Sporting John looked a potential future star as he made his rules debut an impressively triumphant one in the D & S Commissioning Novices’ Hurdle at Exeter.
The Philip Hobbs-trained four-year-old paid back a slice of the £160,000 laid out for him by owner JP McManus in March when running on strongly from the back of the last in the two-mile contest to defeat Harry Senior by a length and three-quarters.
Sporting John was quickly introduced into the betting for next year’s Grade One Cheltenham novice hurdles – at 25-1 for the Ballymore and 33-1 for the Supreme by Betfair, while William Hill go 33-1 for both races.
After the 11-4 victory, Hobbs said: “(Jockey) Barry (Geraghty) thought to keep him at that trip again next time – but I’m sure in time he will want further.
“I think he is too green for a better race, so I think we will go for a small race with a penalty.
“I’d imagine he will at least go two and a half this season. He has got a great attitude, and everything at home has been very pleasing.
“You’ve got to be delighted with him coming here and doing that. I thought today he might need the experience – which he has, but he has still managed to win.”
Isabel Williams was not the only member of her family smiling after steering Virginia Chick, trained by her dad Evan and owned by her mother Cath, to his first victory over fences – by three-quarters of a length in the coral.co.uk Novices’ Chase.
The winning jockey picked up a two-day whip ban, but was able to reflect nonetheless on a heartening 14-1 win.
She said: “He was really progressive over hurdles, but we were a little bit stuck at the end of last season.
“We thought we would try him over fences to see if he would like it – and he jumped really well the last day at Uttoxeter, where he needed the run.
“Three miles round here was perfect for him – plus he was already a course winner, so we knew the track was fine.”
Williams, 22, was greeted in the winner’s enclosure by her delighted grandmother Mary Evans – who said: “I’m very proud of her.
“He just worked his way into it, and she has given him a peach of a ride.
“She had to sit quietly on him, and you have to let him work it out. It is very emotional, watching her win.”
Kim Bailey was out of luck with Charbel in the feature Haldon Gold Cup – but 11-4 shot Those Tiger Feet ensured he left the Devon track with a winner, sealing the Visit The New coralchampionsclub.co.uk Website Handicap Hurdle by a length and a quarter.
Bailey said: “He rather lost his way last season and disappointed us over hurdles, after winning a bumper at Hereford.
“He is slightly quirky – as you saw today, he was all over the racecourse. He won’t run again quickly, because that will make him worse if we do that.”
The Andoversford trainer was at a loss to explain Charbel’s poor showing, but still hopes to get him back on course to defend his Peterborough Chase title at Huntingdon next month.
“I was disappointed with Charbel, because he didn’t really jump,” said Bailey.
“I want to go to the Peterborough Chase with him – but I want to see him in a better situation than that.”