Halcon Genelardis continued his climb up the novice chasing ranks with a resounding victory at Wetherby which provided trainer Alan King with his 300th career success.
The progressive six-year-old won on his debut over fences at Warwick three weeks ago and was backed down to 5-6 to follow up in the totepool Towton Novices’ Chase.
The French-bred gelding jumped soundly for Wayne Hutchinson apart from a mistake at the last, but by that time he had the race in safe keeping and he galloped home 15 lengths clear of Preacher Boy.
Halcon Genelardis remained unchanged at 12-1 with William Hill and 14-1 with VC Bet for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
King’s assistant Noel Williams said: “Alan was mad keen to get him over fences because he was convinced he’d make a pretty smart chaser.
“He does tend to hit a flat spot, but he came back really strongly and was going like a winner turning in.
“There was a bit of a scare at the last. Wayne said there was nothing there and he just had to keep hold of him and get him to the other side of the fence.
“He’s got an entry in the SunAlliance and we might have to look at that, but like most of our top horses he wants soft ground. But he’s a nice prospect.”
Another horse who could require cut in the ground if he is to run at the Festival is Neptune Collonges, who romped home in the Brit Insurance Novices’ Hurdle.
The Paul Nicholls-trained gelding was sent off at 2-5 for the Grade Two contest and the favourite soon settled down in the lead.
After shaking off the attentions of Rimsky after the third-last, he drew readily clear to land the money by seven lengths in the hands of Christian Williams.
The powerfully-built grey is entered in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, but if he gets his favoured soft going at the Festival he is likely to be aimed at the three-mile Brit Insurance Novices’ Hurdle.
“That should put him right for Cheltenham,” said owner John Hales.
“The thing I liked about that performance was that he relaxed from the start. He couldn’t get a lead off anyone so he did it all himself.
“I would be a bit uncertain about the ground at Cheltenham, but if he did go I would think it would be for the three-mile novice hurdle.
“He does stay well and he’s a super jumper, but I wouldn’t want normal Cheltenham ground for him.”
Leighton Aspell gave Claymore a polished ride to land the totesport 0800 221 221 Handicap Chase.
Oliver Sherwood’s consistent performer had run with credit at Carlisle last month and he improved on that effort to beat Better Days by a length and a half after being produced to lead at the penultimate fence.
Claymore could now go in search of a big prize at Newbury next month.
Sherwood said: “That was very pleasing because he jumped superbly.
“I don’t think he quite got home at Carlisle on desperate ground and Leighton rode him more positively today.
“He’ll probably have a crack at the Vodafone Gold Cup at Newbury just before Cheltenham. We’ll see what the handicapper does, but that will probably be his next race.”
Denvale put up a fine display of jumping to take the Wilmot-Smith Memorial Cup and could now be bound for the Christie’s Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham.
Rowan Cope sent the 4-1 shot to the front after the sixth fence and never putting a foot wrong – unlike most of his rivals – he galloped away to win by three lengths from Marrasit.
Trainer Caroline Bailey said: “He just gallops and stays and likes the cut in the ground.
“He’s a super jumper and that’s why we’ve come hunter chasing rather than go down the point-to-point route.
“He won at Towcester last year and we thought he’d go on but he wasn’t right over the last couple of months of the season. Hopefully we’ve got him back to his best.
“We’ll try and get another run into him probably at Warwick or Haydock and then we’ll see about Cheltenham but he would need cut in the ground.”
Flake was another whose sound jumping proved crucial when he ran out a possibly fortunate winner of the Richard Whiteley Memorial Handicap Hurdle.
Sue Smith’s diminutive gelding took over four flights from home but was being strongly pressed by Turbo at the last when that rival blundered and unseated Thomas Greenall, leaving Flake to score by five lengths from Eborarry.
There was a turn up in the toteexacta Handicap Hurdle when 25-1 chance Albany ran out the eight-length winner for conditional Brian Hughes and trainer Howard Johnson.
Johnson was represented by his wife Sue, who said: “Brian has been a great asset to the yard. He’s an absolute star and most importantly he listens to everything Howard tells him.”
Sherwood and Aspell were just denied a double when their runner, Mount Sandel, was beaten a short head by Kealshore Lad in the Phantom European Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.