El Bandit steals Showcase opener

The news from the opening day of the Showcase meeting at Cheltenham, where El Bandit took the opener under Sean Bowen.

El Bandit ridden by Sean Bowen (right) on his way to victory in the Neptune Investment Management Novices€' Hurdle ahead of Black Warrior (nearest).

El Bandit gave champion trainer Paul Nicholls a 12th winner within the space of a week as jumps racing made a welcome return at Cheltenham.

Having claimed the Grade Two Persian War at Chepstow on his latest start – his fourth win on the bounce – the five-year-old made the most of a drop in class when he gamely stuck out his neck to land the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.

Chief market rival Black Warrior looked to have El Bandit's measure, but the 6-5 favourite found plenty on the run-in to overhaul Charles Byrnes' inmate by three-quarters of a length.

Nicholls said: "He's not one to take to the front and he needs a pace to come off.

"Sean Bowen did the right thing by kicking on and although he was off it (the bridle), I was always confident he would stay on strongly.

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"I didn't want to run him as he had a hard race last time and it was only on Thursday that we decided to run as he loses his novice status next month.

"He was not at his best, but he got away with it. He will have a break now and will go three miles next time. He might have another hurdle race or he could go over fences."

Nicholls secured a quickfire double as Marracudja made it two wins from as many starts over fences in the Squareintheair.com Novices' Chase.

Left to his own devices out in front, just as he was at Newton Abbot on his chasing debut, the 3/1 favourite had enough in reserve to take the two-mile prize by a neck from the fast-finishing Presenting Arms.

Nicholls said: "I knew he would be in a little bit of trouble here. He is a free-running sort and there was a chance that the hill might catch him out. That might be the only time this season that he runs here.

"It's not the ideal track and he will be better off round a speed track like a Sandown, Kempton or Aintree. He is a good horse and is only five.

"He will probably go for the Henry VIII at Sandown, then to Kempton for the Wayward Lad at Kempton over Christmas.

"His two targets later on will be Aintree and Punchestown. Aintree is made for him when he is fresh."

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