Aztec on festive trail

Connections of Aztec Warrior are contemplating a run at the Cheltenham Festival with the six-year-old after his comfortable victory in the Betfred “The Bonus King” Novices’ Chase at Wincanton.

Connections of Aztec Warrior are contemplating a run at the Cheltenham Festival with the six-year-old after his comfortable victory in the Betfred “The Bonus King” Novices’ Chase at Wincanton.

Henrietta Knight’s 5-2 shot jumped well for Timmy Murphy and was set to fight out a nip-and-tuck finish with Mister Quasimodo over the final three fences.

But the latter failed to clear the third-last and parted company with Joe Tizzard, leaving Aztec Warrior to beat the 6-4 favourite Opera de Coeur by five lengths.

Knight’s husband Terry Biddlecombe said: “It is hard to say whether the other horse would have beaten us as his jockey was just getting after him going to the third-last.

“He could well go to Cheltenham and he will have an entry in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase.”

Paul Nicholls rarely leaves his local track without a winner and he again made sure that was the case when landing the feature Betfred Novices’ Handicap Chase with Nippy Des Mottes.

The six-year-old only had two others to beat in the two-mile event and after being giving a patient ride by Ruby Walsh, the 3-1 shot led two from home and crossed the line two and a half lengths clear of Sunley Shines.

Nicholls said: “I was nervous about running him as he had a lot of weight and this wasn’t his ground.”

Fredensborg opened his account under Sam Thomas when a fortunate winner in division one of the betfredcasino.com Maiden Hurdle.

The 9-4 favourite had been relegated to second on the run to the final flight by Lead On, but the newcomer took a crashing fall over the obstacle, leaving Venetia Williams’ charge clear to beat Habanero by four lengths.

Williams said: “He will go chasing, but we might leave that until next season as it is getting late.”

Raslan defied negative market vibes as the 11-8 favourite and provided Murphy with a double in the betfredcasino.com Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle.

Trainer David Pipe said: “There have been a few strong juvenile races of late, but this probably wasn’t one of them. He will probably have an entry in both the Fred Winter and the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.”

South Wales-based Helen Lewis sent out her first winner in the shape of Celtic Major, who sprung a 50-1 shock in the betfredpoker.com Handicap Hurdle.

The nine-year-old grey had been winless during his time with Jonjo O’Neill and Peter Bowen, but got off the mark with an all-the-way success under Andrew Glassonbury.

Lewis said: “I have had him since I got my licence in November and this was a big surprise.”

Giles Smyly was another trainer to notch his maiden success as Le Burf (20-1) careered away for a 10-length victory in division two of the maiden hurdle.

Smyly said: “This is my second season training and my first winner. I wasn’t expecting it, but we always thought he was a nice horse.”

Robert Alner sent out the Daryl Jacob-ridden Portland Bill (3-1) to repeat his course and distance win of three runs ago when he obliged in the betfred.com Novices’ Hurdle.

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