Sceau Royal made a winning start to his new season with a hard-fought two-and-a-quarter-length success in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham.
Alan King’s six-year-old, racing for the first time since a suspensory injury curtailed his novice season after a win at Doncaster in January, had to dig deep under Daryl Jacob to see off outsider Simply Ned.
Nicky Richards’ front-running 28-1 shot pushed the 5-4 favourite all the way, but after jumping upsides at the second-last and then holding a slender lead at the last, Sceau Royal had a little in hand to hold the rallying runner-up.
Behind them in the six-runner field over two miles, last season’s Arkle Challenge Trophy second Brain Power could never get competitive and in the end had to settle for fourth behind Forest Bihan.
King said: “It was lovely. I couldn’t be happier with him really. He is slick. I don’t think I’ve trained a quicker jumper.
“He has been off a long time. We’ve had no hold-ups this autumn and we’ve not missed a beat. You always worry slightly after being off with an injury, but this was the only place to start him.
“Full credit to Nicky’s old horse (Simply Ned), he is a star and ran a hell of a race.
“I never got too anxious and I took a good gulp of red wine and that seemed to help.”
King is now targeting the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on December 8 and a likely clash with reigning two-mile champion Altior.
The trainer added: “It’s the logical place to go. We had put him in the Fighting Fifth, but I can assure you he will not be going for the Fighting Fifth.
“It scares the life out me taking on Altior, but why not? Someone has got to take him on.
“This horse has won round Sandown and we are going to be match fit, but we are under no illusions. He won the Henry VIII last season and he loves Sandown, so we will have a crack and see.
“The main thing is that he is all right in the morning.
“All those two milers I’ve had have been pretty slow and he is a slow horse at home. I have to be quite careful what I work him with, but it is what they do on track that matters.”
Richards was delighted with Simply Ned’s performance, adding: “He is a fair horse on his day. He has run a cracker.
“We just had to change tactics a little bit as I didn’t think there would be a lot of pace. Brian (Hughes) sat him there and he jumped great and got him up front. He was full of beans and was well in himself.
“He travelled great and ran a proper race. He will probably come back here in March for the big one, but he has run a great race today.”