Sam Thomas put a miserable couple of weeks behind him as he rode a double at Wincanton.
The 24-year-old has endured a luckless run that included final-fence departures on Kauto Star and Big Buck’s in high-profile races.
Both his mounts at Folkestone on Monday came down and the pressure had been mounting, so much so that connections of leading two-mile chaser Master Minded have employed the services of Tony McCoy in the Tingle Creek at Sandown on Saturday.
However, riding Pepite De Soleil in the South West Racing Club Juvenile Novices’ for Paul Nicholls he could not have asked for an easier success.
The three-year-old French import had won a Listed race on her only other start over obstacles at Auteuil in September. Sent off the 2-11 favourite, she coasted home to win by a distance and no doubt settle a few of Thomas’ nerves.
The winner was cut to 16-1 from 25s for the Triumph Hurdle by Victor Chandler.
“It was great to see her win, she did it nicely,” said Nicholls. “She’ll probably run at Leopardstown or Chepstow next when we step her up in class over Christmas.
“It was great to give Sam a winner after all that has gone on. The fact that he made it a double was ideal.”
The Thomas brace was completed by Venetia Williams’ Lightning Strike in the weatherbysshop.co.uk Beginners’ Chase.
Even-money favourite along with Alan King’s Tarotino, once that rival dropped away tamely three from home the five-year-old coasted home in his own time.
Good enough to finish sixth in the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle last March, he could be a smart recruit to fences, with Victor Chandler introducing him into their betting for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at 25-1, despite a few hairy leaps.
“I think it was the downhill fence each time, he got in a little tight but apart from that he was very good,” said Williams.
“The soft ground suited him nicely, they went a nice easy pace and he could pop away.
“He’s done everything right to encourage us and I think it was more nerve wracking for the owner and myself than it was for Sam.
“You can’t find any easy races these days but we’ll certainly be looking for another novice chase without getting over-excited at this stage.”
There was a poignant win in the Bathwick Tyres Taunton ’NH’ Novices’ Handicap Hurdle as Hearty Dove (5-1) collected for the Price family.
Carrying the colours made famous by Champion Hurdle heroine Flakey Dove in 1994, Richard Johnson drove her out for a four-and-a-half-length success.
Hearty Dove’s dam is a half-sister to Flakey Dove.