Regal Encore headlines Ascot treble for Honeyball

Anthony Honeyball described Saturday as the “best day” of his training career after celebrating a 308-1 treble at Ascot, highlighted by the victory of Regal Encore in the Sodexo Gold Cup Handicap Chase.

Despite being in the twilight of his career, the popular 12-year-old demonstrated he still has plenty to offer when going one better than 12 months ago in the valuable Grade Three prize to register a fourth course-and-distance success.

Jumping well throughout the three-mile contest in the hands of Richie McLernon, the 14-1 shot took command of matters from long-time leader Might Bite over the second last before demonstrating the best of his battling abilities to defeat Whatmore by a length and quarter.

Honeyball said: “Without a doubt it’s our best day I think. Any day Regal has been here and won a big pot has been incredible.

“Ordinarily we would have been hopeful of a big run, but a few weeks ago he was a bit flat and he wasn’t eating up as well.

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“He has come back to hand, but we felt we missed one or two bits of work in that time. It was right to run, but it was last minute. As he loves it, we thought if it only ends up as a run, it will get us back on track for another day and that’s fine.

“Richie kept him happy and you couldn’t really see him running poorly from there as he was always running a good race, but I was worried he might blow up a touch with what we missed.”

Assessing future plans, Honeyball hinted an outing in next month’s Ladbrokes Trophy could be next on the agenda, for which Regal Encore was introduced at 25-1 by William Hill and Paddy Power.

He said: “He has run well in the Ladbrokes Trophy before and he is in that. He can go out wide and be handy and I think it probably is the obvious option.

“We were thinking about a Becher Chase, but we will probably go for the Ladbrokes Trophy as they will go an end-to-end gallop.”

Kid Commando formed the middle leg of Honeyball’s haul when resuming his progression with an impressive front-running success in the Sodexo Handicap Hurdle.

Last sighted finishing third in a Grade Two at Kempton in February, the six-year-old made the most of a drop down to Listed company to add a second win over hurdles to his name.

Maintaining a good gallop throughout the extended one-mile-seven-furlong prize, the 11-4 favourite found plenty from the sharp end to cross the line four and three-quarter lengths clear of Malaya.

The winning trainer said: “It was a good decision (to stick at this trip) as if he ran well but it had been too sharp. it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but he will come out of this better for another day.

“If we had gone to Carlisle on Sunday, it would have definitely been a hard race for him and he has probably got too much boot to run over two and a half round Carlisle.

“I was keen to go up to two and half, but I think now, as long as it is very soft ground, we will stick at two and if not we will go up to two and a half.”

Sully D’Oc (9-2) got the ball rolling for both Honeyball and McLernon with a first victory over fences in the Ascot Underwriting Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.

Another National Encore on agenda for Regal

Anthony Honeyball’s veteran chaser Regal Encore may yet contest the Grand National for a third time this season.

The 12-year-old, whose two attempts at the Aintree spectacular so far have come in 2017 and 2019, could make his seasonal reappearance in the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot on Saturday.

Having finished second behind Kim Bailey’s Vinndication in the same race last season, Regal Encore will aim to go one better before moving on to the Becher Chase at Aintree.

“He might well go to Ascot on Saturday for the race he was second in last season, the Sodexo,” said Honeyball.

“He could then back that up a month later in something like the Becher Chase.

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“That could well be his two-race plan – go to Ascot, and if he came out of it well then have a break through to the Becher Chase, which would be a nice target for him.”

Regal Encore has finished eighth and seventh so far in his two National bids, and Honeyball remains open to the idea of a third tilt at the race – if he makes the cut from his rating.

“His mark is such that he’s just on the cusp right now,” said the Dorset trainer.

“He just might squeak in off his mark, but obviously in the races he’s running in it’s going to be tough – these handicaps are tough.

“He might end up dropping a few pounds – so it would be nice, during the course of the season, if he could once again win one of these nice races and then that would just about get him in.

“We’ll just have to see how he goes. He’s 12 rising 13 now, but if his handicap was such that he could get in the National then he would run in it again.”

Honeyball has also issued an update on the promising Acey Milan, who impressed with a winning chasing debut at Aintree on Saturday.

A run in Newbury’s John Francome Novices’ Chase is now pencilled in for the six-year-old, who already has two Listed bumper wins and a second-placed finish in the Grade Three Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock on his CV.

“He’s looking very good – he came out of (Aintree) really well,” said Honeyball.

“The earliest he’d probably run again would be a race at Newbury that we’ve got in mind, a Grade Two three-mile novice chase.

“It’s a bit of a leap up – obviously it was a handicap the other day, and his rating will be such that we’d probably be looking more to towards handicaps, but he’s got that high-quality back form from his bumpers.

“We just might be inclined to go there if it came up with very soft ground. It’s a possible for him next, because he’s come out of the race very well.”