ROYAL Player was an impressive winner of the William Hill Kilmany Cup Handicap Chase at Musselburgh yesterday.
Sent off the well-backed 10-11 favourite and a rare course runner for Philip Hobbs, he slammed Island Heights by three and three-quarter lengths.
The top-weight is the first winner at the East Lothian venue for the Somerset trainer since What’s Up Boys in December 2000.
Jockey Richard Johnson said: “He is very brave and has loads of scope. We crept into the race nicely and he is still learning the job.
“We liked him as a novice hurdler and we always thought he’d be an even better chaser. He’s always been straightforward and I suppose he will be upped in grade now after this – he’s certainly a nice prospect.
“I don’t come up to Musselburgh too much myself but the track is in great order. The prize money is terrific, especially at the Cheltenham Trials meeting next month.”
Stylish Chap sprung a 25-1 upset in the opening Belmont Wallyford Maiden Hurdle for the Lucinda Russell/Peter Buchanan combination, while second place went to 2-7 favourite Jalingo. Buchanan said: “He’s improved for the better ground and is a nice type of horse.”
Claude Carter, trained by Alistair Whillans and owned by his wife Lesley, took the William Hill-Bet On The Move Handicap Hurdle in the hands of Ryan Day.
Whillans’ son Ewan said: “We were going to rough him off but he’s tough and battled on gamely.”
Meanwhile, Cappa Bleu could make his comeback at Kelso on Sunday after 14 months off the track. Runner-up in the 2013 Grand National at Aintree, having finished fourth the season before, the veteran has been sidelined since running at Carlisle in November 2013.
However, he has recovered from his ailments and trainer Evan Williams has given the 13-year-old entries in both the Royal Caledonian Hunt Veterans’ Handicap Chase and the Eildon Hill Stables Open Hunters’ Chase at the Borders venue.
“We’ve been happy with the way he’s going along quietly,” said the Llancarfan handler. “We’ve put a few entries in and we’ll see how it all pans out.
“He did some schooling and a bit of work on Friday morning and he seems grand, so we thought we’d enter the horse up and have a look at things.
“He’s obviously had his little bits of problems but he’s come out of that schooling session well, so we hope to run him and see where we are.”
Ayr also stages National Hunt meetings this month and the west coast track will trial a unique incentive to owners and trainers who run their horses in chases at the track on 12 January or 21 January.
If a horse runs in a chase on those days both owner and trainer will receive complimentary accommodation for two after racing that day including dinner with wine and breakfast in the course’s four star Western House Hotel.
There are three chases on both days – Monday’s card sees a two mile and half a furlong limited handicap Chase, a three mile, one furlong and a two mile and half a furlong handicap chases.
Ayr’s racing manager and clerk of the course Emma Marley said: “We are delighted to be able to offer this incentive and hope that it is well received. It provides us with the opportunity to showcase our on-course facilities and encourage runners at Ayr.”