Lil Rockerfeller put in a much-improved round of jumping for an Exeter victory which reassured trainer Neil King a Grade One novice-chase campaign can be on his agenda.
The durable and hugely adaptable seven-year-old did not look a natural at times in his previous victory on his second chase start at Cheltenham last month.
But it was an entirely different story in Exeter’s smarkets.com Novices’ Chase as the former Glorious Goodwood hero and Cheltenham Festival Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up won as his odds of 4-11 suggested he should by eight lengths from Hoo Bally Diva on Sunday.
A relieved King told Racing UK: “That’s what I wanted to see from him today.
“It was just about trying to get a nice, slick round into him with his jumping after the blips he made at Cheltenham.
“That will have proved a lovely confidence boost for him. There’s no excuses now, so now he can go and take on the big boys.”
Lil Rockerfeller, fitted for the first time in chase company with the cheekpieces he often wore over hurdles, was sufficiently convincing over his fences – despite a slight tendency to jump to his right under Wayne Hutchinson – to persuade his trainer he may even be ready again in time for next weekend’s Grade Two John Francome Novices’ Chase at Newbury.
King said: “I’ll have a chat with the owners.
“There’s another novice chase at the next Cheltenham (meeting), there’s the Kauto Star Novice Chase at Kempton – there’s still Newbury next week we could have a think about, (because) he’s not had a hard time out there obviously today.
“I’m sure when he gets in a better race, and they go a bit quicker, you’ll see him to better effect still.
“His confidence is on a high now. He’s had nice, easy wins this season – so we’ll keep him enjoying himself.”
It was harder work earlier on for Kayf Charmer, who hung on grimly in a photo finish from Gonnabegood to provide a 33-1 shock in the opening Smarkets Betting Exchange Handicap Hurdle – giving Devon trainer Linda Blackford her first winner in more than 700 days.
The eight-year-old mare, scoring under Conor Smith, was also Blackford’s most recent previous winner when she and the same jockey were successful at Ffos Las on December 12, 2016.
Elsewhere on the card, there was a double for Richard Johnson.
The champion jockey had to be typically forceful to get Philip Hobbs’ Vango De Vaige home for a one-and-a-half-length win at 3-1 in the Smarkets Handicap Hurdle.
Johnson had to dig in as well to double up half-an-hour later in the Smarkets Handicap Chase on Jonjo O’Neill’s 7-4 favourite Monbeg Gold.
He had got the better of a protracted duel with Sue and Lucy Gardner’s Tea Time Fred in the preceding race, and the same connections pushed him hard again over fences before having to settle for third this time.
After one early mistake, Monbeg Gold moved to the front before the third-last in this three-miler and then had half a length to spare at the line from Abbreviate – with the Gardners’ Only Gorgeous one and a half lengths further back.
There was the saddest of postscripts when Watcombe Heights collapsed and died after his winning return to fences.
Colin Tizzard’s eight-year-old had made an unpromising chase debut at Newton Abbott almost six months ago, but then struck at the last meeting here over hurdles.
Under top weight, he made it successive wins as 9-4 favourite in the Smarkets £50 Risk Free On Racing Handicap Chase.