Owner Duncan Angove was on cloud nine when Poker Play won the Marston’s Pedigree Handicap Hurdle at Uttoxeter on Saturday.
He was high up in the air on his way home to America after enjoying a trip to the Cheltenham Festival as the six-year-old ploughed through the mud to lift the £23,475 first prize.
Poker Play (16-1) drew well clear of the opposition from three out under Tom Scudamore to score by nine lengths from Bold Plan with Acey Milan three lengths away in third.
“I’ve been listening to the audio commentary at 35,000 feet off the southern tip of Greenland,” Angove messaged Pipe.
“The ground is the key to this fella,” added Pipe.
“You can see from the mud on his legs how deep the ground is. It suits some horses and not others.”
De Rasher Counter (4-1) continued Emma Lavelle’s great form following the Cheltenham success of Paisley Park when winning the Brit Plant Direct Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Part-owned by Andrew Gemmell, whose colours were carried to victory in the Stayers’ Hurdle, De Rasher Counter was given a perfect ride by Adam Wedge.
Held up in the early stages, the seven-year-old was quietly brought into the three-mile contest to make his bid in the straight and score by six lengths from Late Romantic.
Lavelle said: “Adam gave him a great ride. He was in the best form. He is not totally straight forward. He always wants to do more than he’s meant to do.
“Adam gave him an absolute peach. I couldn’t be happier. He’s a really nice horse. We didn’t want to go to Cheltenham with him because we didn’t feel he was ready for it this year, but there should be a big handicap in him for next season.”
Abbie McCain had her riding allowance cut from 7lb to 5lb when Diger Daudaie gave her her 20th success in the Abacus Decorators Lady Riders’ Handicap Hurdle.
In achieving that landmark, the daughter of Grand National-winning trainer Donald McCain, had to resist the persistent challenge of Bryony Frost on Nearly Perfect.
The pair fought out a terrific finish and it was McCain who prevailed on Diger Daudaie (9-2), trained by Charlie Longsdon, by a head.
Longsdon said: “He’s a honest horse and is a chaser not a hurdler. He’ll only improve when he goes over fences next year.
“She gave him a great ride. He has hit flat spots in the past. She didn’t give him the chance to do that. I don’t want to give him any more runs this season. He’s a chaser through and through and I’m delighted for Abbie.”
Ben Pauling is thinking of running The Captains Inn (6-4) at Aintree after the improving five-year-old followed up his first success at Leicester in the Marston’s Brewery Novices’ Hurdle.
“That was a game performance from a very good horse,” said Pauling.
“Tom said he didn’t enjoy the ground but he’s given 6lb to a good horse.
“We’ll probably go to Aintree now over two and a half or three miles.”
Cougar’s Gold (17-2) bounced back to form after being under the weather when well-beaten at Fontwell to win the H Brown &on Recycling Handicap Chase.
The eight-year-old beat Cuddles McGraw by three and three-quarter lengths to complete a double for trainer Peter Bowen’s son, James, after his triumph in the Midlands Grand National.
“It was the flu jab we had to give horses. It wiped them all out. They’re just coming back now. The last few weeks have been a nightmare,” said Bowen.
“He’d won well at Doncaster and here, but was wiped out for Fontwell.”
The Skelton brothers, trainer Dan and jockey Harry, carried on from a successful Cheltenham when Tigeralley (3-1) made all in the Dove Valley Marquues Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.
“She obviously wants a good bit of soft ground. She kept galloping. She just tumbled over fences last time. I don’t know why she did that,” said the trainer.
The pace-setting Moroder (3-1) rallied in admirable fashion to outpoint The Big Yin by a neck for trainer Seamus Mullins and 3lb claimer Kevin Jones in the concluding bumper.