Lady Buttons survived a late scare as she held on by just a neck from the rallying Indefatigable in the olbg.com Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster.
Phil Kirby’s Queen Mother Champion Chase hope took in this Grade Two back over the smaller obstacles – a surprise manoeuvre to some pundits after two successive wins over fences.
But the switch narrowly paid off as she took her winning sequence to four out of four, held up early fifth of the six runners, before pouncing to take over from Indefatigable jumping the last.
The evens favourite and Tommy Dowson appeared all set for a routine victory at that point. But as they tied up in front, Indefatigable – three years Lady Buttons’ junior, at six – lived up to her name and pushed the winner uncomfortably close.
Yorkshire trainer Kirby admitted afterwards to a mixture of relief and admiration of his stable star.
“She knows it here, and I think she knows where the paddock is,” he said.
“She jinked here last time at the same place. She thinks she’s done enough. She’s been around long enough now, and knows her job.”
Kirby has yet to make a final decision over Lady Buttons’ Cheltenham target with the mares’ hurdle still a possibility, but the Champion Chase much more likely.
He added: “She’s very good, and I think she’ll be better on again on softer ground and a competitive race where they take her longer – because she only has run one really.
“I’m not going to make a decision about Cheltenham today.
“I half-changed the plan a few days ago over the Huntingdon race (on Friday), just because I wanted to stay left-handed more than anything.
“I’d say she’s more likely to go over fences for the Queen Mother rather than the Mares’ race – but she is half the price for that race.
“We’ll keep the options open as long as we can, and I won’t make my mind up until nearer the time.”
Dowson added “It’s brilliant – thanks to Phil.
“I couldn’t claim in that race, so it’s massively appreciated. (Jockey) Adam (Nicol) told me how to ride her and said not to hit the front too soon – but I did. As soon as you give her a squeeze, she gets there.
“She’s probably different class to them – she’s a serious mare.”
Nadaitak made up for a blip at this course last time as he sprang a 12-1 surprise with a wide-margin win in the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices’ Hurdle, also a Grade Two – completing an across-the-card double for his trainer Ben Pauling.
Nico de Boinville kept the outsider in a field of four in close touch throughout with 6-4 joint favourite Commodore Barry, who set a searching pace over three miles and half a furlong in search of what would have been a fifth win in his last six.
The five-year-old then launched his challenge in earnest approaching the third-last and was soon clear, passing the post 22 lengths in front of Truckers Lodge.
De Boinville said: “I wasn’t expecting that. I was surprised to be that far in front.
“I looked round at the half-furlong pole and couldn’t believe it.
“Off a nice gallop, he stayed. Cheekpieces were applied this time, and they helped – he is a nice horse, going forward.
“Whether it was the strongest renewal, I’m not sure, but he could go down the Albert Bartlett route.”
Andrew Megson, who owns Nadaitak with his wife Jane, added: “I don’t know if he’ll go to Cheltenham. It’s up to Ben – Aintree maybe, but it will be Ben’s call.”
Peter Bowen’s 580-mile round trip from his Prembrokeshire base to Doncaster was rewarded with an all-the-way success by Cougar’s Gold in the Sky Bet Extra Place Races Handicap Chase.
The eight-year-old put in a sound round of jumping for the trainer’s son, Sean Bowen, and looked in control for most of the three-mile journey.
The 3-1 shot even pulled out more when tackled by Mahlermade to win by a length and a half.
“That was all right. He’ll probably have another run in about three weeks,” said Bowen.
“He was quite frustrating in the past. We couldn’t get his lungs clean. He seems to be healthy now. We train him from the field. It’s made the difference.
“He used to be in a stable like every other horse, but now we’ve got a massive sand paddock and we train him out of there.
“He seems to have turned the corner doing that. He’s pretty consistent these days.”
Always Resolute (9-4 favourite) took the Alan Wood Plumbing And Heating Handicap Hurdle in game fashion to give 7lb-claiming conditional jockey Edward Austin a 10th career success.
Leading before two out, Ian Williams’ eight-year-old responded well to Austin’s urgings to see off Its’afreebee by a length and three-quarters.
“He was really game and gutsy. Ian’s horses are in great form. It’s really good to have a Saturday winner as well,” said Austin.
The Jamie Snowden-trained Redbridge Gold (5-1) made all in the concluding bumper under Gavin Sheehan.