Capitaine bosses Supreme Trial
Capitaine led his rivals a merry dance to win the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle at Ascot for Paul Nicholls.
The four-year-old was an impressive winner of a Wincanton bumper last spring and made a successful start to his jumping career at the same venue in early November.
However, he came up short in Listed company at Haydock on his latest appearance and was a 9/1 shot in what appeared a competitive Grade Two contest.
With the early pace sedate, Sam Twiston-Davies allowed Capitaine to stride on at the head of affairs and gradually upped the ante.
Keep In Line loomed up as a big danger rounding the home turn and looked likely to prevail after joining the leader between the final two flights.
But Capitaine found extra and stayed on well after pinging the final flight to score by three and a half lengths.
Captain Forez finished strongly to take second spot from Keep In Line.
The Nicky Henderson-trained pair of Thomas Campbell and Lough Derg Spirit were disappointing, with Barry Geraghty hard at work aboard the former from a long way out.
Twiston-Davies told Racing UK: "There wasn't much pace on and he's quite buzzy so we thought he'd relax a bit better in front. He jumped nicely in front so it was a good plan from the boss, which as paid off.
"I think the last day we really hoped he'd win so coming here was all about learning more about him and. He's a good stayer so fingers crossed he's got a bright future and the way he jumps he looks like he'll make a lovely chaser."
Nicholls added: "I always thought he was a smart horse and he won his bumper well last year and then hosed up at Wincanton.
"I got the tactics wrong at Haydock, it was heavy ground and he was a bit keen. I told Harry Cobden to drop him in that day and he couldn't pick up the winner on that ground, but he learnt a lot.
"I told Sam if there was no pace in the race to let him bowl along and try and dictate from the front because all he does is stay.
"If he'd not have run at Haydock he'd have been half the price today. I was deliberating that day whether to the run him, but it has not been lost on him.
"He has a hood on, just to shut the noise out and keep the lid on him. As he matures he'll settle better. Riding him from the front was ideal."
The sponsors cut the winner from 50/1 to 20/1 for the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival in March – the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle – and representative Michael Shinners said: "There were only six runners in the second trial in the road to the Supreme series but there apppeared plenty of depth to it beforehand with Nicky Henderson saddling a couple of likely types in Thomas Campbell and Lough Derg Spirit, who ultimately couldn't get into it.
Asked about a tilt at the Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser, which he has won twice before with Noland (2006) and Al Ferof (2011), the champion trainer said: "If he keeps going, why not?
"He's no different to Al Ferof or Noland, he's got plenty of speed and I can see him in the Arkle next season."