Honours were just about even between Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls on the penultimate day of the battle for the National Hunt trainers’ championship yesterday.
Mullins landed an early blow as Rolly Baby ran out a comprehensive winner of the McCarthy & Stone Chase at Perth.
Having already been among the winners at the Scottish track this week, Mullins started £53,556 behind reigning champion Nicholls, who is seeking a 10th title.
Rolly Baby was a 2-1 shot for his assignment, after opening his account over fences in good style at Navan in February.
Paul Townend positioned the lightly-raced 11-year-old in behind the pacesetting Uhlan Bute for much of the two-and-a-half-mile event before taking over in the home straight and he had enough in reserve after the final fence to score by eight lengths.
The victory earned Mullins £9,097, reducing the deficit to £44,459, and meaning the Closutton maestro will kick off what promises to be an enthralling afternoon at Sandown today with prize-money of £2,275,660.
Nicholls had four runners at Chepstow in the bid to keep up his momentum.
Rainy City was the first Nicholls runner sent into battle and he was involved in a pulsating climax to division one of the Evan And Megan Brace Memorial Novices’ Hurdle.
The Sam Twiston-Davies-ridden six-year-old was one of three horses in line jumping the final flight and while he stuck to his guns well enough, he was eventually run out of it as 11-10 favourite Big Chief Benny claimed victory by a head from Beallandendall.
Rain City was just a further short-head away in third and picked up £572 for his efforts, to put Nicholls on £2,320,691.
Nicholls had strong claims of claiming top honours in division two, with Simon Squirrel the odds-on favourite at 5-6.
For much of the near two-and-a-half-mile journey everything seemed to be going according to plan, with the market leader jumping neatly out in front, but 9-2 shot Curious Carlos moved ominously into his slipstream halfway up the home straight.
Simon Squirrel remained in front but looked in trouble when he crashed out at the final flight, leaving Curious Carlos to cruise clear in the hands of Sean Bowen, scoring by six lengths from 100-1 chance Verygoodverygood.
The wait for a winner did not go on too long for Nicholls, however, as 7-2 joint-favourite Ruben Cotter took the Dunraven Windows Handicap Chase in decisive fashion, picking up a valuable £7,798 in the process.
Given a confident ride by Harry Cobden, the 10-year-old was always ideally positioned on the heels of the leaders and went second jumping the fourth-last before going on.Striding clear, he held a firm advantage three out and never looked like relinquishing it, pinging the last and coming home seven lengths clear of Purple ‘N Gold. That took Nicholls to £2,328,489 - a lead of £52,829.
And with Whispering Storm (9-4 favourite) finishing the night with a decent effort to take second place in the Braceys “The Friendly Builders Merchant” “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle, picking up £763, a final advantage of £53,592 means Team Ditcheat still hold the aces.
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