Imperial Alcazar gained compensation for his controversial Cheltenham near miss when he landed the odds in the EBF British Stallion Studs ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle Qualifier at Leicester.
Fergal O’Brien’s six-year-old finished a head second in a Listed hurdle on New Year’s Day, and was then awarded the race because of interference by Dan Skelton’s first past the post Protektorat – only to be demoted again when the winner’s connections made a successful appeal to the British Horseracing Authority.
There were no such dramas this time, as he had little difficulty seeing off his four Leicester rivals for his second win over jumps.
Pushed into the lead by Paddy Brennan just before the second-last flight, Imperial Alcazar (4-9 favourite) steadily drew clear to beat Muckamore by six and a half lengths.
He may head next to Sandown for the final of the EBF Series Final on the Saturday before Cheltenham, although the Festival is still a distinct possibility for either the Ballymore or the Albert Bartlett.
“He did it how we hoped he’d do it,” said O’Brien.
“It’s tough going out there, but the further he went the better he got. He did it nicely, so we’re very pleased with him.
“He’s qualified for Sandown now, so it gives us options. We’d like to go to Cheltenham, but if the ground was quick that would be something to consider too.
“He’s done nothing but improve. He’s been pitched high, (and) his form is rock solid.
“The one of the Skeltons’ that beat him has run well at Cheltenham since, under a penalty.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies is praying the handicapper gives The Hollow Ginge a 5lb rise for his victory in the Somerby Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase so he can make the cut for the Randox Health Grand National.
The Hollow Ginge (3-1) would be a dream runner for owners The Ginge Army, whose syndicate leader is Liverpudlian John Neild, but his current rating of 140 is highly unlikely to get him to Aintree.
The Hollow Ginge did his bit by making all to win by five and a half lengths from Late Romantic, in a race that fell apart – with the favourite Pistol Whipped exiting at the first fence and Looks Like Murt unseating three out.
“It was a funny old race, and we had to make all the running,” said the winning trainer.
“We’ve come here to hopefully go up 5lb in the handicap, because we want to get him in the Grand National.
“I was very pleased with him, because he’s not a natural front-runner. The favourite falling at the first didn’t help. If we had beaten him that would have helped our cause.”
Applesandpierres (9-1) landed his second course-and-distance success in just over a month when coming home strongly to take the William Hill Golden Miller Handicap Hurdle.
Sophie Leech’s 12-year-old pulled away from favourite Ardmayle on the run-in to win by two and a half lengths.
“He really enjoys it here,” she said.
“Ciaran (Gethings) gave him a great ride. It was a fair effort off that mark.
“We like the oldies. He won here at the last meeting, and we were keen to come back. There are no more hurdle races here, so we’ll have to wait for next season – when he’ll be really old.”
Admiral’s Secret (5-1) confirmed his bad-behaviour days are behind him with a game display to win the Running Hare Handicap Chase.
The nine-year-old had a reputation for being unruly at the start – but he is much more relaxed thanks to trainer Victor Dartnall changing his routine and having him ponied to post.
Second in his last two outings, after twice previously refusing to start, Admiral’s Secret responded to Alan Johns’ urgings to beat Catamaran Du Seuil by two and three-quarter lengths.
“He obviously gets the trip,”said Barnstaple-based Dartnall.
“Alan rides him very well and keeps him settled.
“He refused to race twice, so we changed his routine. He went to the beach at Woolacombe on Monday, and he goes hunting. He’s been a reformed character this year.
“We pony him to the post. Retired chaser Seebright takes him. I don’t think there’s another National Hunt horse does that.
“He’s just a character. You have to understand what he wants and what he likes.”
Baracalu (5-2) enjoyed the heavy ground as he romped home by 15 lengths in the Kirby Muxloe Claiming Hurdle, in the hands of Harry Reed, to give trainer Tristan Davidson a winner with his first runner at the course.
Sabbathical (4-1) pulled away in the straight to take the closing Six Hills Handicap Hurdle by 15 lengths under Adam Wedge for trainer Evan Williams.