Ok Corral made the most of his weight advantage and jumped to the head of the market for the National Hunt Chase on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival, following a cosy success at Warwick on Saturday.
The Nicky Henderson-trained nine-year-old, who finished runner-up in the Albert Bartlett at last season’s Festival, had made a winning debut over fences at Plumpton last time, and followed up in the four-runner McCoy Contractors 2019 Construction News Awards Finalist Hampton Novices’ Chase.
While the RSA Chase appeared to be on the agenda for the J.P. McManus-owned Mahler gelding, GentingBet make Ok Corral their 3/1 market leader for the four-miler at the Festival on March 13, following the six-length success over Secret Investor.
Ok Corral was a market drifter on the day. Having been the overnight 6/4 favourite, amateur Derek O’Connor’s mount took a walk in the market to 11/4, despite being in receipt of 5lb from 6/5 favourite Rocky’s Treasure.
The Kim Bailey-trained Rocky’s Treasure, who came into this three-mile novices’ chase on the back of a Grade 2 win at Doncaster last time, attempted to make all the running, but never looked like justifying favouritism after David Bass sent out the warning signals before three out.
It was left to Secret Investor to take up the cudgels, but Ok Corral loomed large at the second last and there was only going to be one winner after he went to the lead, and was pushed out to win with a bit to spare.
Referring to his next target, Henderson said: “I think everyone knows what the plan is now.”
Henderson was at Kempton, where he was on the mark with Top Notch, who bounced back to form in landing the 32Red Casino Chase.
The popular eight-year-old had only made his season return last month at Ascot when third in the JLT Hurdle, having previously reacted badly to a flu jab.
Switched to fences, Top Notch (6/4f) found plenty to take the Listed prize, run over an extended 2m4f, by five lengths from Charbel, with Black Corton (9/2) a further neck back in third.
Top Notch was immediately cut to 12/1 by GentingBet or the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on March 14, and Henderson said: “He was very sick before Christmas, only because he reacted to a flu vaccination. Ascot brought him on nicely, and there we go.
“Knowing how much pace there was here, two and a half miles around Kempton, I could easily see his little feet scampering along. They turned into the back straight, picked up the bridle and always had them covered off a right good pace.
“He hasn’t got the scope of other horses and he has his own way of doing it, but he is brave as well. He has been a wonderful servant.
“If you had a straw poll in the yard, he would come out number one. Everyone loves him. I know there is Altior, Might Bite and Buveur D’Air, who might be better horses, but there is not a nicer horse in the place.”
Looking to future plans, Henderson said: “We were thinking Ascot Chase, then the Ryanair. That is the obvious road.”
Bryony Frost, rider of Black Corton, felt the Paul Nicholls-trained eight-year-old was firmly back on track after leaving his disappointing effort in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury behind.
She said: “I’m chuffed to bits. Like I said the other day, we were coming here as a confidence booster after the Ladbrokes Trophy and that is exactly what he has done.
“The trip pushed his gears the whole way, but what I loved to see was that he jumped under pressure. He travelled and stayed on all the way for me.”