Maire Banrigh moved closer to an appearance at the Cheltenham Festival when maintaining her unbeaten record over fences in the Pertemps Lady Protectress Mares’ Chase at Huntingdon.
The Dan Skelton-trained eight-year-old gained the most significant success of her career by making her first start at Listed level a triumphant one in the extended two-mile-three-furlong contest.
Stalking long-time leader Dalila Du Seuil for much of the race, the 1-4 favourite moved into the lead over the second-last under Harry Skelton before crossing the line with 11 lengths in hand.
The winning rider said: “We’ve always said she wants good ground, so two and a half on that ground definitely was a bit of a stretch for her, but she got the job done and that is now six on the bounce.
“Everyone wants to be at the Festival and Cheltenham has been very good to John (Hales, owner) and his family and I’m sure they have got those aspirations. She is a good mare.
“I’d say so (the Arkle over the Marsh Novices’ Chase), but we will make more of a plan now. That was very much job done today and we will see where we go in the spring.”
Third Time Lucki was introduced at 25-1 for the Champion Bumper by Paddy Power after completing a treble for the Skelton brothers with a stylish victory under a penalty in the Pertemps Network Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
Assistant trainer Tom Messenger said of the 11-4 winner: “He finds life quite easy. Where we go next, I’m not quite sure.
“Obviously Cheltenham is very tempting after winning a bumper under a penalty – it is just whether he is mentally ready for that yet.”
West Cork (2-1) made it back-to-back victories at the course to get the ball rolling for the Skelton team when lowering the colours of the previously unbeaten Mister Coffey in the Pertemps Network Novices’ Hurdle.
Messenger said: “We thought a bit of him in the autumn and he got beat a couple of times, but he is starting to put it together now.
“Dropping back to two miles has definitely helped him. It is now whether we go down the handicap route or look at a nice novice.”
Imperial Elysian handed Fergal O’Brien his 50th winner of the season to form the opening leg of a double for the trainer and jockey Paddy Brennan in the Pertemps Network “National Hunt” Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.
O’Brien said: “It’s great to get there. I thought I would get there a bit sooner as they were running well before Christmas.
“It is lovely to do it for Imperial Racing, they have been with me from day one.”
On the 6-1 winner he added: “The making of this horse is the time the boys have given him.
“The ground was not ideal, but it was better than most places.”
O’Brien and Brennan were also on the mark with Robyndzone (9-2 joint-favourite) who took the Pertemps Network Novices’ Handicap Chase by four and a quarter lengths to open his account over fences.
O’Brien added: “Connor Brace gave him a lovely educational ride at Taunton and Paddy has reaped the benefit today. He deserved that as he has been knocking on the door.”
Phoenix Bay looked better than his winning margin of a head suggested on his first start in 383 days in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.
Rider Barry Geraghty said of the Harry Fry-trained 4-1 chance said: “I was injured the last time so I missed the ride on him. It was nice to have a go on him today.
“He ran a bit keen through the race, but he got home in the end.”
Following the race Phoenix Bay was no bigger than 10-1 with William Hill to follow up in the final at the Festival.