Classified is third favourite for the Bonusprint Stayers’ Hurdle after coming through his Cheltenham preparations with victory at Fontwell.
Martin Pipe’s seven-year-old remains 7-1 third with Ladbrokes for his Festival target after landing the odds in the Collins Stewart National Spirit Hurdle.
The slow early pace, dictated by Alka International and Telimar Prince, aided neither Classified nor his principal opponent Stromness, who was receiving 4lbs.
However, Tony McCoy, employing a now familiar course tactic, dashed Classified into the lead on the downhill run to the fourth last flight and from there repelled persistent Telimar Prince, stretching the advantage to a length-and-a-half at the line.
Owner David Johnson considered that Classified emerged with due credit. “It was a muddling sort of race and we were on a hiding to nothing,” he said.
“It was a bit of gamble coming here but my good friends put the race on and encouraged me to come, so we had a runner and we’ve got the prize money.
“It was really only a two-mile race and it developed into a sprint. Tony said he’d love to see sectional times from the home bend to the finishing line. But it was a nice prep race for the Festival.
He will come on for the race, there’s no doubt about that. He wasn’t spot on today.”
Baracouda is 2-1 favourite with Ladbrokes to retain the Stayers’ Hurdle ahead of Limestone Lad at 5-2 and Classified at 7-1.
“That’s probably where he should be,” added Johnson. “He did it well enough today and I think he’s a knocking bet to be in the frame. But then I’ve had better than 7-1!”
Stromness proved a major disappointment, being badly outpaced when the tempo increased approaching the third last flight and beating only one horse home, 17 lengths behind Classified.
Dejected trainer Alan King said: “We elected to drop him in so we can’t really complain, but it was a complete farce.”
Kim Bailey saddled his first winners for a month with Top Buck and Cedar Green, who returned a 29-1 plus double.
Top Buck opened the scoring when he edged out Bicycle Thief in the cantorindex.co.uk Novice Chase having survived a last-fence blunder under JP McNamara, while Cedar Green, the mount of Des Flavin, came again to overhaul Kildorragh and take the British Equestrian Insurance Brokers Handicap Chase by 13 lengths.
“We’ve had a lot of horses coughing and all the ones running here have had it, so this is an important day to show they are all right,” said Bailey.
“But it’s no surprise they have been coughing with this weather. It was 65 degrees last month and on Christmas Day we were having drinks outside – mind you, they were strong ones!”
Cedar Green was finding success on his third outing of the season with his options severely restricted by Towcester’s temporary closure.
“Towcester suits him. It’s the owners’ favourite course and they bought him to run there,” said Bailey.
“We’ve taken him to Wetherby and Warwick this season but neither of them are his course.”