Josses Hill makes all for clear-cut Kempton success
Josses Hill dominated from the front to claim top honours in the Weatherbys General Stud Book Graduation Chase at Kempton.
Runner-up to the brilliant but ill-fated Vautour in the 2014 Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Nicky Henderson's eight-year-old suffered well-documented jumping problems when sent chasing the following season, but did manage to finish third in the Arkle Trophy on his return to Cheltenham.
Last term did not get off to the best of starts as he fell in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, but he bounced back to win over this course and distance before finishing down the field in the Ryanair Chase.
Making his first start since, Josses Hill was the 8-13 favourite to beat his sole rival Camping Ground.
Nico de Boinville sent the market leader straight to the front and his jumping was largely proficient, with the Gold Cup-winning rider giving his mount plenty of encouragement at many of his obstacles.
Camping Ground, returning to fences after spending much of last season over hurdles, kept tabs on the leader for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey, but Aidan Coleman began to get to work before the home turn.
Josses Hill maintained his advantage in the straight and safely negotiated the remaining fences to score by eight lengths.
Henderson said: "He is getting good. He's been very good at home, but we've done nothing special. We've schooled him a couple of times and he's been brilliant.
"I said to Nico 'be positive at the ditches', as he used to hang in the air a bit.
"I just have the feeling he's better right-handed than left-handed.
"There is the Ascot race in a couple of weeks' time (1965 Chase), but it depends if he is right and if the ground is right.
"Whether that is being grown-up too soon, I'm not sure, but that's the end of his graduation days.
"The Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon could be very good for him.
"I think he's ready to go anywhere right-handed, but he has run some very good races at Cheltenham, so we can't count that out.
"I still think he's a good horse and he sometimes works as if he will stay and one day we will try him over three miles."
Lucy Wadham thanked her lucky stars after Potters Legend made a successful chasing debut with a fortuitous win in the Weatherbys Racing Diaries Novices' Chase.
Looking booked for second in the three-mile contest, the 8-11 favourite took full advantage of leader Barney Dwan's serious error at the last before going on to collect by eight lengths.
Following the race, the winner was introduced at 50-1 for the RSA Chase and the runner-up 20-1 for the same race by Paddy Power.
Wadham said: "He was just very green and novicey in front. He could have done with a bit of company. We wanted to go in front as we thought he might be keen behind.
"We've not been able to school on the grass, he has only schooled on the all-weather so this is all a bit new for him but he got the job done. We will just try to find another small race somewhere. I'd like to see him at Cheltenham or back at Aintree, but he has got to improve a bit."
Kim Bailey ruled Younevercall (15-2) out of making an appearance at the Cheltenham Festival despite booking his place at the meeting with victory on his seasonal return in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.
He said: "The annoying thing is he has to go right-handed so he won't be going to the Final. He showed a lot of speed at home last year but none this year.
"I was going to run him in the big race at Ascot last week but he worked so slow I thought he must go further. I've always said he wants three miles. He will need to go to places like here and Sandown."
Top Tug (4-6) made an instant impact on his switch from the Flat when grinding out victory in the BetVictor Novices' Hurdle.
The former Sir Michael Stoute-trained gelding, who is now under the care of Alan King, warmed to the task well in the two-mile prize before getting the better of fellow hurdling debutant Bandsman by four lengths.
Ollie Wardle, assistant trainer, said: "It was a nice start. He missed the third-last but on the whole he jumped really well. Even at that pace Wayne (Hutchinson) said it rode like a sprint, so it took him a while to pick up as he is a stayer on the Flat.
"Just because he is highly rated on the Flat it doesn't always mean they are going to take to it, but he has schooled well at home. He is a big, strong horse so he could easily carry a penalty."
The Ditcheat Thoroughbreds syndicate celebrated their fifth winner since joining forces with champion trainer Paul Nicholls after Coastal Tiep (7-4) followed up his Chepstow bumper success with a seven-length victory in the BetVictor "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle.
Harry Derham, assistant trainer, said: "We really liked him last year when he won his point-to-point for Jack Barber. He is a really nice horse with lots of ability. It was not ideal today with three runners as he didn't concentrate the whole way round. He is far from done improving."
Dan Skelton will have to go back to the drawing board regarding future plans for Oldgrangewood (2-1) despite making his first start over fences a winning one when coasting home by 16 lengths in the BetVictor Chase.
The winning trainer said: "This was the first day we have really let him have his head and like Harry (Skelton) said, he needs to man up. He is a horse that has plenty of ability and he should have won today.
"I was thinking about coming back here on Boxing Day for the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase, but Harry said to go left-handed with him. He is definitely a stayer in the making."
There was further success for Alcester-based handler Skelton after taking the concluding BetVictor Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle with Herons Heir (7-1).
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Source: At The Races