Joke Dancer provided Sue Smith with the perfect 71st birthday present when repeating his win in the Navigating Brexit With Vertem Handicap Hurdle at Newcastle.
On his first run for almost a year and having undergone wind surgery, Joke Dancer travelled well for Danny Cook before hitting the front two flights from home.
Top-weight Albert’s Back attempted to close the gap, but he was also returning from a lengthy absence and looked the type to benefit from the run.
Joke Dancer won by four lengths at 100-30.
“We thought a lot of him last year and he won a few for us,” said Smith.
“He had some pioneering wind surgery done and it seems to have done the trick.
“He did his winning on heavy last year, but handled that ground, which is lovely, very well today. He’s in the Coral Cup, but I doubt he’ll get in.”
Cool Mix (4-7 favourite) had little trouble landing short odds in the Vertem – Very Different Stockbrokers Novices’ Chase for Iain Jardine and Sean Quinlan.
Winning owner Dave Armstrong now has his sights set on Ayr’s Grand National meeting.
“He was due that having been second four times, and to some very smart horses,” sad Armstrong.
“He’ll go for the Hillhouse Quarry at Ayr, though we might look at Aintree on the way. He wants a strong pace to be seen at his best.”
The classiest horse on show was Nicky Henderson’s Lust For Glory who had no trouble winning the Vetem Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the prohibitive price of 1-8 under James Bowen.
She is now as low as 10-1 for the mares’ novices’ hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
It always takes a decent horse to win two bumpers so not surprisingly Peter Niven has high hopes for Malystic (9-2) who landed his second course win under in-form apprentice Billy Garritty, son of former northern stalwart Russ and brother of Flat jockey, Jack.
Niven said: “He’s Clever Cookie’s nephew. We’ve had a few from the family and this is the best since him.
“He’s got something about him, he doesn’t have the same turn of foot as Cookie, but we’re hoping for good things.
“Billy is riding full of confidence at the minute. I used to spend a lot of time in the car with his dad back in the day.”
He added: “That could be it for this year or we might think about Aintree for him. ”
Ascot De Bruyere (5-2) favourite made every yard in the Vertem – Leading The Field Handicap Chase.