All roads lead to the Cheltenham Festival for Lisnagar Oscar after he opened his account with a thrilling victory at Chepstow.
Trainer Rebecca Curtis went to £105,000 to secure the six-year-old following an Irish point-to-point success last March and he made his debut under rules at Chepstow in October, finishing third in a bumper.
He had since filled the runner-up spot twice over hurdles – most recently at Grade Two level at Cheltenham – and he was the 15-8 favourite to go one better in the Event Image Novices’ Hurdle.
Ridden by Sean Bowen, Lisnagar Oscar travelled well for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey and got the better of a pulsating duel with Nicky Henderson’s newcomer Dickie Diver after the final flight to prevail by a head.
Curtis is eyeing a tilt at the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park in March, a race she won with At Fishers Cross in 2013.
“He’s a lovely horse and he was idling in front. I think it was a good performance,” said the Newport-based trainer.
“I hear Nicky really likes his horse and we were coming back in trip. He’ll definitely be better when he steps back up to three miles, but this race came up and we thought we’d take a chance.
“I think we’ll definitely go for the Albert Bartlett now and we’ll probably go straight there.
“He has plenty of experience now, so I don’t see the point in running him again.”
Now Mcginty (4-1) could also be Festival-bound after jumping his rivals silly in the Purple Pine Creative Novices’ Chase.
Sent straight to the lead by Tom O’Brien, the eight-year-old produced some prodigious leap to keep the pressure on and eventually pulled six lengths clear of De Rasher Counter.
Winning trainer Stuart Edmunds said: “I’m delighted with him, and jumping and galloping is his forte.
“It’s probably the first time this season that he’s had his conditions. It was good ground when he was second to The Worlds End here – and maybe he’s not in his league anyway – and then it was two and a half miles when he was second at Uttoxeter last time.
“Today he’s run over three miles on softer ground, they’ve gone a good gallop and he’s done it really well.”
Asked about future plans, Edmunds added: “He’ll probably have entries at Cheltenham in the four miler (National Hunt Chase) and the Kim Muir. Whether we’ll put him in the RSA or not, I’m not sure.
“The ground is fairly key and how ambitious we are depends on how soft the ground is.
“I suppose one thing we would have in mind is coming back here next Christmas for the Welsh Grand National, but that’s a long way off.”
Samburu Shujaa dominated proceedings in the Join The Coral Champions Club For Free Maiden Hurdle.
Trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, the son of Poliglote was another horse not winning out of turn after six previous placed efforts.
The 7-2 chance made much of the running on this occasion and careered away in the home straight to score by 16 lengths from Liosduin Bhearna.
Church Hall was a shock 50-1 winner of the Play Roulette At 188Bet Handicap Chase before Jonjo O’Neill senior and junior combined to land the Floyd Turfcare Mares’ Handicap Hurdle with 5-2 favourite Annie Mc.
Goodgirlteresa sent favourite-backers home happy, obliging as the 2-1 market leader in the concluding Coopers Marquees Handicap Chase.