OK CORRAL returned to winning ways when coming out on top in a thrilling battle with Fingerontheswitch in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on Saturday.
Having looked a smart novice in the early part of last season, he went to the Cheltenham Festival with high hopes but suffered a troubled passage there and had cut little ice in two runs this season to date.
Nicky Henderson called Derek O’Connor, one of Ireland’s leading amateurs, over to ride him again as he had partnered J.P. McManus’ charge to victory at Warwick last season and the move paid off.
However, O’Connor lost his whip in the closing stages and fellow amateur Millie Wonnacott, on Fingerontheswitch, had given her mount the perfect ride to find herself upsides.
The two became involved in a terrific tussle, with O’Connor using his hand to encourage Ok Corral, and his mount responded to win by half a length at 9/1.
The pair pulled 14 lengths clear of the third, Chidswell, with Ravenhill Road fourth.
O’Connor said: “The whip can be over-rated at times. When you have a willing partner it’s half the battle and he strode out all the way to the line.
“He loves a fast, speedy track like Warwick and Doncaster and he could be an Aintree horse possibly.
“I’ve ridden here just the once before in a bumper, but I work for Goffs UK and I spend a lot of time on the track. I’ve jogged round more times than a lot of horses have raced here.
“I was lucky enough to ride this horse in Warwick. I got the call up again. There are no future plans, it’s just that I got on so well with him last year, thankfully I got the ride back on him today.
“It’s a lot to do with Aidan (Coleman) and Barry (Geraghty) as well.
“To be considered in the line-up for a J.P. McManus horse and a Nicky Henderson horse is a huge honour.”
IN FRONT TOO SOON
After her ride on Fingerontheswitch, Wonnacott said: “I was pleased with him, he just jumped his way to the front too soon.
“He can be a bit of a monkey sometimes when he’s out on his own in front, but he ran an absolute blinder.”
BUTTONS WINS AGAIN
Lady Buttons landed the Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle for the second successive year in fine style.
It looked like Phil Kirby’s popular 10-year-old faced a much tougher test on paper than 12 months ago and she was not even sent off clear favourite – despite winning a Listed heat over fences last time out.
The honour of 6/4 joint-favouritism went to Nicky Henderson’s improving novice Floressa, who travelled well for much of the contest but was found wanting in the sprint to the line after the final flight.
Timetochill was allowed an easy lead but Irish Roe, Fleur Irlandaise, Litterale Ci and the two market leaders were all queuing up behind at the second last.
Lady Buttons was last to challenge under Sean Quinlan, who was riding her for the first time, and despite causing slight interference when lugging to her right, she quickened clear impressively to the delight of the crowd.
Irish Roe was two and three-quarter lengths back in second with Floressa third.
Kirby said: “That was probably her best run. Things probably didn’t pan out in her favour because they went slow and it turned into a sprint.
“She won over nearly two-miles-five last time so I suppose it wasn’t going to be in her favour, but she was just quicker than them.
“I didn’t feel any pressure today because I felt she’d win. I thought she was as well as I’ve had her for a long time. I thought she would win everywhere today. She was bouncing.
“I don’t now how many times you can keep doing it, maybe too long. She’s 10 now. She flicks over these hurdles. It’s good.
“We won’t do anything now. We’ll decide later if we go to Cheltenham or Aintree. We’ll worry about that after a few days.
“The owners would like to run her in the Champion Chase – the mares’ race looks particularly hot. We may be better off going to Aintree and running in the race she was second in last year. Her last two runs have been as good as any she’s done.”
Mister Fisher gave owner James Potter a welcome tonic with victory in the Lightning Novices’ Chase.
Welshpool-based Potter could not make the trip to South Yorkshire as he is in hospital recovering from an operation, but news of his horse’s success should have given him a boost.
Mister Fisher (6/5 favourite) travelled well throughout the race, quickening to lead at the last and go on to score by a length from Al Dancer in the hands of James Bowen.
It was a win that gives Mister Fisher options in the Arkle Trophy and Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
“The ground mattered. He’s a better horse on better ground,” said bloodstock agent David Minton of the Nicky Henderson-trained winner. We’ll have to look at both the Arkle and the Marsh at Cheltenham now.
“James Potter is in hospital so it will be a big boost for him. He had an operation on Wednesday which is why he’s not here.”
Bowen said: “He shows a lot of foot when the ground’s a bit quicker. He did it well. He’s been running on soft or dead ground all season and he’s not slow.
“He’s twice the horse he was last season. He’s very good over his fences. He did everything perfect today.”