Nine times champion trainer Paul Nicholls brought a strong team of horses to Warwick on Thursday as he looked to fend off the title challenge of Irishman Willie Mullins, writes David Hucker.
Nicholls, who had ten runners on the day divided between Warwick and Exeter, was not represented in the first division of the Close Brothers Maiden Hurdle, won in impressive style by 13-2 shot Holbrook Park.
Mullins had cut into Nicholls’ lead when taking the opening race at Perth, but the champion hit back in the second at Warwick as El Bandit led at the penultimate flight to beat 25-1 outsider Thady Quil by four lengths.
Zanstra came out on top in the Close Brothers Handicap Hurdle over two miles and three furlongs to make it 50 wins in what has been a stellar season for trainer Colin Tizzard, before Nicholls saddled two runners in the following Close Brothers Finance Handicap Hurdle .
It was The Eaglehaslanded, a six lengths winner at Cheltenham a week ago, who was sent off the even-money favourite to follow up and he stayed on strongly to beat City Supreme, to whom he was conceding 26lb.
Highlight of the card was the Class 2 Close Brothers Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase worth £25,000 and, although Mullins had made two entries, neither were declared to run.
Nicholls was represented by Stilleto, a faller at the Cheltenham Festival but previously successful in heavy ground at Leicester.
Although making much of the early running, he was headed four fences from home by Hollywoodien and Jayo Time.
Despite not being fluent at the last, it was Hollywoodien who proved the stronger, running on well for James Davies to score by three-and-a-half lengths.
Just six lined up for the afternoon’s longest race, the Close Brothers Handicap Chase over three miles and five furlongs, with Band Of Blood heading the betting, closely followed in the market by course winner Conas Taoi.
Conas Taoi was making his first appearance for four months when runner-up to Any Currency at Cheltenham the previous week and, ridden by Denis O’Regan, he comfortably recorded his seventh win of the season, beating Prideofthecastle.
The field for the Close Brothers Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race included the unraced duo of Brio Conti from the Nicholls stable and Asum trained by Dan Skelton, who has been the man to follow in this type of race of late.
But, try as he might, Asum could not add to the tally, going down to Irish point-to-point winner Clondaw Cracker, who made all the running under Noel Fehily.
Then, On The Bridge, who had made a winning hunters’ chase debut at Ludlow, took the finale, beating multiple point-to-point scorer Mr Madeit.