Southfield Stone resumed his progression over fences with a near foot-perfect round of jumping in the Best Odds At Matchbook Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
Having finished in the frame in all five starts over fences last season, the Paul Nicholls-trained seven-year-old went one better than on his most recent appearance in a Grade Two at Kempton in February to claim the two-and-a-half-mile prize.
Racing close to the pace throughout, the 2-1 second-favourite rallied back past Coole Cody between the final two fences, before staying on well to claim victory by a length and a half, on his first start since under going a wind operation.
Nicholls said: “He has been one of those lucky horses that couldn’t run in the spring because of Covid-19 and he is able to be a novice until December 1. That bit of experience just helps them. He ran some nice races last year. Physically he is a better horse this year and that was probably his best performance.
“He is a nice horse and will win plenty of races. We have just got to place him in the right races. Going left-handed suits him better and that is the best he has jumped today.
“He would have won the Pendil at Kempton last season if he hadn’t walked through the ditch at the far side. He wasn’t quite jumping and his wind was troubling him a fraction, but we’ve sorted that out.”
Assessing future targets, the Ditcheat handler earmarked a return to Cheltenham for the Paddy Power Gold Cup, for which he was introduced at 16-1 by Sky Bet.
He added: “I will enter him in the Paddy Power Gold Cup as he is a second-season novice and that could be an option. The other option is to come back for the novice chase at the meeting over the same trip.”
Botox Has defied a 315-day absence to make a triumphant return to action in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle.
The Gary Moore-trained four-year-old picked up where he left off in the extended two-mile prize, on his first start since claiming a Triumph Hurdle trial in December.
Tracking the early pace cut out by Allmankind, the 11-2 chance moved into a lead he would not surrender on the approach to the last.
Finding plenty, Botox Has crossed the line four lengths clear of The Pink’N, with favourite Allmankind a further three and a half lengths adrift back in third.
Winning jockey Joshua Moore said: “He won nicely. He picked up quicker than I expected down the hill and he saw it out really well. I was hoping it wouldn’t turn into a test of speed, so I sat as close as I could to Harry (Skelton, on Allmankind) and he hit the hill and galloped out well.
“When I rode him here in the November meeting, I rode him with the future in mind and I took the wider route for the better ground at the time and he was a weaker horse last year. This time I rode him closer and I was quite confident he would give him (Allmankind) a race.
“The Elite Hurdle wouldn’t be for this lad, as it would be too quick (of a return) for him.”
Botox Has was introduced at 50-1 for the Champion Hurdle by Betfair, while William Hill went 33-1 for the same race.
Henry Daly celebrated his first Cheltenham in more than four years after Coral Cup fifth Honest Vic stepped up in trip to land the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.
The seven-year-old – who is owned by Daly’s mother Carole, uncle and first cousin – made his first start over three miles a winning one with a four-length victory over the five-timer-seeking Lock’s Corner.
Daly said of the 12-1 winner: “I think my last winner here was at the hunter chase evening. He has done that all right. The bonus from my point of view is that he is owned by my mother, uncle and first cousin and that makes life a little bit sweeter really.
“He ran seriously well in the Coral Cup. You can’t get away from the fact that form at the Festival is strong and if he got the trip, which we thought he would, we were hoping he was going to win, but I have to say I didn’t think he would win like that.
“We were going to over fences, but we might have to have a think. He might be better in conditions races over hurdles over a trip.”
The stands may have been empty but that failed to wipe the smile off the face of Angus Cheleda, who celebrated his first winner at the track after steering Bermeo (20-1) to glory in the Ryman Stationery Cheltenham Business Club Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase.
The 21-year-old said of the Johnny Farrelly-trained winner “It’s unbelievable, and I’m so grateful to get the call-up for it. He is a brilliant horse and is really gutsy.
“He probably didn’t like the ground today but he kept on brilliantly. He is an awesome jumper and just overall I’m over the moon. He stopped travelling for a fair way out but to be fair to him he just stayed all day. It was a really good result.”
I Am Maximus (4-1) followed in the hoofprints of stablemate Time Flies By when prevailing by a length and three-quarters on debut in the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
Trainer Nicky Henderson said: “Henrietta Knight brought him in Ireland for Mike Grech.
“This is a lovely horse. We will talk about what to do next, but he will be very good.”
John McConnell has found the key to Streets Of Doyen, who completed a four-timer with a tenacious three-and-a-half-length success in the Lara Telfer Reined In For Racing Welfare Novices’ Hurdle.
Jockey Richard Johnson said of 11-4 shot: “When I got really stuck into him after the second last he kept responding.”