Shades Of Midnight demonstrated his staying credentials with a wide-margin victory in the William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock.
Runner-up to leading Stayers’ Hurdle hope Paisley Park last November, Sandy Thomson’s charge was sent off an 11-2 chance in this extended three-mile heat, which also featured the return of dual Grade One winner Yanworth (11-8 favourite).
Henry Brooke always had Shades Of Midnight to the fore – and as Yanworth came under pressure turning for home, it became a duel between the winner and Kilcooley, who was returning from 1,066 days off the track.
Shades Of Midnight was far too strong, though, pushing on down the straight to eventually come home eight lengths clear of Petticoat Tails – who grabbed minor honours as Kilcooley dropped away in the dying strides.
Thomson said: “Brian (Hughes) always said Paisley Park must have been very good to fly past this lad as he did in November.
“We then ran him over fences at Kelso, but he was nowhere near right. I was in the same situation once with Seeyouatmidnight, who won a race without being ready and it fooled me into thinking he was and we took him straight to Cheltenham.
“I learned from that and brought him here today.
“He tries so hard. He’s always been tough, but we used to ride him from behind and now we go from the front with him, which he seems much happier doing.
“He was in the Eider next week but that was never really under consideration, it was just in case of an accident – you can’t be too careful as the last week has shown.
“Fortunately this lad missed his flu jab in August/September otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to run. We then had him done in January and the vet put the wrong date on, he put January 31, 2018 instead of 2019 so when we got here today we had to ring the vet. It’s been a crazy fortnight.
“He could go to Aintree for the three-mile hurdle if it’s soft enough or the Scottish National, but it must be soft for him to run over fences as he doesn’t jump quick enough in the good races.”
Yanworth was pulled up before the last by Aidan Coleman, with the stewards reporting that nothing was found to be amiss immediately after the race.