Scottish trainer Donal Whillans was back in the winner’s enclosure after a lengthy absence with a telling success in the Guiness Handicap Hurdle at Newcastle.
The Hawick-based handler had gone 283 days without a victory over obstacles but finally came up trumps as Mr Midaz put up a fine display of jumping to score at odds of 13-2.
Whillans’ charge made a pleasing return to the course at Ayr earlier in the month and consolidated upon that outing by brushing aside Haditovski’s renewed challenge to land the two-mile event by one and a quarter lengths.
“There’s been coughing in my yard and it’s been a difficult time but hopefully we’ve turned the corner,” explained Whillans.
“He’s won four times now, once on good ground at Musselburgh and now on horrible ground here, so he’s quite versatile.
“He seems to be getting stronger all the time – just like all of my horses, touch wood.”
Meanwhile, Woodford Consult showed good speed on the run-in to take the opening Continental Finance Mares’ Only Maiden Hurdle.
Mick Easterby’s filly was not without support in the market – having been backed in from 11-1 to 11-2 – and rewarded her followers with a convincing one and three-quarters of a length success from Nobodys Perfect.
“She got a bit moody around the first circuit but really enjoyed herself on the soft ground and jumped well,” reported Trevor Walters Thompson, representative of successful owners The Woodford Group.
Howard Johnson’s short-priced favourite One More Time, second over course and distance on her penultimate start, faded tamely on this occasion despite disputing the lead four from home.
There was more bad news for Johnson in the bet365.com Novices’ Hurdle as Calin Royal, who had finished second on his racecourse debut at Doncaster in December, blundered three from home and had to be pulled up.
The race was won by 4-6 favourite Cash And New, who landed the three-mile event under a determined ride from Richard Johnson.
Richard Phillips’ seven-year-old, beaten a neck at Warwick last time out, was always close to the pace and edged past Notaproblem after the final flight before holding on by two and a half lengths from the fast-finishing Pride Of Finewood.
“He’s big, strong and still learning but he’ll win his races,” said Phillips’ assistant Gordon Clarkson.
“He’ll probably have a little rest now because this race and the Warwick race were quite close and he could do with a break.”
Johnson incurred the wrath of the stewards, however, after he was suspended for one day (January 29) for excessive use of the whip aboard the winner.
Bingley-based trainer Sue Smith is having a fine campaign and racked up another winner when Farington Lodge landed the Miller Homes Handicap Chase.
The eight-year-old unseated Dominic Elsworth at Sedgefield in December but was foot-perfect this time around with a solid round of jumping from pillar to post.
Sent off at odds of 5-1, Farington Lodge fought out a rare tussle with Celtic Flow half a mile from home before stamping his authority on proceedings with a good leap at the penultimate fence.
A few gentle reminders from Elsworth had the desired effect as his partner strode to the line with eight lengths in hand from Celtic Flow.
“It was no sort of race as there was no gallop and little pace but he’s done it well enough,” said Elsworth, who was registering his 31st winner of the season.
“I couldn’t see how far ahead I was after we stretched clear but he felt in good order all the way.”