John McConnell showed he is more than capable of mixing it with the big boys after his well devised plan for Pearl Of The West came to fruition in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Having come up short in a Grade Three at Tipperary last time out, the four-year-old daughter of Teofilo never missed a beat in front in the extended two-mile prize, coming home a decisive three-and-a-quarter-length winner from last season’s Triumph Hurdle sixth Redicean.
McConnell, celebrating his first winner at the track, said: “I’m delighted for the filly as she has been running consistently all year. I thought we would have a go at the big boys and she did us proud.
“I had this race in mind eight weeks ago. I might have left her a little short in a Graded race at Tipperary last time.
“It’s a big thing for us, even though it is not one of the big meetings here. Even yesterday you could sense the atmosphere and the big guys being nervous.”
Paul Nicholls was absent from the track on Friday as he celebrated the wedding of Will Biddick, and the 10-times champion trainer had another good reason to raise a glass after Modus got up by a head in the Randox Health Handicap Chase.
Nicholls said of the 4-1 winner: “We had a good day yesterday at Will Biddick’s wedding and we’ve had a good day today.
“He did well early on last year then he lost his way. He jumped well today, although he probably wants a bit further (than two miles).
“Barry (Geraghty) gave him a great ride. One thing he does is gallop all the way to the line. He got a bit tight at the last, but the horse he beat (Duke Of Navan) is a good horse.”
Rebecca Curtis hopes Relentless Dreamer can develop into a live contender for the Grand National this season and his prospects of fulfilling that expectation were advanced with a determined neck success in the “Matchbook Betting Exchange” Handicap Chase.
Curtis said of the 16-1 winner: “This was so nice for Nigel (Morris) as he has been one of my best owners. His bits of work over the last few weeks have improved nicely.
“The one race I’d like to see him in is the Grand National. The plan was to come here today and come back at the November meeting.”
Fergal O’Brien secured the Jockey Club Ownership Syndicate Bumper for the second year running after Strong Glance (5-2) landed a significant gamble when defeating last time out winner Master Debonair by half a length.
O’Brien, who won the race 12 months ago with Herecomestheboom, said: “He did very well at Southwell and at Ascot then unfortunately he picked up a little injury but it is great that he has come back.
“We might stick at what we are doing. We will just enjoy today first.”
The victory also marked a first in six years at the course for winning jockey Alain Cawley who added: “It’s good to ride winners round here no matter what meeting it is.”
Nick Gifford hopes the short-head victory registered by The Mighty Don (16-1) in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle is a sign of things to come for the campaign.
Gifford said: “Nothing went right last season. We got him qualified for the Final last season and we quietly fancied him but it kept raining. I thought the rain might have scuppered his chance today.
“The plan is to go back chasing but if that doesn’t work he is qualified for the Pertemps again.”
Gordon Elliott and Richard Johnson are often a team to be feared and the pair joined forces to claim a double which was initiated after Dinons completed a five-timer when taking the Randox Health Novices Hurdle by 14 lengths.
Elliott said: “I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back over here again for a Graded three-mile race. He gallops and stays and if his jumping gets slicker he could be a very nice horse.”
Cubomania provided the pair with more success after getting up late on to take a two-and-three-quarter-length success in the Move Over To Matchbook Novices’ Chase.