Colonel Frank turned in a brilliant round of jumping to make every yard in the williamhill.co.uk Future Stars Chase, the highlight of a fine day’s action at Sandown Park today.
The admittedly small but highly select turnout for the five-runner contest featured some classy performers but despite being sent off the 9-4 favourite, it was Colonel Frank who arguably had most to prove as he took a notable step up in grade.
However, the seven-year-old, trained in Hampshire by Grand National winning-jockey Brendan Powell, did everything that could have been expected and more, with rider JP McNamara taking the race to his rivals right from the start.
Colonel Frank was never more than three lengths clear but he jumped superbly throughout while his rivals made errors.
Calling Brave, who was giving the winner 10lb, tried to mount a challenge and loomed upsides on the run to the last but ruined his chance with a blunder which sent him sprawling on all fours and which Mick Fitzgerald did well to survive.
Regaining his momentum quickly, Calling Brave set out to try again to reel in the leader but this was to be Colonel Frank’s day and he went on win by a length and three-quarters.
A delighted Powell, celebrating the biggest win of his four years as a trainer, said: “I suppose we’ll have to look at the Gold Cup. We’ll stick him in and see what happens because you could be tempted if it came up fast ground.
“Coming back here for the Betfred Gold Cup is another possible long-term plan as he’d be able to bowl along and jump.
“We might also have to consider Punchestown because the ground’s rarely too slow there by that time of the season and I’ve had some luck there in the past.
“He’s owned by some local hunting people. I’m really pleased they have got such a nice horse.
“He’s done it nicely and he’ll have a holiday now.”
Connections of all of the first four home expressed themselves pleased with the performances of their charges.
Calling Brave’s trainer Nicky Henderson said: “He’s run a great race. It was going to be close but Mick had to go and ask him at the last if we were going to win.
“He should improve and the King George is still the plan. We just had to take a bit of a pull with him for 10 days when we were trying to get him ready for Windsor and that probably cost him today.”
William Hill are best-priced about Calling Brave for that race at 20-1, with Coral going 14-1 from 25-1, totesport 12-1 from 14-1 and Victor Chandler just 10-1 from 16-1.
Also cut was third-home Lord Sam, who finished just a length behind the runner-up despite some untidy jumps in the second half of the contest.
Trainer Victor Dartnall’s brother Gerald said: “After Wetherby (where Lord Sam fell) the most important thing today was to get him round and to finish as close as we have done is very pleasing.
“He’ll improve plenty for this run and we know that he likes Kempton so I imagine he will go for King George.”
Lord Sam is a 14-1 chance with totesport from 16-1.
Trainer Noel Chance, whose Murphy’s Cardinal finished fourth, also seemed pleased with the performance of his representative.
“It was just inexperience that beat him,” Chance said. “I think we’ll give the King George a miss, but I could not be much more pleased with him. He made a couple of little mistakes but we can iron that out with time.”
Fitzgerald was banned for two days (December 14 and 15) for careless riding on Calling Brave.
Ladalko justified favouritism for trainer Paul Nicholls and jockey Ruby Walsh in the William Hill Winter Novices’ Hurdle.
Walsh had the five-year-old towards the rear of the field in the early stages before bringing him through to lead at the second-last flight.
The 5-4 shot had enough in hand to hold No Refuge, who blew his chance with untidy jumping, by a length and a half. Lady Zephyr stuck on well for third, half a length away.
Joint-owner Paul Barber said: “He’ll be a real chaser one day. If I had my way he will stay over hurdles, but the trainer and owner have had some arguments about that.
“He’s only a five-year-old with a big future ahead of him.”
Ladalko was installed at 14-1 for the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle by Paddy Power after the race, but of more interest may be the 20-1 about No Refuge, whose jumping kinks can surely be ironed out with time.
“He’s good, just really green,” said No Refuge’s trainer Howard Johnson. “We’ll give him some more practice but we’ve only had him for five weeks.
“It takes some doing getting these Flat horses to jump. It’s costing me a fortune to keep rebuilding the fences they demolish at home!”
Johnson did at least have the compensation of a winner when Boy’s Hurrah took the Esher News And Mail Handicap Chase to complete a double for Tony Dobbin.
Dobbin had initiated his brace when Calomeria provided a rare winner at the course for Grand National legend Ginger McCain in the BBC Southern Counties Radio Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle.
The 8-1 shot battled bravely to hold Papini by half-a-length with Hunorisk a length back in third.
After greeting the winner, the Cholmondeley trainer said: “She jumped all right today but she wasn’t pinging her hurdles like she can.
“Tony got off her last time and said he thought she was a bit of a madam and I think he might be right. She was ’in use’ (in season) then and she might have been as well today judging by the way she was backing off some of her hurdles.
“But she has got some talent and she should stay further than this as well.
“She was a bit dearer than I wanted to pay but she has won three nice races and we’ll look at the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow at the end of the month for her.”
Melford gamely held Manbow in a thrilling finish to the opening williamhillcasino.com Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Timmy Murphy brought Henrietta Knight’s victorious charge to lead at the final fence but Manbow would not give in lightly.
They fought it out up the hill with Melford (7-2) gaining the day by a neck, Father Abraham nine lengths away in third.
The winner appeared not to stay when fifth over three miles last time and appreciated the drop back to an extended 20 furlongs here.
Terry Biddlecombe, the successful trainer’s husband, said: “He didn’t get the trip last time but he’ll always dig deep for you and I think that was a very good performance.
“I think he’s a very nice staying chaser in the making. I’d be confident he’d get three miles with another year on his back.”
The concluding H&V News National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle fell to 25-1 chance Murphy’s Quest, who came with a late rattle under Leighton Aspell to deny Without A Doubt.