While Kempton yesterday was only about Kauto Star, 24 hours later Nicky Henderson reclaimed his dominant role with a high-profile double and three winners overall.
Henderson is by some way the leading jumps trainer at the Sunbury track and the pinnacle of his and Barry Geraghty’s afternoon came with Petit Robin in the williamhill.com Desert Orchid Chase.
It was a fine renewal of the Grade Two event with 5-2 favourite Petit Robin given another opportunity to challenge the popular Well Chief, who relegated him to third behind Master Minded in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Eventual faller Fix The Rib and Doctor David jostled for position for the first half of the two miles before Geraghty assumed prominence.
On the home turn Well Chief and Petit Robin had it between them but Geraghty always seemed to have Well Chief’s measure and in receipt of 2lb, he eventually beat him by three and three-quarter lengths.
Petit Robin was cut in the betting for the Champion Chase but Henderson said: “It was a good performance and a great ride from Barry as there was always going to be a lot of pace and he did very well to curtail him.
“It was a good start. We have always thought two and a half was his trip and he probably wants it. Barry thinks the race at Aintree (Melling Chase) would be perfect.
“He possibly wants to go left-handed, I know Cheltenham is left-handed and he’ll be entered for the Champion Chase but I wouldn’t think he would go.”
Henderson was not sure whether Petit Robin would go for the Ryanair Chase instead, as he has other options there.
Of Well Chief, owner David Johnson said: “It was another good run by the old warrior, he’s nearly 11 and still seems to love it.
“He’s better left-handed and the handicapper got it just right on the ratings.”
Henderson had won the williamhill.com Novices’ Chase – better known as the Wayward Lad – with some great names over the years like Remittance Man, Fondmort, Caracciola and Jack The Giant and he struck again with Riverside Theatre.
There is no reason why the gelding, part-owned by actor Jimmy Nesbitt, should not go on to enjoy a rewarding career himself but in essence little more was known about him here as he strolled 12 lengths clear of four rivals at odds of 1-2.
Henderson, who said: “I couldn’t be happier – again he jumped, travelled and quickened up well.
“He is very good fresh and I won’t be in a rush. Ideally I’d like to find one small novice chase in February for him somewhere, and then go to Cheltenham.”
Riverside Theatre is 10s for the Arkle with Sky Bet and totesport, 12s with Coral.
The team’s Strawberry (7-2 favourite) completed the haul in the williamhill.com - Bingo Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.
Henderson continued: “She had got to 140 over fences, which was getting dangerous, and this looked a nice race as she had not done anything over hurdles for a long time.
“She will go to stud in the spring so we’ll have some fun until then.”
Alan King has a stellar record in the Triumph Hurdle and was delighted by the performance of Mille Chief, long rumoured to be one of his best prospects for the race.
Mille Chief belongs to Max McNeill, the owner of this year’s Triumph runner-up Walkon – and was brought down when travelling nicely on his debut at Market Rasen a couple of months ago.
Mille Chief was made the 8-13 favourite for the williamhill.com – Blackjack Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle but had to dig deep to get away from Westlin’ Winds.
He is now right at the top of the Cheltenham betting at a general 12-1.
King said: “He was one of the worst affected by the problems we’ve had in the yard and was only just ready for the run. I think he should come on a ton for it.
“I’m relieved to get this out of the way. I think he’d need a couple more runs before Cheltenham and I’d imagine the Adonis Hurdle might be a target. I’m inclined to stick to the speed tracks for now.”
Fortification (12-1) rattled off a four-timer in the williamhill.com – Bonus 25 Handicap Chase, a welcome big prize for handler Nigel Hawke and amateur Matt Griffiths.
The effortless score by Ronaldo Des Mottes (5-1) in the williamhill.com - Casino Handicap Hurdle brought up what was reckoned to be Timmy Murphy’s 1,000th winner in Britain and Ireland, not that he was keeping records.
“Someone rang me the other day and it probably is, but I don’t know,” said Murphy.
“Including the Flat, I think I’ve ridden more than 1,200 so I’ll have to check on Monday.”