Brian Hughes won his Sedgefield head-to-head with title rival Richard Johnson to push his lead in the jockeys’ championship race to 18.
Hughes defied the odds on board Baron De Midleton in the Your Ultimate Cheltenham Guide At attheraces.com/cheltenham Novices’ Hurdle, scoring at 4-1 from Johnson’s 1-5 favourite Strong Glance.
Four-time champion Johnson has been in flying form since his return from a broken arm this week, but was surprisingly unable to add to his winning streak on another trip to Hughes’ home patch up north.
The two protagonists were riding against one another for the first time since Johnson was passed fit again, after injuring himself in a fall at Exeter in January, and it was Hughes who prevailed – by a winning distance of 32 lengths.
Johnson stalked Brian Ellison’s front-runner Baron De Midleton but was decisively outpointed on heavy ground, and had to settle for a distant runner-up spot on Olly Murphy’s long odds-on shot.
Reflecting on the win which took his tally for the campaign to 133, Hughes told Sky Sports Racing: “He’s outstayed the favourite.
“I’m delighted he’s won. The yard’s horses are in great form, so it all helps.”
Hughes and Johnson, with his only other ride on the card, were both out of luck as Richie McLernon and back-to-form Rock On Fruity sprang a 20-1 shock with a four-and-three-quarter-length victory for Ben Haslam in the Paxtons No.1 For Ifor Williams Trailers Handicap Chase.
Hughes then pulled up Samtu as Phil Kirby’s 2-1 favourite Aniknam led almost throughout a marathon trip and routed the field by 37 lengths under Thomas Dowson in the Horton Harrison Astill Evans Handicap Hurdle.
Flowery was an all-the-way winner too, under Conor O’Farrell, taking the feature Festival Form Study At attheraces.com/cheltenham Handicap Chase by two and a half lengths for Iain Jardine at 7-2.
The eight-year-old was winning for the first time this season, and third at the course, having finished second twice in January – losing by just a head over hurdles at Uttoxeter last time.
Flowery jumped well after overcoming a minor mistake at the first fence, and the winning jockey said: “It was just out of freshness – he’s just run at it.
“Rather than looking at what he was doing, he was kind of more worried about getting away from the others.”
He managed that, and had the race already in safe keeping coming into the straight.
Roxyfet had earlier marked his 100th career start over jumps with a ninth course victory – and 15th in all – in the opening Temptations Bishop Auckland Handicap Hurdle.
Micky Hammond’s durable 10-year-old – who has also run just once on the Flat, when last of four on his French debut seven years ago – had to dig deep to defy Oxwich Bay by half a length, and record his third victory in four visits to Sedgefield since Christmas.
On his 37th trip from Hammond’s Middleham yard to Sedgefield, the 9-4 favourite led at the second last and then hung on with great determination under 7lb claimer Emma Smith-Chaston to see off the rallying runner-up.
Smith-Chaston was riding her 10th winner of the campaign – and three have come on the adaptable Roxyfet, over hurdles and fences, in the space of six weeks.
She said: “He just keeps on giving, this horse, he really does.
“He’s actually got better with age. Obviously, he has this heart problem – but he knows better than all of us what he’s doing.
“He’s three out of four with me – he’s done heaps for me this year. This is my 10th winner, and he’s had three of them.
“So I’m blessed to have the ride on him – I really, really am.”