Top Notch effort at Kempton
Last Updated: 12/01/19 4:07pm
Nicky Henderson pointed towards a return to the highest level for Top Notch after he opened his account for the season in the 32Red Casino Chase at Kempton.
After suffering a bad reaction to a flu jab, the popular eight-year-old only made his seasonal return last month when finishing third in the JLT Hurdle at Ascot.
Switched back to fences the Simon Munir- and Isaac Soude-owned gelding took a decisive step forward from his comeback as he found plenty to take the Listed prize by five lengths from the running-on Black Corton.
Henderson said of the 6-4 favourite: "He is very special. Simon and Isaac haven't had the greatest run recently, but when you've got a horse like this you always know he will get you out of trouble.
"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."
RaceBets gave Top Notch a 9-1 from 20-1 quote for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham in March.
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."
Jonjo junior hits the Big Time in Lanzarote
Jonjo O'Neill junior celebrated the biggest winner of his career with victory aboard Big Time Dancer in the Unibet Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle.
The 20-year-old spent most of last year on the sidelines with a back injury and continued to make up for lost time after triumphing in the Listed contest aboard the 16-1 shot.
Son of former champion jockey Jonjo O'Neill, the 5lb claimer bided his time before forging the Jennie Candlish-trained six-year-old on late in the two-mile-five-furlong contest, crossing the line a length and a half clear of Solomon Grey.
The winning rider said: "It is amazing, really, as you are dreaming of these sort of things when you are off for eight months on the sidelines. To ride a nice winner like this means everything.
"I was always confident on him. He travelled really well and jumped unbelievable and every position I put him in he answered my call straight away. He made it very easy for me."
He added: "I'm trying to be my own self and I want to be a jockey. I take advice and he (O'Neill senior) is very supportive and a big help, but I am my own man - even though I've the same name I'm very much different!"
Connections of the 16-1 winner hinted a trip to Aintree could be on the agenda later in the season, should the ground be in his favour.
To ride a nice winner like this means everything
Assistant trainer Alan O'Keeffe said: "It is nice to get a big one like that. Jennie has done a great job with the horse. He has had a few problems, his wind was one.
"We've not had a lot of runners recently, as they want proper soft ground, but this one doesn't. I just thought we rarely get a Lanzarote run on ground like that and he loves that ground.
"He got a great ride and this lad (O'Neill) is going places. It is great for the yard to come down here and get one like that.
"He will have a little break, but his future lies chasing. We won't give him an overly-long break and we will look at Aintree."