Venetia Williams enjoyed a welcome winner ahead of the Cheltenham Festival as Fuji Flight hit the mark in the BetVictor Play Pick 6 For Free Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at Newbury.
Williams has made no secret of the fact some of her runners are under the weather at present, with the handler sending out just two winners from 22 runners in the previous 14 days.
However, Fuji Flight (3-1) was clearly on top form as he grabbed the lead at the last in the hands of Charlie Deutsch before going on to run out a length-and-a-quarter winner over Major Dundee.
Williams was pleased to get another winner on the board and reports her Cheltenham hopes to have so far avoided any illness in the yard.
She said: “He has a short, choppy stride and doesn’t convince you that he can do anything quickly, and he was flat out and needed every yard today.
“We have a lot with dirty noses, so this will make the journey home a bit shorter. But they are not filthy dirty and the main horses for Cheltenham have thankfully kept clear of it, though you have to be wary of one slipping through the net.”
L’Homme Presse appears to be Williams leading Festival candidate, and the trainer added: “L’Homme Presse won the Dipper but the Turners is a furlong and a half shorter. The decision will be based on the ground but he does look like a three-miler.”
David Dennis is planning a Newbury return for Indy Five (7-2) next month after he cantered clear of his rivals in the Play Pick 6 And Win £1000 Veterans’ Handicap Chase.
The 12-year-old was partnered by Stan Sheppard and the pair were firmly in control at the last, coming home nine and a half lengths clear of Saint Xavier with Prime Venture back in third.
Indy Five is now primed for the BetVictor Conditional Jockeys’ Veterans’ Handicap Chase back at the Berkshire venue on April 2.
Dennis said: “He has a very high cruising speed and when getting into a rhythm he can be very hard to peg back.
“He’s qualified for the veterans’ conditional jockeys final here next month. Jack Andrews will ride him in that as he couldn’t make the weight today.
“That’s our eighth winner this season – he will handle the soft, but not bottomless like it was when he went to Sandown.”
Punctuation (11-8 favourite) made it two from two for Fergal O’Brien and Paddy Brennan in the Download The BetVictor App Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.
Bred and previously owned by The Queen, Punctuation was a 110,000 guineas purchase at the end of 2020 but after failing to win in four starts for Charlie Longsdon last season, owner Grant Leon sent him to O’Brien, who has got him back on the winning track.
He made hard work of beating Irish Hill by a length and a quarter, but O’Brien, who also landed the Greatwood Gold Cup with Paint A Dream, was taking the positives from his victory.
He said: “Paddy said a lot went wrong, that he was bumped and barged but he still won.
“I think he’s on a nice mark but he has a huge action and needs dig in the ground. There’s no plan.”
Brennan added: “Sometimes you get it wrong and you still win. Like just now, he made a couple of mistakes and I had very little confidence from being that far back, but he got me out of a hole.”
Bold Plan followed up his Market Rasen win last month with victory in the BetVictor Non-Runner-No-Bet At Cheltenham Seniors’ Handicap Hurdle.
Trained by Evan Williams and ridden by his daughter Isabel, the 17-2 shot defied concerns about the track to triumph in dogged style by three-quarters of a length over Dorking Boy.
Winning owner William Rucker said: “We weren’t sure the track would suit him as it’s a long straight and easy to get lost on, but he’s proved us wrong, happily. We got him out of the point-to-point field and have had him a long time.”
Black Poppy repelled the determined challenge of Straw Fan Jack to make it two wins on the bounce in the Make Your Best Bet At BetVictor Handicap Hurdle at Newbury.
Kerry Lee’s charge had to dig deep to triumph at Hereford at the end of January, being headed on the run to the line before eventually pushing back in front for a neck verdict and it was a similar story in Berkshire.
Sent off the 6-4 favourite, Black Poppy jumped the last with a slight advantage over Straw Fan Jack, who had failed to sparkle in his three most recent runs.
However, the runner-up was eating into that lead all the way to the line, appearing to even edge in front at one stage, only for Black Poppy to respond again to jockey Brendan Powell’s urging and prevail by a short head.
The closing Visit Irish Store Sales With ITM Open National Hunt Flat Race went to Weveallbeencaught (100-30) for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and jockey Jordan Nailor.