Not So Sleepy repeated his front-running tactics to win the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot for the second year running.
Hughie Morrison’s talented dual-purpose performer has been called a few names in recent months because of his antics on more than one occasion.
He has been reluctant to race in the past and only recently decided to unseat his jockey at the first flight in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, before running loose and carrying out Silver Streak at the next.
Ironically Silver Streak’s jockey at Newcastle was Tom O’Brien, yet this time he got the leg-up off Morrison in the Ascot paddock – hoping the 20-1 chance would behave himself.
To his credit Not So Sleepy then never put a foot wrong, and nobody has ever denied his talent – he even ran in last year’s Champion Hurdle.
Having strung the field out, he began to tire having jumped the last – but O’Brien had saved just enough and held off top weight Buzz by a length and three-quarters.
Lightly Squeeze was third, with the well-backed Benson flying home for fourth to pip Belfast Banter.
O’Brien told ITV Racing: “He cost me a few quid at Newcastle – but he’s paid me back now!
“He has his quirks but he seems to love it here. I thought I was pressing on soon enough, but I didn’t want to disappoint him turning for home. He tried so hard.”
The competitive 17-strong race clearly suited Not So Sleepy, and O’Brien added: “It’s different at the start of a big-field handicap.
“We all wanted him to make the running at Newcastle, but he didn’t want to. Five wanted to make it today, so he had to fight for it.”
Morrison had observed before the race that Not So Sleepy won with a stone in hand last year, and just might have to fight a bit harder this time.
After he had done so, the Berkshire trainer was already planning a second Champion Hurdle attempt this season.
“He’s an absolute star, isn’t he?” he said.
“He’s in good form and was in great form going into Newcastle – it was just that things went slightly wrong there.
“But he didn’t quicken past (Champion Hurdle and Fighting Fifth winner) Epatante for nothing after the last with no jockey, having been halfway round Newcastle.
“So we were hopeful.”
Not So Sleepy’s route back to Cheltenham in March is set to be a quiet one through the remainder of the winter.
Asked about that date, Morrison added: “I think so, probably – we might as well go straight there, no messing around this year.
“I’ll give him a bit of a break – he obviously runs well fresh. We won’t be tempted by any other races, I don’t think.”