Lady Buttons got up in the final stride to just pip Happy Diva – with La Bague Au Roi close up third – in a thrilling race for the MansionBet At Doncaster Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase.
Repeating her victory of 12 months ago, this year Lady Buttons faced far more strength in depth – because La Bague Au Roi won two Grade Ones as a novice, and Happy Diva landed the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham last time out.
Added to the mix was Nicky Henderson’s Casablanca Mix – who arrived on a four-timer but was the first of the big guns to come under pressure, and it soon involved only three.
La Bague Au Roi had adopted her usual front-running role under Richard Johnson and put in some spectacular leaps on the way round, showing all her old enthusiasm.
Phil Kirby’s Lady Buttons appeared to be travelling better than her two rivals all the way up the straight – but on jumping the last, she found herself a length down, and it appeared Happy Diva was going to prevail.
But Tommy Dowson, replacing the injured Adam Nicol, delivered the popular mare in front right on the line to win by a head at 11-4.
Kirby said: “It’s great for us but a shame for Adam (Nicol) again. Brilliant for Tommy (Dowson), sad for Adam.
“My priority was to get her back in one piece, because that was really a good race.
“She owes us nothing. She’s an absolute star.”
Lady Buttons exceeded his expectations.
“I wanted to win obviously, but I wouldn’t have been disappointed if she had finished third or fourth in a cracking race like that,” added the North Yorkshire trainer.
“She’s put it in today, and she has done everything right. It’s probably her best performance.
“The cheek-pieces helped her a little bit. She’s not ungenuine – she’s just getting a bit wise.
“She’s only run over hurdles this season. You switch back and forth. Can you keep doing that? But she does. Not many can run over hurdles and flick back to fences, but she jumped sound enough.
“It’s great, perfect really.
“I’d say she’s odds-on to come back for the (Grade Two) Mares’ Hurdle she won last year over two miles. It should suit her.”
Dowson said: “I rode her last season and got there far too soon, but was on time today. She was Adam’s ride, and he got hurt on Friday.
“As much as I’ve won on her, I’m gutted for Adam. He’s done all the work on her.
“She put her head down and battled for us. She’s done it well.”
Warren Greatrex said of La Bague Au Roi: “She’s run well. Dickie (Johnson) was critical of himself. He said she winged four out and he should have kept kicking and stretched them – but he was half waiting for them, and he’s made a mistake at the wrong time.
“She’s battled back, and he said that was the best she’s felt all year. She has shown all her enthusiasm.
“I’m not sure where we go now. It’s frustrating, but they were three good mares in a battling finish. (I’m) gutted she hasn’t won, but it’s good she’s back.”