There was to be no dream return for Sprinter Sacre at Ascot, but while he may have had to give best Dodging Bullets in the Sodexo Clarence House Chase, the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase remains very much the target.
Nicky Henderson’s chaser travelled with his usual fluency, but had no answer to the Paul Nicholls-trained winner as he pulled three lengths clear in the hands of Noel Fehily to notch up a second Grade One win after his Tingle Creek success last month.
Despite Sprinter Sacre’s eclipse, Henderson was satisfied with efforts but there were moments of worry post-race as it transpired the gelding had suffered a bleed, although it was not thought to be serious.
“He’s been scoped and the veterinary advice that I am being given is that they don’t think it was anything that affected his performance today, but keeping everyone in the picture they did find some blood in his nostrils when he was examined,” Henderson told Racing UK.
“I could do without it, but I don’t think it’s a serious problem. Celia Marr, the heart specialist, has been here all day and she was delighted with him. I don’t think the two things are in any way connected.”
Henderson said yesterday that plenty of improvement is expected and the star two-miler suffered no ill effects from his run.
Connections of Dodging Bullets were eager for their winner not be forgotten and Nicholls’ assistant trainer Tom Jonason said: “He’s improving so much physically and is bigger and stronger.
“This came off the back of a career-best in the Tingle Creek so that has proved to be solid form.
“Sprinter may have needed the run, but our lad’s performance was absolutely out of the top drawer.”
Barry Geraghty’s stalking ride on Top Notch had earlier helped Henderson’s charge land the Sodexo Juvenile Hurdle at Ascot. The 30-100 favourite hit the front at the last flight before scoring by two-and-a-quarter lengths from Golden Doyen.
Henderson and Geraghty combined for a double with Out Sam in the last, but the winner is more likely to head to Aintree rather than Cheltenham.
The Twiston-Davies team remain convinced The New One can foil the best of the Irish in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, despite struggling to land the odds in his final prep run at Haydock.
The New One laboured in the testing conditions and gave connections a fright ahead of his showdown with the likes of Faugheen, Jezki and Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham in March, when he will bid to improve on his third-placed finish in the premier race last season.
However, the 1-6 shot did wear down Bertimont on the run-in once the trainer’s son, Sam, got into him and he eventually scored by two-and-a-quarter lengths.
The Naunton trainer was not disgruntled, and knows exactly what he has to do between now and the Champion Hurdle on 10 March – though some bookmakers were not impressed and eased The New One out to 3-1 in the betting.
“It wasn’t ideal, but we’ll put that down to the ground. It’s the worst ground he’s ever come across,” he said. “He can have an easy time for a week or two and we’ve got seven and a half weeks to get him ready for the big one.”
Weighing-room veteran Brian Harding reached a personal best of 40 winners in a season when bringing home Scottish National possible Samstown (16-1) in a slog for the Peter Marsh Chase.
Samstown held on by a neck from the Twiston-Davies-trained Benbens, with Vintage Star 24 lengths adrift in third. Trainer Alistair Whillans’ son and assistant, Ewan, said: “The Scottish National is his main target.”
Vautour assumed clear favouritism for the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham after getting his fencing career back on track with a facile success in the Leopardstown Killiney Novice Chase yesterday. Willie Mullins’ six-year-old put in a good clear round to make amends for his defeat at the same course over Christmas, where a bad mistake all but put paid to his chance.
There were no mishaps this time as Ruby Walsh let the 1-5 shot do his own thing up front. His jumping in the main was very good and he looked to have Real Steel well beaten when that horse came down at the last.
Northern-based jockey Brian Hughes teamed up with his old boss Kevin Prendergast to take the BoyleSports Handicap Hurdle through the impressive Katie T.
Hughes had the six-year-old just behind the leaders as Forty Foot Tom and Lucky Bridle set the pace before producing Katie T (12-1) with a telling run to lead between the last two flights after Modem had made his bid for glory.
Modem tried to make a renewed effort on the rail but Hughes closed the door with Katie T pulling away close home to win by three lengths and Ted Veale staying on well for third.