Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up Thomas Darby again had to make do with minor honours on his debut over fences, behind Maire Banrigh at Warwick.
Having beaten all bar the Willie Mullins-trained Klassical Dream in the Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser eight months ago, the Olly Murphy-trained Thomas Darby was the 8-11 favourite on his reappearance in the Use The racingtv.com Tracker Novices’ Chase.
However, his task was far from straightforward, with Dan Skelton saddling Maire Banrigh – a mare who had won her on three most recent starts, including a dominant display on her first start over the larger obstacles at Stratford a month ago.
Clearly keen to make race fitness and chasing experience count, Harry Skelton sent 6-4 chance Maire Banrigh to the lead from the off, with a keen-going Thomas Darby always the nearest pursuer in the hands of champion jockey Richard Johnson.
Skelton raised the pace, racing down the back straight – and while Thomas Darby did his best to close the gap after the turn for home, Maire Banrigh found enough in front to hold him at bay by a length.
Part-owner John Hales, who has seen his colours carried to big-race success by the likes of One Man, Azertyuiop, Neptune Collonges and Politologue over the years, was full of praise for his latest winner.
He said: “I’m absolutely delighted. I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of good horses over the years, and she’s right up there in terms of ability – she has a lot of talent.”
Hales will consult his trainer about plans for the remainder of the season.
He added: “Dan’s not here today, so I’ll have to have a chat with him about our next objective.
“She’s won impressively and has beaten a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up, and she was only getting 2lb. Hopefully it will be onwards and upwards.”
Murphy was pleased with Thomas Darby’s performance in defeat.
He told Racing TV: “He jumped well. I’m disappointed he didn’t win, but I think we’ve just bumped into a horse that was sharper and had match practice – that’s probably what got us beat today.
“It wasn’t all about today. I’m sure there’ll be people sat at home saying ‘how’s he got beat?’, but today was day one, it’s a long old year, and he didn’t have an overly hard race – I’m happy enough.
“Richard (Johnson) was delighted – he’s had a nice introduction, and the winner obviously isn’t a bad mare.
“Harry got a complete freebie in front – I thought he gave her a very good ride. Myself and Richard discussed beforehand that win, lose or draw we weren’t going to take Harry on before we turned in, because the last thing I wanted was to put our lad on the floor.
“I’m disappointed he didn’t win, but I don’t dislike him any more than I did beforehand.
“I’d imagine we’ll probably go up in trip at some point, but I’d like to see him run in a strong two-mile race beforehand.”