Portrush Ted shrugged off a 519-day absence with a stylish display to win the Book The Cheltenham Festival Preview @Western House Handicap Hurdle at Ayr.
Off the track since making a successful debut over the smaller obstacles at Perth in August 2018, the eight-year-old looked perfectly prepared for his comeback by trainer Warren Greatrex.
Close up from the start, Portrush Ted (11-4) – winner of a Grade Two Aintree bumper two seasons ago – jumped into the lead at the third flight and enjoyed himself in the hands of Adrian Heskin.
One For Happy kept him company until he faded in the straight, and Portrush Ted gamely stuck to his task to win by two and a quarter lengths from Grand Morning. Better Getalong was two and a half lengths away in third place.
Greatrex said: “I’m really happy. We’ve had to be patient with him, but he did it well. He got a bit tired – which he had every right to do.
“He handled conditions, and Adrian was happy the whole way round. Fingers crossed he’s OK in the morning – because that is not always the case – and we can plan going forwards, but he looks exciting and he’ll improve a bundle for that run.
“He loved it. He got tired from the last, because he hadn’t run for so long, but it’s very heavy up here. I’m chuffed to bits.”
Champagnesuperover (3-1) made an impressive debut when giving Heskin a double in the closing Happy New Year From Ayr Racecourse Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
Named in the wake of England’s thrilling Cricket World Cup final success over New Zealand in July, the five-year-old is part-owned by the McNeill family – successful earlier with Portrush Ted.
Champagnesuperover was also providing trainer trained Olly Murphy with a double – after he had struck with Endlessly in a novice hurdle.
Heskin cruised into the lead two furlongs out and bounded clear with the minimum of fuss as Champagnesuperover scored by 16 lengths, from the Greatrex-trained Western Starlet.
“He’s a nice horse – I don’t know how strong that bumper was, but he couldn’t have done it any easier,” said Murphy.
“He’s always shown me ability at home. He’s a horse that is going to win plenty of races.
“I’ll speak to the owners. We might go to Newbury for a Listed bumper in the second week of February. I’m not sure he’s ready for Cheltenham.
“The horses are back in form now.”