Circus Couture is set for a second crack at the Royal Hunt Cup after bouncing back to form with victory in the Introducing Racing TV Handicap at Nottingham.
Third in the big mile handicap 12 months ago, the seven-year-old ran his best race for some time to score under John Egan, with first-time visors working the oracle.
His downturn in form had seen his mark drop by 10lb and he knuckled down well to beat Baltic Baron by three-quarters of a length, in a race that got messy in the straight.
Circus Couture (7-1) returned with a cut, but trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam is confident she can get him to the Hunt Cup, for which he has accrued a 5lb penalty, taking his weight to 9st 2lb.
“He’s back to form. I think the set of visors have just sharpened him up. He just got a bit complacent in the spring,” said the Newmarket handler.
“He’s well over 550 kilos and it’s good to see him back. He’ll go for the Hunt Cup as long as that near foreleg is OK, as it is quite badly cut.
“It should be all right, I’ve got two weeks to patch him up.”
She added: “It’s nice to have a win next to your name going into Royal Ascot. He ran third last year and this race is a nice stepping stone.”
Memories of Ouzo, who gave jumps jockey Stan Mellor a record 1,000th career success at Nottingham in December 1971, came flooding back after a horse of the same name took the Bet At racingtv.com Handicap.
The latest edition, trained by Richard Hannon, made all in the hands of Sean Levey to hold King Ademar by a neck after a ding-dong tussle in the straight.
Levey said of the 9-2 winner: “He was very tough. I thought off 8st 11lb I’d have every chance to go and make it, and it worked out for me.
“He was still a bit green and was waiting for me to tell him what to do. He responded every time I asked him. The second headed me at one stage, but I thought I’d get him again as he was battling all the way.”
However, Levey was banned for two days for using his whip above the permitted level.
Flaming Princess (12-1) could also be set for Royal Ascot after showing an admirable attitude when making a winning debut in the EBF Maiden Fillies’ Stakes.
The Richard Fahey-trained youngster had to pull out extra in the closing strides to collar Al Raya and get the verdict by a neck under Barry McHugh.
“We knew she was quick and we knew she was professional, but we didn’t know if she had the ability to beat the top one (Al Raya), so we’re really pleased,” said Chris Swann, whose father Peter heads the family’s Cool Silk Partnership.
“She showed the ability and will come on for the run. If she does go to Ascot I imagine the Queen Mary would be the target.”
Moon King (11-8 favourite) took his winning run to three with a four-length romp in the Join Racing TV Now Handicap under Harry Bentley.
Trainer Ralph Beckett now has to decide whether to turn him out again at either Haydock or Newmarket on Saturday.
“He’s a good fun horse. He was so backward and in retrospect he did well to get placed as a two-year-old and he’ll stay forever,” said Beckett.
“The rain that came yesterday suited him.
“He has a couple of entries on Saturday. We’ll see how he is in the morning.”
Lucky’s Dream (4-1) made light of 9st 12lb, that included a 6lb penalty, by following up victory at Yarmouth last week to take the Like Racing TV On Facebook Handicap.
The four-year-old, trained by Ian Williams and owned by Roger Brookhouse, colours more familiar to jumps fans, got the better of Mullarkey by a length and three-quarters.
Winning rider PJ McDonald said: “He’s quirky and can over-travel, but he gave me a good ride today. He’s done it nicely and is going the right way.”
Rose Hip (16-1) got off the mark on her fourth career start at the age of four with a battling one-length call over in the racingtv.com Fillies’ Handicap under Tom Marquand.
“I think she’s still a bit immature so hopefully there is more to come,” said her trainer Tony Carroll.