Pentland Hills followed up his Triumph Hurdle victory with a gritty display to hold off the front-running Fakir d’Oudairies in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.
Sent off at 20-1 at Cheltenham having won his sole previous start at Plumpton, he banished any thoughts of his victory at the Festival being any kind of fluke.
He was surprisingly not the favourite, with that honour going to Joseph O’Brien’s Band Of Outlaws, who also won at Cheltenham but lost his chance here by jumping sloppily throughout.
Just as he did at Cheltenham, Nicky Henderson’s Pentland Hills (11-4) travelled extremely well for Nico de Boinville, although the favourite’s stablemate, Fakir d’Oudairies, was not stopping in front.
Despite being just ordinary on the Flat, Pentland Hills has been turned inside out by a set of hurdles and a big leap at the last handed him the advantage.
To the runner-up’s credit he battled all the way to the line, but ultimately went down by a neck. Christopher Wood lost his unbeaten record in third.
Henderson said: “He was very slick today and he travelled. He jumped like a proper hurdler. That is his third race in five weeks as that is when he appeared at Plumpton. It’s extraordinary.
“Anthony (Bromley) bought him and he’d had a busy summer, so gave him a fair old rest. I sent him to Henrietta Knight and she taught him to jump. He was like Buveur D’Air – just quick and slick.
“I wouldn’t be for going to Punchestown, to be honest, as I don’t see any point. He is rated 70 something on the Flat and you could be tempted to play with that.
“It was nice to see that he had to knuckle down. Well done Henrietta, as if they can jump it makes such a difference to life, as you are changing a Flat horse into a hurdler and his jumping is probably his strength.
“I’d really actually rather give him the summer off, then look at a Flat race in the autumn. Let’s talk to the boys, I’ve only got 2,999 (in owning syndicate) to talk to!”
O’Brien said of Fakir d’Oudairies: “It’s always frustrating when you finish second, but he ran a good race. Being back in his own age group after Cheltenham was a help to him and the ground was a help as well.”
He said of Band Of Outlaws: “He didn’t jump as well as he did in Cheltenham. I would say the two miles in that ground probably stretched him a little bit.
“We’ll think about Punchestown and will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Nicholls said of Christopher Wood: “He’s run a good race. It was only the third of of his career over jumps. He’s in the race at Sandown. We’ll see.”