A TILT at the National Hunt Chase looms large for Ok Corral following his facile victory at Warwick.
Runner-up in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, Nicky Henderson’s charge is a late starter to the chasing game, but made a decent start to his career over fences when beating just three rivals at Plumpton last month.
The JP McManus-owned nine-year-old faced a much stiffer test as he stepped up to listed class for the McCoy Contractors 2019 Construction News Award Finalist Hampton Novices’ Chase, but travelled and jumped fluently before pulling six lengths clear of Secret Investor.
Speaking from Kempton, Henderson said: “It was only his second run over fences after going round Plumpton on his own three weeks ago.
“I was delighted with the way he jumped today and he won it because he was quicker than the others were. That is the interesting bit – that he did them for toe rather than gallop them into the ground.
“He’s a nine-year-old running in novice chases as he had so many problems as a youngster, but we’re on the road now.”
The intriguing booking of leading Irish amateur rider Derek O’Connor suggested connections already had one eye on the four-mile National Hunt Chase at Prestbury Park in March, and bookmakers cut him to as short as 3/1 favourite for that prize off the back of this display.
Henderson added: “As you can guess, the point of Derek O’Connor coming to ride him was that we were thinking about the four-miler, and I would think we still are.
“It didn’t look like he was crying out for four miles, but I expect Derek to say we should stick to the plan. I would imagine he’ll have one more run (before Cheltenham).”
Dan Skelton is not committing to a trip to Cheltenham for Beakstown despite his impressive success in the Grade 2 Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle.
The Irish point-to-point graduate made a successful hurdling debut at Uttoxeter in November, but suffered a short-priced defeat on his latest outing at Newcastle.
He was a 6/1 shot here and there was plenty to like about the way he went about his business, ultimately coming home three and three-quarter lengths clear of Stoney Mountain under the trainer’s brother, Harry.
“He was impressive and fair play to the lads in Ireland who had this horse as they really buzzed him up and talked a lot about him,” the winning trainer told Racing TV.
“He beat a good horse at Uttoxeter and I had him down as a Challow Hurdle horse. I knew I had to get a second run into him before the Challow, but I ran him back too quickly at Newcastle. That was my fault.
“He’s still green, but he’s always looked like a good horse. He’s only half the finished article and we’ve got to look after him.
“Cheltenham has got to be highly considered and I’d imagine he’ll be entered for the Ballymore and the Albert Bartlett. But you can see how big he is and this is really a chaser, so we’ve got to bear that in mind.”