Ruby Walsh needed to put his skills to use for less than six minutes at Kempton but his visit was more than worthwhile as his sole ride Nycteos captured the intercasino.co.uk Lanzarote Hurdle.
Punters had noticed Walsh’s decision to compete at the Sunbury track rather than at Warwick and the chestnut was returned the 7-4 favourite after a gritty victory.
Nycteos’ workaholic trainer Paul Nicholls was on a rare holiday in Dubai but it is clearly business as usual and another big Saturday winner for the country’s leading yard.
In typical Walsh style the course and distance scorer sneaked into contention turning for home but when hitting the front before the last, he seemed to find little on the stamina-sapping surface.
This gave Kawagino another chance but the ever-luckless top-weight could not quite pick off his rival and conceded victory by half a length.
“He was just idling in front at the end,” said Walsh.
“He wasn’t actually travelling that well through the race, but when I asked him to go he picked up again and they don’t normally do that in this ground.
“He could be one to come back here for the Racing Post Chase.”
Walsh’s view was echoed by Nycteos’ owner Andy Stewart, as the useful jumper was really only running to take advantage of a favourable handicap mark over the smaller obstacles.
“There is also the Scoop6 Sandown Hurdle Paul won last year with Taranis, but he was much better in than we would be,” added Stewart.
“I think we will go for the Racing Post Chase and regarding the Cheltenham Festival, the Racing Post Plate would be the race again.
“He’s only seven this horse and one day I’d like to think he’ll win a really good staying chase.”
Kawagino, once fifth in the Champion Hurdle, is likely to test his mettle in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle this time.
Another with an eye on the future was Ferdy Murphy, whose presence to saddle Dancer’s Serenade (7-2) was noteworthy in the intercasino.co.uk Handicap Hurdle.
Following his charge’s emphatic six-length triumph, the Leyburn trainer reported: “He’ll go for the Schweppes (now Totesport Trophy).
“He will need to go up seven or eight pounds to get in, so for once I won’t be complaining if the handicapper puts him up a bit.”
William Hill promptly cut Dancer’s Serenade to 25-1 from 40s for the Newbury handicap.
Gary Moore’s fancied Panjo Bere was only a meagre sixth in the Lanzarote, a race the trainer has a fine record in, but he had the consolation of a double on the card, plus another success at Warwick.
Moore’s son Jamie booted home both Shardakhan (14-1) to take the intercasino.co.uk Novices’ Handicap Chase followed by Randwick Roar (8-1) in the same sponsors’ two-and-a-half mile handicap chase.
The novice event was tarnished by an unsavoury ban for Wayne Kavanagh, suspended for eight days (January 23 – 30) for continuing to persevere with eventual faller Heynewboy when the horse was exhausted.
Another Kempton winner was almost inevitable for Nicky Henderson and Mick Fitzgerald and it came as Royals Darling (7-4) showed laudable determination on his fencing debut in the intercasino.co.uk Novices’ Chase.
The 13-8 favourite Presenting Copper forced Fitzgerald into action from half a mile out but Royals Darling responded with vigour, eventually pulling eight lengths away from his rival.
“He’s just got to believe in himself a little, because he’s always had the talent,” said Henderson.
“They went a good gallop and I think he wants a step up in trip.”
Tom George’s Zanir (3-1) was dropping down in class from taking on Harper Valley and Franchoek last time and it showed as he took the intercasino.co.uk Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle with a deal of conviction.
There will surely be a toast to the late David Nicholson after Rodrigo Gonzales struck in the intercasino.co.uk Novices’ Hurdle in the colours of his widow, Dinah.
Both trainer Martin Keighley and rider Warren Marston are graduates of the academy of ’The Duke’, while the 11-4 favourite knuckled down well to get the better of Prince de Bersy.
“There is a lot to like about this horse and I am very excited about him for next season when he’ll be a real chaser,” said Keighley.