Old Guard wins over fences
Old Guard was made to pull out all the stops to open his account over fences at the second attempt at Exeter.
Old Guard: Exeter winner
Winner of both the Greatwood and the International Hurdle at Cheltenham last season, the Paul Nicholls-trained five-year-old then finished fourth to the mighty Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton before missing the rest of the campaign.
His comeback and chasing debut at Newton Abbot earlier this month was over almost as soon as it started, with a serious mistake at the very first fence prompting Sam Twiston-Davies to swiftly pull him up.
With Old Guard none the worse, he turned out just 11 days later for the 188Bet Best Mate Beginners' Chase and was a 1-2 favourite to reignite his career.
It was not plain sailing for the market leader, who did not always convince in the jumping department, and he looked destined for defeat after making a mess of the fourth fence from the finish.
However, to his credit, he managed to regain his momentum and reeled in Imperial Presence on the run-in to score by a neck under Nick Scholfield.
Nicholls said: "He's won, which is what the aim of the game was today.
"He jumped a bit novicey, but to be fair to him, after the mistake he made at the fourth-last, he did well to come back and win. Nick felt he would have won nicely but for that mistake.
"Nick feels he wants two and a half miles and we always felt he was going to be a stayer.
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"He'll be fine, he just needs practice and confidence. It just takes some horses longer than others to get the hang of it.
"I haven't made any plans beyond today. I'll talk to the owners and see where we go, but we want to get experience into him, so we won't be over-facing him at this stage."
Fact Of The Matter struck gold for the second time over fences in the 188bet.co.uk Handicap Chase.
Jamie Snowden's charge made a successful start over the larger obstacles at Worcester in September before filling the runner-up spot at Huntingdon.
Stepped up to three miles for the first time, the 9-2 chance was always well placed under Brendan Powell and after taking over the running at the top of the home straight, he kept up the gallop to see off Easy Street by two and three-quarter lengths.
"I'm really pleased with that. He's always been a nice horse," said Snowden.
"He won his bumper last season and we had high hopes for him, but he's had breathing issues and disappointed us a couple of times.
"He had a couple of wind operations during the summer and won nicely at Worcester. He found two and a half miles a bit sharp at Huntingdon, so we stepped him up to three today and it suited him.
"He's entered at Cheltenham and Aintree this weekend, but I would doubt he'll run at either.
"We'll see what the handicapper does and go from there, but he's not a horse you'd run through the depths of winter. We'll run through the autumn and early winter and then give him a break until the spring."
The Philip Hobbs-trained Drumlee Sunset justified odds of 1-8 when making every yard of the running in the Free Spins At 188Bet Casino Novices' Hurdle.
Thomas Blossom (5-2 favourite) landed the ROA/Racing Post Owners' Jackpot Amateur Riders' Handicap Hurdle, while Gingili (8-1) was a narrow winner of the Ilfracombe Food Service Handicap Hurdle.
The Champions League Betting At 188Bet 'Junior' Standard Open NH Flat Race brought proceedings to a close, with victory going to 9-2 chance St John's.
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