systems go at our end. We’re really pleased with him at home – he’s fresh and well and goes there all guns blazing.

“He’s been very progressive. He’ll need to progress again, but there’s no reason why he can’t.

Harry Fry has high hopes for Metier
Harry Fry has high hopes for Metier (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“This will be the best ground he’s run on over hurdles, but he’s got Flat form on better ground, so I’m not overly concerned.

“He’ll either be good enough or he won’t – and I don’t think the ground will be an excuse, hopefully.”

Jonjo O’Neill’s Soaring Glory brings top-class handicap form to the table after landing last month’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.

De Bromhead’s second string Irascible, the Alex Hales-trained For Pleasure and Grumpy Charley from Chris Honour’s yard complete the field.

Metier encourages Fry en route to Festival target

Harry Fry’s confidence in Metier’s Cheltenham Festival challenge is growing after an encouraging Wincanton gallop by the unbeaten hurdler.

Metier, formerly trained in Ireland, has had a two-month break since taking his winning sequence to three in the Grade One Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

Fry also anticipates ground conditions will also be suitable for his stable star in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the opening race at the Festival.

“He’s our leading light and he went very well on Thursday,” said the trainer.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but it was just what I hoped to see.

“The forecast is for unsettled weather in the middle of next week, and that should hopefully help us see a combination of good to soft and soft, and that would be perfect for him.”

Of his three other runners, Fry is considering a crack at the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle with If The Cap Fits – who has been chasing this season.

He added: “I’m leaning towards going back over hurdles with him. He ran well behind Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle last year and we know he’s a 160-plus horse over hurdles. That would put him in with an each way squeak.”

Veteran Unowhatimeanharry will take his place in the Pertemps Final as a teenager, while Whitehotchillifili is Fry’s final Festival contender in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

Metier heading straight to Cheltenham for Supreme tilt

Harry Fry has revealed ante-post favourite Metier will sidestep the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Sunday week and head straight to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Mastercraftsman gelding is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles this term, completing his hat-trick with a runaway Grade One success in last month’s Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

Fry was preparing to let his stable star step into handicap company for the lucrative contest on Saturday – but with the cold snap leading to the entire meeting put back eight days, the trainer has confirmed a change of plan.

He said: “The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is very much our number one target and while we were happy to have a go at the Betfair en route, next weekend is only just over three weeks before the Festival.

“It’s not like he was going to the Betfair rated 139 – he’s rated 149 and already a Grade One winner.

“We think he’s got a very good chance in the Supreme, so that’s where our focus is.

“Newbury and the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) and everyone involved deserve a lot of credit for rescheduling the whole fixture, but sadly it doesn’t fit in with our plan for Metier – it wasn’t to be.”

Metier is the shortest-priced British-trained runner for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 7-1, with the Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate It the 7-4 favourite following his second Grade One success at Leopardstown last weekend.

Fry added: “Appreciate It probably wasn’t as visually impressive as he was at Christmas, but you still can’t knock him – he’s a dual Grade One winner.

“I don’t think we should dismiss Ballyadam either, who obviously didn’t run as well as he can at Christmas, but certainly ran much better to be second to Appreciate It the other day.

“As always there will be formidable opposition coming from the other side of the Irish Sea, which is another reason why we want to make sure we have our horse fresh and absolutely A1 for the big day.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Metier still on course for Betfair Hurdle

Ante-post favourite Metier heads 26 contenders in the hunt for Betfair Hurdle gold at Newbury.

Harry Fry’s charge was last seen when winning the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown at the start of January, extending his unbeaten record over obstacles to three in the process.

He has dominated the market for Saturday’s big handicap ever since, although he is set to shoulder 11st 9lb – behind top weight Buzz on 11st 12lb.

Fry has another string to his bow in Lightly Squeeze – while Dan Skelton’s Cadzand, the Alan King-trained Edwardstone and Jonjo O’Neill’s Soaring Glory are others prominent in the betting.

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O’Neill has also left in Sky Pirate, who has alternative weekend engagements over fences in both the Game Spirit Chase on the same card and the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.

Nicky Henderson has Mister Coffey in contention along with Buzz, while Chris Gordon is another who could be double-handed via Highway One O Two and Annual Invictus.

Paul Nicholls has three to pick from in Friend Or For, Thyme White and Wild Max – as does Evan Williams, leaving in Ballinsker, Dans Le Vent and Mack The Man, who still held every chance when brought down by the fall of Lightly Squeeze at the final flight last year.

Ben Pauling’s Shakem Up’Arry, owned by Harry Redknapp, chased home Metier in the Tolworth but has a 13lb pull at the weights.

Ben Pauling will be hoping to be celebrating again this weekend
Ben Pauling will be hoping to be celebrating again this weekend (Nigel French/PA)

“He’s in really good form, he’s been in good form all this season,” said Pauling, in a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“Harry was good enough to let me go over to Ireland and find him a good horse. He’s by Flemensfirth and has a proper jumping pedigree. He’s a big, raw horse – and it’s really been a patient game with this lad.

“We’re still having to be patient, we’ve kept him as a second-season novice. He probably would have won an egg-and-spoon race at Leicester but for tipping up – which for the way he jumps, is hard to believe.

“Obviously Metier came past us and won a shade cosily, but he had the rest of the field well beaten. It might not have been a vintage Tolworth – but looking back, it might not be as bad as people thought at the time.

“The likelihood is Daryl (Jacob) will ride again. He’s had a few different jockeys but we like to keep as consistent as we can. Daryl gets on well with him.

“I think this horse could be absolutely out of the top drawer next season. I think fences are what he wants and I really do think he’s got everything you need.”

Fry has Supreme thoughts for Metier at Cheltenham

Harry Fry admitted he is leaning towards the Sky Bet Supreme for Metier rather than the Ballymore after entries for the novice hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival were revealed.

The sponsors make Metier their second-favourite after the five-year-old recorded an impressive 12-length victory in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown earlier this month.

Fry said: “Metier is a Tolworth winner and the Supreme is the much more likely of the two races, rather than the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, but we will just keep our options open at this stage.

“He has got an entry in the Betfair Hurdle in just over a fortnight’s time, but there is no definite decision yet. He has done everything right so far over hurdles and is a very exciting novice that seems to be progressing into either a Supreme or a Ballymore horse.

Metier looks a very smart prospect
Metier looks a very smart prospect (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“There is a race at Exeter the day after (the Betfair) in which he would only have a 5lb penalty, but then if you are looking at that why not run in a Betfair?

“If the weather keeps as it is there is every chance he will line up in the Betfair Hurdle. I think a better race with an even stronger gallop will suit him better again. We were able to drop him in the last day in the Tolworth, but we would have still been happier if they had gone faster.

“All his form is on slower ground and it would be interesting to see him on better ground. At some point we will encounter it, but good horses go on all ground.

“We would have to weigh up and decide the pros and cons whether going on better ground means we would have to step him up in trip.”

Fry has also entered Boothill in both the Supreme and the Ballymore. The six-year-old made a winning hurdling in good style at Taunton last month. 

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“Boothill had a splint flare up about 10 days after he won at Taunton and that just held us up for a few weeks,” Fry went on.

“I had hoped to get him back for the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon, but that is just going to come too soon. He could end up going to the Dovecote at the end of February. In the worst-case scenario, he might even end up going straight to Cheltenham – I would like to get another run into him between now and then, but we will be guided by him.

“We are back pressing on again with him. Hopefully, we don’t get a recurrence of the splint injury and get a clear run with him. Certainly, on the manner of his debut win at Taunton, there looks to be lots to look forward to.”

He added: “Boothill and Metier are completely different types. Metier is an ex-Flat horse that is very workmanlike at home and is very much a hurdler, whereas Boothill is a proper chasing type who impresses in everything he does at home.”

The Supreme, the opening contest on day one over two miles, has attracted 96 entries, with a record 59 trained in Ireland – including the 5-2 ante-post favourite, Appreciate It from the Willie Mullins yard.

There are 120 entries, 65 from Ireland, for the Ballymore over two miles and five furlongs.

Disputing favouritism are Henry de Bromhead’s Bob Olinger and the Paul Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame.

Willoughby Court landed the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle for Ben Pauling in 2017 and the trainer looks to have another live contender with Optimise Prime. The five-year-old caused a 50-1 upset when winning on his hurdling debut at Hereford in November and followed up with a smooth victory at the same venue in December.

Bourton-on-the-Water based Pauling said “Optimise Prime is in great order.

“He is entered at Cheltenham on Saturday. If he doesn’t run there because the ground is terrible, he would probably wait for the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon.

“He is a lovely horse that has done nothing wrong in winning a couple of races at Hereford, which will hopefully work out OK, but he has got to prove he can do it at the next level now.

“I took him out of the Leamington at Warwick as it was bottomless ground and I wasn’t overly fussed about missing it as we always knew that his next race would be his prep for the Cheltenham Festival, where we plan to go for the Ballymore.”

Gordon Elliott’s charge, one of 20 Irish-trained entries, has won all his three starts over the smaller obstacles culminating in the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Ante-post favourite

Zanahiyr is heading for the Triumph Hurdle
Zanahiyr is heading for the Triumph Hurdle (PA)

is among 54 entries for the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Fry is hoping he could provide the fourth successful female winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle with Fortunes Melody.

A Listed winner at Auteuil in September, she placed on her next three starts in Graded company for her former trainer David Cottin. She has yet to start for Fry.

He said: “Fortunes Melody has some very good form in France and is the second highest-rated juvenile filly there. We are very excited and grateful for her owners Simon (Munir) and Isaac (Souede) for giving us the opportunity to train her.

“She has been with us since the turn of the year, but has been in England since the start of December. She spent some time with Sally Taylor who does a lot of the pre-training for the owners, so she has had the chance to settle and acclimatise there.

“We are learning about her all the time, but hopefully she will be ready to run in the next couple of weeks. We have given her the Triumph Hurdle entry as an option. We need to run her first to see what we have got.

“There is some good form in the book already though as she is a winner of a Listed hurdle in France.”

There are 74 entries, 39 from Ireland, in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle over three miles.

Prominent in an open betting market are the Mullins-trained Stattler, impressive when scoring in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown last month, and Barbados Buck’s from the Nicholls stable.

Tolworth hero Metier tops 49 Betfair Hurdle possibles

Harry Fry is considering the Betfair Hurdle for his impressive Tolworth winner Metier, with the sponsor installing him as the 6-1 favourite on release of the entries.

Useful on the Flat in Ireland for Andy Slattery, Metier has taken to hurdles exceptionally well following a year off, winning at Newton Abbot and Ascot before his romp in last Saturday’s Grade One at Sandown.

With nothing else on Fry’s radar, it will either be Newbury on February 13, for which Metier is one of 49 entries, or straight to the Cheltenham Festival for the unbeaten novice.

“The owner and I discussed plans after Saturday’s win and wanted to give ourselves the option of the Betfair Hurdle, because we think it’s a race that could really suit him,” said Fry.

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“He will either go for that en route to Cheltenham or go straight for Cheltenham – we will just look at the entries and weights and see how the horse is in the coming weeks.

“We’ve thought for a while now that a race like the Betfair Hurdle would be right up his street – a really strongly run two-mile race on a big, galloping track like Newbury, plus as an ex-Flat horse we know he will handle a big field.

“We’ve been delighted with the progress he’s made this season and are really excited to see how far he can go over hurdles in the future – hopefully he can make a mark at the spring Festivals.”

Fry also has another entry in Lightly Squeeze, who was still in front when coming down at the final flight in the race last season.

Trainer Harry Fry has two live entries in the Betfair Hurdle
Trainer Harry Fry has two live entries in the Betfair Hurdle (John Walton/PA)

“We’ve also entered Lightly Squeeze, who was running a great race in this last year when taking a heavy fall at the last,” Fry added.

“He ran a nice race in the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot last time out, so we potentially have two darts to throw at race.”

Paul Nicholls has a numerically strong entry with Solo, Thyme White, Christopher Wood, Miranda, Friend or Foe and Wild Max.

Nicky Henderson, the most successful trainer in the race with five victories, can choose from Buzz, Fred, Marie’s Rock and Mister Coffey.

Last year’s runner-up Ciel De Neige could run for Willie Mullins, with Dan Skelton holding two live chances in Third Time Lucki and Cadzand.

Ballyandy, Soaring Glory, The Shunter and Albert’s Back are others among a strong field of contenders.

Metier extends unbeaten run with impressive Tolworth triumph

Metier maintained his unbeaten record over obstacles with a facile victory in the Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

A useful performer on the Flat in Ireland for Andrew Slattery, the Mastercraftsman gelding subsequently changed hands for 150,000 guineas to pursue a jumping career with Harry Fry.

He made a fine start for his new connections when impressing on his hurdling bow at Newton Abbot in October – and having since doubled his tally with a dominant front-running display at Ascot, Metier was the 7-4 favourite to complete his hat-trick in this Grade One feature.

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Always travelling well in the hands of Sean Bowen, the five-year-old loomed up to challenge long-time leader Shakem Up’Arry early in the home straight.

The latter did his best to make a race of it, but Metier had far too many guns and powered clear in the testing conditions to score emphatically by 12 lengths.

Paddy Power reacted by cutting the winner to 10-1 from 25-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

Fry said: “He comes alive on the racecourse. It was ideal we didn’t have to make our own running today, as they went a good tempo. Sean said he just jumped for fun.

“Turning into the bottom, he had a double handful. Very rarely do races go quite so smoothly, and certainly not at this level, but I’m absolutely delighted for Gary Stevens. We bought him over a year ago now and he had to wait over 12 months to see him first run. I’m delighted that patience is being rewarded.

“He relishes those conditions. He is a very exciting hurdler. With the action on him, I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to run him on drying ground, but good horses have to run on all grounds.

“This is a lovely race to win and I’m absolutely delighted to get a first Grade One winner from the new yard, having only moved in back in June.

Metier clears the last at Sandown
Metier clears the last at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“A lot of people have helped us to get where we are. To get the new yard up and running, moved in and set up, is a lot of hard work from the team – not least for my wife Ciara, who not only is assistant trainer but is married to me, so it is a double-edged sword. It is great for all the team.

“I think you’ve got to consider that (Supreme). We will enjoy this moment then work out whether we go straight there (Cheltenham) or look at something in between.

“The Betfair (Hurdle) entries close this week, for which you have to have a third run by next weekend anyway, but he has probably gone about it the wrong way. He will certainly have an entry. It will be an interesting conversation with the handicapper.”

Bold show anticipated as Metier takes Tolworth test

Harry Fry believes Metier has everything in his favour ahead of his bid for Grade One honours in the Unibet Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

A 150,000 guineas purchase last year after displaying smart form on the Flat in Ireland, the son of Mastercraftsman made an excellent start to his jumping career on his debut for new connections at Newton Abbot in October.

Metier doubled his tally with a dominant front-running victory at Ascot last month and is well fancied to complete his hat-trick in this weekend’s top-level feature.

“He’s in good form, he has form in the ground and a stiff two miles will suit him,” said Fry.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing if he can continue on an upward curve.”

The Michael Scudamore-trained Do Your Job won a couple of minor races at Ffos Las and Ayr in October, before filling the runner-up spot behind Llandinabo Lad in a Listed contest at Haydock.

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Do Your Job in action at Haydock
Do Your Job in action at Haydock (Mike Egerton/PA)

The winner has since finished second in a Grade Two at Ascot to give the form some substance.

Scudamore said of Do Your Job: “He goes there in great form and didn’t run a bad race at Haydock. In hindsight, things probably didn’t quite go to plan that day. I’m not saying we’d have won, but with different tactics, perhaps we might have finished closer to the winner.

“The form doesn’t look too bad now. We probably have to step up again on Saturday, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t handle the track and he’s handled that ground before.

“He deserves his place in the field.”

Ben Pauling’s Shakem Up’Arry, who is owned by football manager Harry Redknapp, brings plenty of jumping experience to the table as a second-season novice.

The Flemensfirth gelding chased home the brilliant Shishkin in a novice hurdle at Newbury last term, before finishing down the field in the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival, but he has subsequently turned in two sound efforts.

“I think he’ll run a massive race on Saturday. He’s a very nice horse who is 100 per cent a chaser for next season, but two miles on soft ground around Sandown is about as ideal as you could get for him really,” said Pauling.

“He’s in good form and had a solid run to finish fourth in a handicap at Haydock last time out. I hope he’ll run a nice race.”

Galice Macalo is a leading contender
Galice Macalo is a leading contender (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Jane Williams saddles Galice Macalo, who after winning at Warwick and Stratford in October, finished runner-up in a competitive Listed handicap hurdle over this course and distance four weeks ago.

The trainer’s son Chester Williams takes the ride, and said: “I can’t wait to ride her – she is a very exciting mare. She has done everything right this season and was probably unlucky to be beaten by a good horse last time.

“She is very progressive. We know that the track and trip suit her well and she loves deep ground.

“She has got to go there with every chance. It would be lovely to get a Grade One on the CV.”

Grandeur D’Ame (Oliver Sherwood), Smurphy Enki (Chris Gordon) and Tile Tapper (Chris Honour) complete the field.

Metier in mix among Tolworth dozen

Metier, impressive winner of his two starts over the smaller obstacles, is among 12 entries for the Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

Harry Fry’s unbeaten novice has shown himself to be a bright prospect with victories at Newton Abbot and Ascot.

Connections must rate the Mastercraftsman gelding highly to put him in a Grade One at this early stage of his career.

Dan Skelton is three-handed at this stage in Saturday’s Grade One with Faivoir, Third Time Lucki and Wilde About Oscar – another who has won both hurdles starts.

Tom Lacey has put in Adrimel, also unbeaten in his two runs over hurdles – at Sandown and Haydock.

Completing the dozen are Do Your Job, Fifty Ball, Galice Macalo, Grandeur D’Ame, Shakem Up’arry, Smurphy Enki and Tile Tapper.

Harry Fry sets sights on Tolworth with Metier

Harry Fry is confident Metier can continue his progression by taking a step up in class in his stride in the Unibet Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

The Dorset handler has earmarked the two-mile Grade One prize on Saturday week as the next port of call for the talented four-year-old, who is unbeaten since being sent over hurdles.

After making his stable – and jumping debut – a winning one at Newton Abbot in October, the former Andrew Slattery-trained gelding followed it up with an impressive front-running victory at Ascot.

Fry said: “We are aiming Metier at the Tolworth and that is very much the plan at the moment.

“There are not too many Grade Ones to have a go at, so we thought we would have a look at this.

“We just thought that a stiff two miles on what is likely to be slow ground at Sandown will play to his strengths.

Although Fry was pleased with Meiter’s first time out effort over hurdles, he was particularly taken by his most recent success.

He added: “He made the running at Ascot, but he does not necessarily need to. He still looked a bit novicey on occasions, but he will be better in a better race.

“I liked at Ascot that when Sean (Bowen) asked him he really attacked the last two in the fashion of an exciting novice hurdler.

“That win was another step forward and I’d like to think there is more to come.”

Misty Whisky, in front, could tackle the Unibet Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton next (Steven Paston/PA)
Misty Whisky, in front, could tackle the Unibet Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton next (Steven Paston/PA)

Meanwhile, Fry is considering giving Misty Whisky an outing in the Listed Unibet Lanzarote at Kempton on January 9.

The six-year-old mare followed up her winning return to action at Uttoxeter when taking the step up to two-miles-five-furlongs in her stride at Ludlow.

Fry said: “She is going the right way and is starting to fulfil her promise over hurdles that she showed in bumpers. She appreciated the step up in trip last time out.

“We are mulling our options as she is still rated 120. The Lanzarote is a race I mentioned to the owners and we are leaning towards that.”

Chantry House delights Henderson with victory at first time of asking over fences

Chantry House made his debut over fences a triumphant one in the Ascot Racecourse Supports Safer Gambling Week Novices’ Chase at Ascot.

Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third looked a natural on his first chasing start, running out a convincing winner of the two-mile-three-furlong contest.

Settled in behind the early pace, the Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old had his task made easier when chief market rival Pic D’Orhy took a fall at the third-last.

Left with just outsider of the trio Up The Straight to beat, the 4-9 favourite only needed to be shaken up over the final two fences before crossing the line 26 lengths clear of his sole rival.

Henderson said: “He was having a really good blow. Nico (de Boinville) said coming out of Swinley Bottom he was taking his first blow. It’s quite tiring ground out there. I was really pleased with his jumping. It was good and tidy, but you have to be a bit careful going down that hill with one first time out.

“Once he pulled him out and said ‘come on, go for it’ he was quite relaxed and warmed to it all the way up the hill.

“You need to be fairly sure of a horse to bring them here first time.”

Assessing future plans for Chantry House – who is quoted at 12-1 for the Marsh Novices’ Chase in March with Coral and Betfair – the Seven Barrows handler hinted a return to Ascot next month for the Grade Two Jacquart Noel Novices’ Chase could be on the agenda.

He said: “He learnt a lot today and could come back here at Christmas.

“He certainly is not going to go down in trip and that was about ideal for now. One day he is almost certainly going to get further.”

Danny Kirwan got his career back on track with a front-running success in the Lexicon Recruitment “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle.

The Paul Nicholls-trained seven-year-old went two places better than on his comeback at Aintree to secure his first victory in over two years.

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Although favourite Time Flies By looked a serious threat late on, the 3-1 shot found plenty from the front to claim victory by three and a half lengths.

Nicholls – out of luck with Pic D’Orhy in the opener – said: “He has had plenty of problems and needed his first run at Aintree. I thought he came on a lot for that.

“It has been stop-start with him and it was nice he improved from that and he will improve again from today.

“He is a chaser in the making, but I guess we will stay over hurdles for the immediate future. He will make a lovely chaser one day. He will definitely have one more hurdle race I’d say, probably over a bit further.”

The Ditcheat handler has not ruled out pitching Danny Kirwan into Grade One company for the first time in next month’s Challow Hurdle at Newbury.

He added: “You wouldn’t be afraid to (run in a Challow Hurdle) on very testing ground, but we have two or three for that. Some of the younger ones wouldn’t want that and if the ground was heavy you wouldn’t rule something like that out.”

Metier was an impressive winner at Ascot
Metier was an impressive winner at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Harry Fry will explore big-race options with Metier following his stylish victory in the Play The Coral ‘Racing Super Series’ Introductory Hurdle.

The former Flat racer had little trouble following up his debut victory over hurdles as he gave Fry his third success in the race.

Always looking in control out in front, the even-money favourite pulled smartly clear from the last before defeating Tile Tapper by five and a half lengths.

Fry said: “We didn’t necessarily want to make it, but he has got form on the Flat. When it was pretty apparent there was going to be no pace, there was no point sitting behind off that.

“He just showed signs of inexperience, which he is entitled to as that is only his second time over hurdles. He was just having a good look at his hurdles out in front.

“What really impressed me was turning in – when Sean (Bowen) went for him he went again and attacked the last two. He is highly exciting and there is lots to look forward to.”

Fry is weighing up two potential targets for Metier, who was introduced at 25-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle by Coral and Betfair.

He added: “It is a nice dilemma to have where we go next. Do we come back here in a month for the Grade Two (Kennel Gate) or maybe go for a Tolworth. We will see, but it’s a nice position to be in.”

Espoir De Guye and Charlie Deutsch (left) clears the last at Ascot
Espoir De Guye and Charlie Deutsch (left) clears the last at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Espoir De Guye put in a fine weight-carrying performance when returning to winning ways in the Coral Handicap Chase.

Last sighted failing to complete behind Imperial Aura at the Cheltenham Festival, the six-year-old – a winner at Ascot in December – was one of three still holding a chance on the approach to the final fence, which was dolled off due to damage sustained earlier in the race.

And the 5-2 favourite duly rallied in game fashion to get the better of Earlofthecotswolds by half a length.

Winning trainer Venetia Williams said: “He had a bit of bad luck at the Festival, as he got kicked at the start and it looked like it was going to be a false start and it wasn’t. It is great to bring him back to Ascot and pick up where he left off.

“I must admit I was a bit worried at the last. The fence was damaged and the chevrons were up, but for us in the grandstand all we could see was the white back of the chevron which blended in behind the white rail. For a few moments I was worried the race was void.

“I’ll speak to the owners now and see what our options are, then make a plan together.”

Buzz (yellow cap) was a popular winner
Buzz (yellow cap) was a popular winner (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Buzz provided the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity with a financial boost after completing doubles for Henderson and De Boinville with a facile victory in the Coral ‘Fail To Finish’ Free Bet Handicap Hurdle.

Henderson said: “Thurloe Thoroughbreds have several horses in training, but with Buzz and a pair of two-year-olds 25 per cent of all the prize-money they win will go to the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity which is a fantastic gesture.”

On the even-money winner, he added: “He loves that ground and he had run well at Ffos Las. With ours, it’s funny – they are taking a bit of a race to get ready and there is a horse having his second run and it makes a big difference.

“We could come back here for the big handicap before Christmas or look at something at Newbury. He looked good there, but the race was run to suit him.”

The stands may have been empty, but that could not the gloss off victory for Charlie Todd, who celebrated his first Ascot winner aboard the Ian Williams-trained Tide Times (3-1) in the Coral Supporting Prostate Cancer UK Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

Todd said: “I can’t quite believe it really. It’s such a shame there is no crowd or no one in the stands, but hopefully we will get them back soon. Take nothing away though, it’s great to get a winner at Ascot.”