Threeunderthrufive made it three out of four over fences as the improving youngster obliged for favourite backers in the bet365 December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster.
Having avenged his sole chasing defeat when scoring at Cheltenham last month, he continued his education over the larger obstacles with a taking display on Town Moor in the three-runner Grade Two.
Although not at his most fluent in the early stages of the race, Paul Nicholls’ six-year-old warmed to the task as the race went on, taking over from long-time leader Fantastikas on the run to three out.
The race was soon over as a contest, with the favourite just having to navigate the final two fences to bring up a hat-trick.
Although not blown away by the performance, winning rider Adrian Heskin was keen to point out the son of Shantou is getting better with every run.
He said: “They take a bit of jumping round here and his mind gets idle very quickly. He just drifts off and puts in the odd average jump.
“He’s never going to be overly impressive but he always gets the job done. He’s a very unassuming horse and we’ve never got to the bottom of him, but he put the race to bed after three out and was always winning.”
The win continued a fine start to the season for winning owners, The McNeill Family and their racing manager Iain Turner suggested a hunt for further Graded honours could be on the cards in the New Year.
He said: “He’s due a break now as he’s been on the go for some time, so we’ll get to the new year and then either look at the race at the valuable Lingfield race at the end of January or the Reynoldstown at Ascot.
“The original plan was to go to the Grade One at Leopardstown over Christmas or the Welsh National, but with the covid situation and us wanting Adrian to ride it didn’t really work out, so this was almost a last-minute thought, but it fell nicely into place.”
When talking of targets for the spring, Turner said: “I think he’s a bit quicker than people give him credit for.
“People much cleverer than me have mentioned that his time at Cheltenham last time compares favourably so you never know, three miles in a testing Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase might suit him and if its 50/50 we might prefer to go for that one so Adrian can ride.
“But if all the good ones do go there then we might have no option to go up in trip for the National Hunt Chase!”
Ben Pauling landed the opening bet365 Novices’ Hurdle when his Mucho Mas (5-1) dug deep to see off Oliver Greenall’s Ask The Doc, who was three-quarters of a length in arrears.
The five-year-old, who was a bumper winner at Wincanton last Christmas, took a huge step up on his hurdling bow at Aintree, disputing the lead for the majority before sticking on gamely to hold off the closers.
It was a welcome winner for jockey Kielan Woods who was having just his third ride back in the saddle following a spell on the side-lines.
Pam Sly’s Xcitations (7-1) stayed on best to get back on track in the bet365 HandicapChase.
Sent off favourite at Fakenham last time out the six-year-old was bitterly disappointing, but was on top at the finish this time to hunt down Fanzio and outsider Dakota Moirette (125-1).
Sly said. “He never got in a rhythm at Fakenham, it was a disaster from the start.
“We schooled him the other day and first time he wasn’t good, so we schooled him again and again and third time he was perfect!”.
That was the second cause for celebration of the weekend for the Cambridgeshire-based handler, who saw her Huntingdon bumper winner Special Cadeaux sell for £220,000 on Friday night.
The three-year-old son of Nathaniel, who was sent off favourite at Sly’s local track when landing a gamble last month, has crossed the channel to join Willie Mullins.
“We’ve had a few tears, but we’re glad he’s going to a good home” said the trainer.
Two For Gold dug in gamely to take the closing bet365 Handicap Steeple Chase for Kim Bailey and rider David Bass.
Bass said: “He’s a fantastic horse and he’s been brilliant for us. He didn’t do a lot in front, but that’s just him, when one comes to him he loves a battle, he’s just a real character.
“The girl at home Ebony, who rides him every day assured me he was in good form and he’s a real favourite. On his day he’s a very good horse, he’s only a 1lb higher than when winning a very good handicap at Warwick last season and it’s a credit to the yard.”
There was another thrilling finish in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle where Tommy’s Oscar followed up his 10-length Haydock success to make it back-to-back victories, bringing to an end Geromino’s three-race winning run in the process.