Alan King’s Sceau Royal made a triumphant return to action in the Potter Group Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las on Sunday.
Better known as a high-class two miler over fences, the eight-year-old was last seen finishing last of five runners in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March – having finished third behind Altior in the same race 12 months earlier.
Back over the smaller obstacles for the first time since filling the runner-up spot in the 2019 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, Sceau Royal was a 10/1 shot in the hands of Daryl Jacob.
Always travelling strongly, the Doctor Dino gelding moved smoothly into contention in the home straight before pulling two and three-quarter lengths clear, with Ballyandy best of the rest in second.
King said: “We didn’t really have too many options over fences at the minute, and Anthony (Bromley, racing manager for the owners) felt this looked a good starting point for him when the ground started to dry up, because he’s rated about a stone lower over hurdles.
“He had a little wind operation a month or two back. It was very slight, but you never know, it might just have helped him a little bit – it doesn’t look to have hindered him, anyway.
“We’ve got all sorts of options now. We could look at the Elite Hurdle, which is in three weeks’ time at Wincanton. If we didn’t fancy that, he might have an entry in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham next month – and there’s also the Shloer Chase on the same weekend.
“He doesn’t have to go straight back over fences. The ground is the key to him, because he doesn’t want a slog – running in those heavy-ground Tingle Creeks are no use to him.”
Jacob and his retaining owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede were completing a quick-fire double on the card, with If The Cap Fits having earlier made a successful fencing bow in the Canter Carpet High Performance Surfaces Novices’ Chase.
The Grade 1-winning hurdler faced a far from straightforward task, with the quality pair of Fiddlerontheroof and Emitom in opposition, and he was not entirely convincing in the jumping department through the early stages.
However, he was good when he needed to be over the final two fences – and it was impossible not to be impressed by the way Harry Fry’s stable star careered seven and a half lengths away from Fiddlerontheroof on the run-in.
“I’m delighted with that,” said Fry.
“He was a bit novicey early on, but Daryl gave him a lovely introduction and I was delighted with the way he attacked the fences in the straight.
“There’s loads more to come from him, both in terms of experience over fences and fitness. Today was far from the be all and end all – it was about hopefully getting a nice round of jumping in and some confidence.
“We’ll get him home and see how he is, but I was thinking something like the Rising Stars Novices’ Chase at Wincanton might be a nice next target for him. Bags Groove actually won this race today for us, before going on to win the Rising Stars.
“Today was very exciting, and I hope it’s onwards and upwards.”
Estelle Ma Belle made a winning first start for Paul Nicholls in the Follow pottergracing On Twitter Mares’ Maiden Hurdle.
Part of the batch of horses moved to Ditcheat from Willie Mullins’ yard by owner Jared Sullivan, the French import finished second on her only start in Ireland at last year’s Galway Festival.
Ridden by 3lb claimer Lorcan Williams, the six-year-old came home with five lengths in hand over Spring Run.
Nicholls was at Kempton, from where he said: “Estelle Ma Belle is a nice mare. She had one run for Willie last year and then had her problems – saying she is very fragile would be an understatement.
“We’ve done a lot of work with her and got her right. I thought she would run tidy today – and she won well
“She is not the most fluent jumper. But we have been doing an awful lot on that at home, and Lorcan has been riding her home schooling, which is why he rode her today – and he did a good job with her.
“She could be a nice mare. First and foremost, we have to see how she is tomorrow, and that is the most important thing.
“I do think she needs to go left-handed, which is a plus. I will talk to Jared, and we will find a nice mares race left-handed.”