Quel Destin can look forward to a step back up in class after securing a tenacious success in the Betway Contenders Hurdle at Sandown.
A winner at Cheltenham in October, the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding had come up short in two subsequent outings at the track – most recently in the Grade Two Relkeel Hurdle on his first start over an extended two and a half miles on New Year’s Day.
Dropped back to two miles, dual Grade Two winner Quel Destin showed the best of his battling abilities after hitting the front over the second last in the Listed prize to defeat odds-on favourite Call Me Lord by three lengths.
Nicholls said of the 6-1 chance: “This was a little bit of a prep for Wincanton in a fortnight (Kingwell) or Fontwell, which would be favourite, for the National Spirit.
“Although I knew he would love the ground today, I thought he might come on a bit for the run. It is the first time all season he has looked great.
“He had a tough time last season and it is always a hard season (the second one). I’ve not been killing him as I want him as a chaser next season.
“He ran all right the last day at Cheltenham, he just got murdered turning in. We have just got to give horses like this time to come to themselves.
“I wouldn’t be averse to letting him have a look at Auteuil in the Prix La Barka in May.”
Dolos had earlier initiated a double for Nicholls and jockey Harry Cobden when making the most of a drop in class to hold off First Flow by half a length for a second successive victory in the Betway Casino Handicap Chase.
Nicholls said of the 7-2 shot: “He is a hard horse to place as he is just shy of Grade One class and now he is on that mark there and as Harry said, he was entitled to get tired on the run carrying that weight.
“He loves it round here and the hardest thing is what to do now. I can’t see there is anything obvious to run him in, so we might come straight back here to the Celebration Chase as he is good fresh, but quite often it can be quick ground then.”
Palladium is likely to feature among Nicky Henderson’s team for the Cheltenham Festival after securing back-to-back victories at the track with a front running 10-length success in the Betway Novices’ Hurdle.
Henderson said of the 6-4 winner: “He has gone in that ground before as he won on it at the last meeting. It was a slightly better race today as the last race was a non event.
“I needed to get him up a bit to get in the Fred Winter, so I had to come and run. He is 124 and he will go up 4lb for that.
“He was keen the last time so we put the ear plugs in to slow him up a bit, but it didn’t do any good. As Nico says, when he gets to the front he is a very good jumper.”
Limited Reserve provided the Welsh Grand National-winning combination of Christian Williams and Jack Tudor with more big-race success in taking the Grade Three Betway Heroes Handicap Hurdle by three and three-quarter lengths.
Williams said of the 10-1 shot: “He won a £20,000 hurdle at Taunton last time out and we found a £100,000 race for him and it is great.
“You would think he wants good ground as he is a good mover. He looked the one at the start of the season that could win me a feature race.
“Jack knows what we think of him and I wouldn’t be using him if we didn’t believe in him.”
Deise Aba (7-1) marked himself out as a future Grand National contender after defeating Cloudy Glen by three and a half lengths to give owner Trevor Hemmings a one-two in the Betway Masters Handicap Chase.
Sarah Hobbs, wife of winning trainer Philip, said: “He had an attitude problem last season, but suddenly he has clicked this season.
“He has jumped very well today, though he did put down once, but Tom (O’Brien) said he wanted him to do that as he was enjoying it so much he would have got there too soon.
“He did jump very well and is maybe a future Grand National horse.”
Jockey Gavin Sheehan and owner Andrew Brooks struck Grade One gold with Itchy Feet in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase and made it a double with the Harry Whittington-trained Stick With Bill (2-1 favourite) in the Heed Your Hunch At Betway Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.