Josses comes of age in Peterborough
The time and patience given to Josses Hill by trainer Nicky Henderson was at long last vindicated with a victory that marked his coming of age over fences in the Betfred Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon.
Josses Hill was an impressive winner at Huntingdon
Much had been expected on his switch to larger obstacles at the start of the 2014-15 campaign, but the eight-year-old had mostly failed to live up to his tall billing, despite finishing third in that season's Arkle Trophy at Cheltenhham.
After enjoying a confidence-boosting victory in a two-horse graduation chase at Kempton on his previous start, the Alan Spence-owned gelding was sent off the 7/4 favourite to claim Grade Two honours.
Although jumping the first two big, just as he has done in a number of his previous outings, Noel Fehily quickly got the market leader into a good rhythm at the head of the field in a bid to dictate matters.
Despite being joined at the penultimate fence by Dodging Bullets, the Grade Two-winning hurdler quickly saw off the attentions of the former Champion Chase hero on the run down to the last, with last year's Feltham winner Tea For Two moving through as the major threat.
Showing too many gears for the Nick Williams-trained runner Josses Hill maintained his gallop to cross the line with six lengths in hand, giving Henderson his fifth success in the two-and-a-half-mile affair.
A thrilled Henderson said: "That was excellent. He is getting it together again. He has won two of those introductory chases at Kempton and they really set him up.
"Everything was in his favour. Two and a half miles is his trip, good ground is crucial and right handed probably helps.
"It would be quite interesting to try him over further and see what he gets. Where I do that, I don't know. We will try to get a little bit further and see how much we can edge on with the trip.
"He is not in the King George, so no, he won't go for that. You need to stay in that.
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"That's the obvious race (Ascot Chase), but ground is going to be an issue. He is on the up again."
The victory completed a memorable weekend for owner Spence, who is a vice-president at Premier League club Chelsea, having watched his side defeat Manchester City just 24 hours earlier.
Spence said: "He did it impressively. He enjoyed it. He pricked his ears and bounded away at the end of it. He dictated the race and Noel gave him a great ride.
"He is not a bad jumper, he just jumps everything differently but is getting the knack of doing it.
"You can see by the way he ran and from what the jockey said that he would probably get a bit further, but going up four furlongs to three miles is a long way.
"As it stands the Ryanair would be the race for him at Cheltenham. It's nice way to end the weekend."
Lizzie Kelly, rider of Tea For Two, pointed to a step back up in trip for the King George as the seven-year-old's next port of call.
She said: "Coming here we were unsure of a lot of things – trip, ground and competition – but he was really good, as he has so little experience in comparison to the others.
"He jumped absolutely fantastic the whole way round and he made up ground easily. He didn't quite have that turn of foot to get there.
"This was all a prep run for the King George. Hopefully he will run really well."
As for third-placed More Of That, connections, despite being disappointed, felt it was a step in the right direction after he was pulled up when favourite for the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month.
Sir Anthony McCoy, representing owner JP McManus, said: "He has run better than at Cheltenham. It's progress, but it's a long way off what we are hoping for from him.
"We are still a bit disappointed, but it is progress. Hopefully he will improve again. He would need to, but at least he finished the race well."
Sky Bet reacted by making Josses Hill a 14/1 chance (from 25/1) for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham in March and the firm's representative Michael Shinners said: "Josses Hill has been called some names in the past and his fencing technique isn't for everyone, but it was good to see him put it all together.
"He was actually really impressive in the end and although a well-held eighth behind Vautour in last season's Ryanair, that's his only defeat since falling at Sandown in December 2015 and he looks very capable of improving on that effort in March."
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