'Frighteningly good' Altior makes perfect start to life over fences
The chances of Altior conquering all before him over fences as he did over hurdles moved a step closer with an exhibition round of jumping in the Weatherbys Supports Starlight Novices' Chase at Kempton.
In what has been a testing few weeks for trainer Nicky Henderson following the retirement of Sprinter Sacre and the fatal injury sustained by Simonsig, the six-year-old handed the Seven Barrows yard a timely boost when making a seamless transition to the larger obstacles.
Having ended last season with victory in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, Altior was sent off a 2-13 shot to master his sole rival, the Paul Nicholls-trained Black Corton.
Although getting close at the fifth-last of the two-and-a-quarter-mile prize it failed to halt the favourite's momentum, with Noel Fehily allowing him to coast home by 63 lengths and complete a double for Henderson.
While stiffer tasks lie in store for Altior, betting firms reacted accordingly with Paddy Power and William Hill trimming him in from to 2-1 for the Arkle, having been 3-1 and 5-2 respectively.
Henderson said: "He had a nice little blow and had a school round and he'll go to Sandown on Saturday week for the Henry VIII (Novices' Chase). He races with his head low, which is lovely and a great way to go over fences.
"He's built like a chaser and I thought he jumped great. There are options, but we might as well go to Sandown. Noel sat on him on Friday and he jumped 10 fences and he was electric. He's been frighteningly good all the way through. That was a good start and I was happy with it."
Lough Derg Spirit (2-1) earned quotes of 14-1 for the Supreme and 20-1 for the Neptune with Paddy Power after initiating Henderson's brace in the Coolmore Stallions EBF "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle.
Henderson said: "He will make a lovely chaser in time. The only one probably was that he (Jeremiah McGrath) couldn't pull him up. We always thought he looked quite decent. We always try and win that race as it is our charity day."
Oliver Sherwood can afford to rest easy for now with Surtee Du Berlais (14-1) after she gained some valuable black type when grinding out victory in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle.
Although needing plenty of driving from Leighton Aspell in the extended three-mile Listed contest the six-year-old rallied gamely to get the better of market leader Rons Dream by three and a quarter lengths.
Sherwood said: "With the rain as it is I thought we'd have a crack at this as she wants it soft and the rain came at the right time. It's job done now she's won a Listed race. Ground is very important so I might keep her to hurdles. She's lazy and only does what she has to do, but she is tough."
It was almost a case of 'last horse standing' following the victory of Mercers Court (14-1) in an incident-packed Seven Barrows Supports "Captain Starlight" Network Handicap Chase.
After the early departures of Atirelarigo, Frontline and Andy Kelly, likely-looking winner Uhlan Bute then tipped up at the second-last leaving the Neil King-trained runner to take a three-length success from Dusky Lark.
King said: "It is all about jumping fences. He is a funny horse as he usually goes out of form in the winter, but he did a nice piece of work last week so we thought we would try again.
"There is a race at Fakenham in a month's time and we will continue with a view of going for that."
Vinegar Hill (9-2) completed a hat-trick of victories when making a winning debut for trainer Stuart Edmunds in the Brown Advisory And Merriebelle Stable Handicap Hurdle.
Edmunds said: "He has been very straightforward and Anna Brooks filled me in on all his little quirks. We've schooled him over fences so he will probably go novice chasing now."
The Ian Williams-trained Midtech Valentine (4-1) followed up her recent Fontwell success in the concluding Starlight Children's Foundation Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle.
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Source: At The Races