Mister Fisher enhanced his Cheltenham Festival claims with a decisive victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle.
Trainer Nicky Henderson nominated this Grade Two prize as a likely target for Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Angels Breath last weekend, but a change of heart prompted a reshuffle during the week – and Mister Fisher instead made the journey to Merseyside.
Having been narrowly denied on his hurdling debut at Newbury, the five-year-old opened his account in some style at Kempton on Boxing Day, and he was the even-money favourite to follow up in a race Henderson had won on three previous occasions.
The well-supported Bright Forecast made much of the running – and despite almost running out with a circuit still to run, he remained in the lead rounding the turn for home.
However, Mister Fisher was travelling ominously well in his slipstream under a confident-looking James Bowen – and he ultimately won the argument comfortably by two and a half lengths.
Speaking from Ascot, Henderson said: “It was tough. I don’t know what the ground was like – but it looked like it was a bit messy, and that blunted him a little bit, but he got the job done well enough.
“The second is obviously quite a decent horse, so I was pleased with the result, and we will take it from there. I don’t know where we go. He has had three runs over hurdles now, so he doesn’t desperately need a run .
“It just looked as if he didn’t have the gear today on that ground that he did at Kempton on good ground. The Supreme is not going to come up on fast ground, and I don’t think he wants that – he just wants good ground.
“I was originally going to run Angels Breath, but we had to swap them around, so I hadn’t really prepared him for today.”
Bowen said: “I’m very pleased. He’s got a lot of ability, and the amount he’s improved since I rode him at Newbury is unbelievable.
“He’s got an incredible engine. He’s a big, laid-back horse – and he was just dossing when he got to the front.
“That was his best ever run, and hopefully he’ll improve again.”
The race sponsors cut Mister Fisher to 10-1 for the curtain-raiser at Prestbury Park in March, with Angels Breath the 5-1 favourite.
Castafiore caused a 28-1 upset in the Patrick Coyne Memorial Altcar Novices’ Chase.
The Charlie Longsdon-trained mare looked to have a mountain to climb on official ratings, and was the rank outsider of five runners as a result.
However, the six-year-old was ridden on the pace throughout by Paul O’Brien and refused to bend in the home straight, taking command on the approach to the final fence and pulling five lengths clear of 6-4 favourite Jerrysback on the run-in.
Longsdon said: “She’s got a Darley pedigree and ran on the Flat in France for Godolphin – I don’t think anyone would have expected her to be running round here over fences on soft ground!
“She’s very tough and loves her jumping, so we hoped fences would be the making of her.
“I didn’t expect her to win, but I did think she would massively outrun her odds.
“I don’t know where we’ll go now. There’s a good mares’ programme, and we can look at some big races on slow ground after the way she’s won today.”
Having been sidelined since suffering a broken collarbone in a fall on Betfair Chase day here in November, conditional jockey Tommy Dowson made a successful return to the saddle aboard Suggestion (4-1) in the Jockey Club Haydock Park Racing Club Handicap Hurdle.
Phil Kirby’s charge displayed a willing attitude from the final flight to score by three and a quarter lengths from Night Of Glory.
“This horse is Adam Nicol’s ride really, but he’s unfortunately out with a broken leg,” said Dowson.
“It’s great to be back, and Phil’s horses are running great.”
Kirby added: “It’s great for Tommy, and I’m delighted for the horse.
“I thought he was high enough in the handicap, to be honest. He was quite weak as a young horse, but he’s getting stronger and improving.
“He’ll jump a fence at some stage, but we’ll probably wait until next season now.”
Dicosimo (8-1) got back on the winning trail for Warren Greatrex in the Cheltenham Preview Here In March Handicap Chase under a well-judged ride from Daryl Jacob.
There was a thrilling climax to the concluding Old Boston Handicap Hurdle, with Emma Lavelle’s 8-1 shot Closing Ceremony and Adam Wedge lunging late to deny Silva Eclipse by a nose in the shadows of the post.