Iris’s Gift remains on course for a mouth-watering rematch with Baracouda after a promising seasonal reappearance at Haydock.
Jonjo O’Neill’s grey gelding, who pushed the French superstar all the way in the last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle, had to settle for second place behind stablemate Tardar in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle Qualifier.
However, after 10 months on the sidelines following a summer setback, the seven-year-old did more than enough to suggest he will again be a major player at the Cheltenham Festival.
Giving away upwards of 25lb to the rest of the field, Iris’s Gift jumped well and was prominent throughout before just being headed at the last by Tardar.
Coral reacted by clipping O’Neill’s runner into 7-2 from 9-2 to gain his revenge over Baracouda and the gelding’s jockey Barry Geraghty was also impressed.
He said: “You’ve got to be pleased with that for a first run back on that ground and with that much weight.
“He jumped superbly all the way round and was in with every chance as we entered the straight.”
The trainer’s wife Jacqui said: “It was lovely to have Iris’s Gift back and hopefully he will come out of this okay.”
Mrs O’Neill also sung the praises of winning jockey Elliott Cooper, although the 7lb claimer did pick up a one-day whip ban.
King Revo could also go to Cheltenham with a live chance in the JCB Triumph Hurdle after swooping late to win the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle by the shortest of margins from My Will.
JP McNamara was content to bide his time and take a wide course throughout before just managing to reel in French import My Will who had made a mess of the penultimate flight.
King Revo was making it four out of four over timber and Pat Haslam’s charge could go all the way to the top according to his jockey.
McNamara said: “I was just keeping him wide for the better ground and he still felt a little green. But he is a lovely horse and could well go places hopefully.”
Haslam’s wife Anne said: “He’ll be even better on better ground and while Cheltenham is a different ball game he is strong enough for it.”
Mr Cospector was likened to a heavyweight boxer by trainer Dai Williams after making most of the running to win the Evelyn and Geoffrey’s Golden Wedding Handicap Chase over three miles.
The seven-year-old mudlover had been off the course since winning at Plumpton in early December but showed great heart to see off several challenges in the home straight.
“He goes on any ground but loves it when it is soft,” said Williams.
“He’s like Mike Tyson, a real fighter.
“He’d stay five miles and I really think there is a big race to be won with him as long as the handicapper doesn’t murder him.”
With stylish amateur James Diment taking off a useful 7lb, the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase at Cheltenham was mooted as a possibility.
Foly Pleasant was heralded as a Coral Cup prospect by trainer Henrietta Knight after coming with a well-timed run under Jim Culloty to take the Rectangle Group Handicap Hurdle.
The trainer said: “He appreciated the drop in class and change of scenery after all those tough races at Cheltenham. He was also going well at Ascot last time until he got struck into and came back very sore.
“The Coral Cup is a definite alternative for him. He’ll probably go up a little bit for this but should still get in there with a nice weight.”
Gun’n Roses II was a smooth winner of the Walrus Hunters Chase after taking over from Torduff Express at the 10th fence.
Trainer Paul Keane said: “The drop in class suited him and we’ve had him out hunting and that has really freshened him up.
“You wouldn’t fancy him at home because he’s often a bit stiff and has a few problems but he’s a lovely horse and we could go to Aintree if the ground is right.”
The Bob Buckler-trained Rum Pointer took full advantage of a last-fence blunder by The Kew Tour to secure the Tern Hill Novices Chase after the pair had looked set for a battle.
Pass Me By outstayed Special Conquest after the final flight in the closing Red Square Vodka Fixed Brush Novices’ Hurdle to follow up his win here in November.
However, there was a sting in the tail for winning rider Robert Walford who received a three-day ban after being judged guilty of using his whip with excessive force and in the wrong place.
He will be out of action on February 25-27 inclusive.