Tony McCoy stole the show at Doncaster as his decision to bypass Cheltenham paid dividends when winning the Skybet Chase on If In Doubt.
The card in the Cotswolds may have been billed as Festival Trials Day but there were no less thrills on Town Moor, with McCoy sending punters home happy after nursing the Philip Hobbs-trained novice around the three-mile contest.
Sent off the 4-1 favourite, If In Doubt made countless errors on his way but he had so much in hand over his rivals, it mattered little.
Baileys Concerto came from the rear to challenge at the last but there was three and a half lengths between them at the line with another six back to Night In Milan.
“He’s not a natural jumper so I switched him to the outside to get some light,” said McCoy.
“I didn’t want to put his jumping under any pressure in the straight but I went on and he stayed on well.
“To be honest, I didn’t fancy him much coming here because he had been beaten off the same mark over hurdles.
“He’s got a lot to learn.”
Sarah Hobbs, the trainer’s wife, said: “Whether he runs at the Festival or not will be down to JP (McManus, owner).”
A contrasting ride saw McCoy drive home the John Ferguson-trained Three Kingdoms (4-6 favourite) in the Grade Two grand-national2015.co.uk Lightning Novices’ Chase.
A blunder three out handed the initiative to the Ruby Walsh-ridden Solar Impulse but Three Kingdoms battled back to win by a neck and give Ferguson a notable success.
“That’s our first Graded winner over fences so I’m delighted,” said Ferguson.
“He deserves to go in a Grade One next.”
McCoy was narrowly denied a treble when Mardale was worn down close home by Emma Lavelle’s Out Of The Mist (100-30) in the mares’ bumper.
Nicky Henderson’s Caracci Apache (9-2) stayed on from a long way back to collar Blaklion and Zeroeshadesofgrey in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, better known as the River Don. It gave conditional jockey Nico De Boinville another notable success.
“We know Blaklion is a class horse so that’s a good performance,” said De Boinville.
“This lad is the most uninspiring work-horse you’ve ever seen, but he’s thriving on the track. Why wouldn’t you be thinking of the Festival?”
De Boinville was hit with a four-day ban (February 7-10), though, for using his whip above the permitted level.
Karl Burke is better known for his Flat horses but he has a smart jumper on his hands in the shape of Intense Tango (6-1), a cosy winner of the OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle, which was won 12 months ago by Annie Power.
The four-year-old was in receipt of a handy weight allowance but she travelled supremely well in the hands of Brian Hughes.
Hobbs’ Royal Regatta (11-4) put a below-par effort at Newbury behind him when holding off Runswick Royal in the TRM-Excellence In Equine Nutrition Handicap Chase while Seaviper (16-1) landed the Skybet Tracker Home Of Cash Out Handicap Hurdle.
* Mick Appleby and Ali Rawlinson are a force to be reckoned with when teaming up at Southwell and Adili looks sure to be suited by the slight drop in trip for the 32Red.com Handicap on Tuesday.
Appleby is one of the most upwardly mobile trainers in the country, and he farms races at his local track on a regular basis.
Rawlinson is a very capable 5lb claimer and his allowance could be crucial in this contest as Adili has looked a little in the grip of the handicapper.
He was slightly unlucky at Southwell three starts back over this one-mile-six trip when beaten just half a length under Luke Morris but his last two runs have come at two miles which just seems to stretch him.
A beaten favourite the last twice, most recently at Chelmsford City, the return to Fibresand is also a plus. Rawlinson’s claim makes him of huge interest in a contest where only a couple of his rivals arrive in similar consistent form.
* Selections -
Southwell: 1.35 ADILI (NAP), 2.10 Abi Scarlet, 2.40 Megamunch, 3.10 Retaaj, 3.40 Putin, 4.10 Risk ‘N’ Reward.
Lingfield: 1.20 Sidbury Hill, 1.50 Volio Vincente, 2.20 Miss Sophierose, 2.50 Saint Raph, 3.20 Civil War, 3.50 Popaflora, 4.20 Clemency.
Taunton: 2.00 Flugzeug, 2.30 Remiluc, 3.00 Regal Flow, 3.30 Box Office, 4.00 Champagne N Caviar, 4.30 Twelve Strings.
Double: Adili and Reetaj.