Dan Skelton’s arrival to the training ranks has been little less than astonishing as Willow’s Saviour brought about his 15th and considerably most important winner in The Ladbroke at Ascot.
It is under than four months since Skelton sent out the first runner from his purpose-built stable in Warwickshire and, on this occasion, he was beating his long-term mentor Paul Nicholls, whose Ptit Zig finished four lengths behind in second.
Staged in near-dusk as the final event of a gloomy day, Willow’s Saviour powered through the mud under the trainer’s brother, Harry, as a well-backed 10-1 chance from the bottom of the handicap.
An 11-race maiden when with the eminently capable Charlie Longsdon, the six-year-old is now unbeaten in three starts for new connections, over this course last month and when sent up to Musselburgh in order to secure his berth in the £150,000 event.
“It hasn’t really sunk in, I’ve experienced big days with Paul but it’s completely different when you’re doing it on your own,” said Skelton.
“I watched the race with Paul and I turned to him and just turned to him and said, ’Sorry’. I owe that man so much, and without him there’s no way I would be in this position.
“He sneaked in at the bottom and Harry has had a dream run. It’s just fantastic.
“He had a wind op in the summer but I can’t explain the progress of the horse.
“I will probably put him away until the Betfair Hurdle and he’ll get a few entries for the Festival, but the horse owes us nothing already.
“Hopefully I’ll train plenty of good horses in my career, but I’ll never forget Willow’s Saviour, that’s for sure.”
Harry Skelton was given a two-day whip ban (January 5-6).
Reve De Sivola repeated his achievement of 12 months ago by galloping his rivals into submission in the Wessex Youth Trust Long Walk Hurdle.
Nick Williams’ eight-year-old was a Grade One winner in France last month and is a formidable stayer on an easy surface, stringing his rivals out under Richard Johnson.
Reve De Sivola, though, was a 9-4 shot against last season’s top novice and 8-11 At Fishers Cross, who was attempting to leave behind a curious performance on his reappearance in the Long Distance Hurdle but his jumping seemed to have deteriorated even further since Newbury.
At Fishers Cross hardly timed any of the flights well but reached a nadir at the last, which he met completely wrong and jettisoned Tony McCoy.
Reve De Sivola is now 12-1 with the sponsors for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, which he was fourth in last season.
Williams said: “He crashed through a couple of them, but on softer ground like this, he can really let himself down.
“I don’t think we’ll go for the Cleeve Hurdle again, but we will go for the World Hurdle.
“Perhaps if we can also find him an easier race in February, that might be the way to go.”
Connections of Salubrious, who finished 10 lengths back in second, might also feel a little hard done by as the six-year-old made a costly gaffe two out when seemingly still full of running.
Trainer Nicholls said: “The jockey (Daryl Jacob) thought if he hadn’t missed the second-last, he would have won.
“But it’s still a decent effort and we know we’ve got plenty of staying options for him.”
Even-money favourite Easter Day gave Nicholls his fourth David Johnson Memorial Shawbrook Graduation Chase in a row by fending off his fellow novice O’Faolains Boy.
“It’s nice to win David’s race,” said the trainer.
“He was a great owner and a great man who is missed by everyone.
“I’m not sure this horse would be quick enough for Cheltenham, we’ll find some staying handicaps. I thought he ran a little flat today.”
Hennessy hero Triolo D’Alene was a notable absentee due to the ground in the Mappin & Webb Silver Cup Handicap Chase, leaving Aidan Coleman’s mount Houblon Des Obeaux to valiantly justify 6-4 favouritism over Cedre Bleu, who faltered when upsides on the run-in.
Trainer Venetia Williams said: “With a circuit to go I thought, ’He doesn’t win’, but it was a great ride from Aidan.
“I’ve seen Cedre Bleu run like that before and Aidan said that when he came to his quarters, Houblon found more.”
Josies Orders (6-1) looks a future staying chaser for Jonjo O’Neill as Tony McCoy took a wide route in the Foundation Developments Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.
Top darts player Michael van Gerwen was among those present on a miserable afternoon, and Adam Wedge helped 14-1 chance Lancetto hit the bullseye in the BGC Partners Handicap Chase.