Unbeaten sprinter Vandeek has the Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock as his first target as he prepares for his eagerly-awaited three-year-old campaign.

Simon and Ed Crisford’s Havana Grey colt had the perfect juvenile season, running four times and winning well on each occasion as he climbed the ranks from maiden to Group One.

At Goodwood, he took the Richmond Stakes on soft ground and he was then a game winner of the top-level Prix Morny at Deauville on very soft going.

But at Newmarket in late September, he showed his versatility when producing his best run to date to land the Middle Park on good to firm.

Currently ante-post favourite for the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, the Betfred-sponsored Sandy Lane has been earmarked for his opening assignment of the campaign, a six-furlong Group Two for three-year-olds on May 25.

“He’s going well, he’s wintered well, but like everywhere else, I think Newmarket has struggled with the weather,” said Chris Wall, racing manager for owner Shaikh Khalid’s KHK Racing organisation.

“They’re on target with the horse but they haven’t always been able to do what they’ve wanted to do because various canters have been closed.

“He’s in good heart and coming along nicely, he’s aiming at the Sandy Lane at Haydock in May.”

Vandeek was a leggy two-year-old and he is reported to have grown further and filled out through the winter.

Wall added: “He’s done everything right, he’s grown a bit. He was a big enough lad last year but he has grown a bit more, he’s filled out and he looks a lot stronger.

“He’s done everything the right way, he hasn’t done any fast work, so it’s too early to see if there’s a corresponding increase in his ability but we’d like to think that he’ll at least be no worse than he was last year – and that’s probably good enough.”

KHK Racing and trainer Roger Varian have a nice prospect in True Cyan, a No Nay Never filly out of the Group-winning Dark Angel mare Realtra.

Making her debut at Newmarket in September in a seven-furlong fillies’ maiden, the grey was a taking victor with a length-and-a-half triumph over three subsequent winners.

The three-year-old holds an entry for the 1000 Guineas and connections are likely to use the Nell Gwyn Stakes as a trial before hopefully proceeding in that direction.

“She’s wintered very well, I watched her do a piece of work yesterday (Wednesday) which was very satisfactory,” said Wall.

“Roger is keen to run her in the Nell Gwynn, all being well, which will tell us whether we’re Guineas-bound or whether we need to go down another route with her.

“It’s all good news with her, she looks to have improved throughout the winter, so she’ll find her level – whether that’s in the Guineas or somewhere else.

“The form from that race (her debut) looks decent, she did it very well. She’s going to be a nice filly this year if all goes well for her, at what level we will find out.”

Numitor stayed on strongly to record a decisive success in the valuable Unibet Middle Distance Veterans’ Handicap Chase Finale at Haydock.

Sean Bowen was always travelling strongly on Heather Main’s 10-year-old in the £100,000 contest and sent him on past long-time front-runner Riders Onthe Storm entering the home straight.

A couple of sketchy jumps at the next two fences allowed the chasing pack to close in, but the 100-30 favourite got his act together over the last couple of obstacles and galloped clear to beat Dubai Days by five lengths.

Numitor only recently returned to action after a 340-day lay-off, when finishing fourth at Exeter under Bowen’s brother James.

Championship chaser Bowen told Racing TV: “One thing he did benefit from is that James didn’t knock him around once he was beaten (first time out), he didn’t use his whip once and I think that’s probably been a massive contribution towards winning here.

“James said to keep sending him, but every time I sent him, he put down. But he was a good old spin.

“He’s actually not in love with that ground now and I think that on better ground, you probably can send him from anywhere – he’ll keep coming for you.

“But today, on that ground, he’s probably not in love with it – but he’s a tough horse and keeps going through anything.”

Bowen was also in the saddle as Secret Trix plugged on to get the better of Doughmore Bay in an attritional finish to the New Racing TV App Challenger Stayers Hurdle Series Final Handicap Hurdle.

It was a fourth win of the season for Olly Murphy’s gelding, all gained under the title-chasing jockey, as he prevailed by a length and a quarter at 11-1 following a winter lay-off since the end of October.

Bowen said: “He felt a lot better horse today, he obviously benefited from the break massively. At every point today, I thought I was going to win, apart from when he started pulling up half a furlong from home.

“I was going well turning in and I didn’t really want him to wing three out and two out, as he doesn’t do a whole pile in front, although he was a bit slower than I thought he might be at them. But he went round like the best horse in the race, to be fair.”

Brentford Hope defied top weight in the My Pension Expert Challenger Two Mile Hurdle Series Final Handicap Hurdle, holding off the late challenge of Holly, who could never quite recover from a mistake at the final flight.

Harry Derham’s seven-year-old had won well in a qualifier at Newcastle earlier this month and was sent off the 5-2 market leader under Paul O’Brien, despite carrying 12st.

Stainsby Girl upset hot favourite You Wear It Well with a fine front-running victory in the Listed Virgin Bet Every Saturday Money Back Mares’ Hurdle at Haydock.

Cheltenham Festival heroine You Wear It Well was a 1-2 shot to to make the most of having her sights lowered, having finished third in the Grade One Fighting Fifth and second in a Grade Two at Doncaster on her last two starts.

However, Gavin Sheehan was sending out distress signals in the saddle even before the home turn and she was ultimately well beaten in third.

Stainsby Girl, trained by Nick Alexander and owned and ridden by his son, Kit, finished fifth behind the Willie Mullins-trained Ashroe Diamond at Doncaster three weeks ago and led her rivals a merry dance here on her way to a 12-length verdict over Coquelicot.

“I thought she’d run well as she’s run some great races around here. I’m thrilled to bits as she deserved some black type and that’s the first time she’s managed to get any,” said Alexander of his 8-1 winner.

“She’s 10 now, so she’ll be going to stud soon enough. She handles that ground and she’s very difficult to pass as a lot of horses don’t handle it.

“We’re very lucky the BHA moved the race here after Warwick was abandoned last week, many thanks to them and to Haydock for doing so. We weren’t in the race at Warwick, so it’s a bit of good fortune.

“Kit owns her so we’ll see what he wants to do, but he gets some thrill riding her so he might want to have another go or two with her I would think. On the other hand she’s won her Listed race now and she’s booked in to see Logician, so she might just go there.”

Now Is The Hour completed a big-race double on the card for Gavin Cromwell and Sean Flanagan, dominating his rivals in the Grade Two Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle.

While stablemate Yeah Man was a well-fancied winner of the Grand National Trial earlier in the afternoon, this recent Limerick scorer was 12-1 to scoop Grade Two honours.

He could be called the winner a long way from home, though, cruising into contention before pulling 17 lengths clear of Don’t Rightly Know.

Flanagan, riding at Haydock for the first time, said: “I’m just very privileged to come here and ride for the likes of Gavin – he’s produced this horse brilliantly on the day.

“It’s a big thing to him that he really enjoys this type of ground. We’ve gone very quick to the first bend and I’ve kind of let them at it up front and left my horse to be comfortable for as long as I could.

“I’ve got into a nice rhythm and he’s come home well because of that. He’s a nice prospect.”

Jonjo O’Neill and Nick Schofield combined to land the Virgin Bet Daily Extra Places Handicap Chase with 11-4 market leader Regal Blue.

The seven-year-old was disappointingly pulled up on his most recent appearance at Lingfield, but bounced back to form with a determined three-length success.

Schofield said: “He really enjoyed conditions today when others probably didn’t. You have to be tough on this ground. He’s no speedster, but he keeps going.

“It’s totally different conditions to day to what we got at Lingfield. He ran well here the time before, we’ve brought him back to what we know and it’s worked.”

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Cuthbert Dibble (6-4 favourite) made it two from two for the season and four from seven over obstacles overall in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle under 5lb claimer Finn Lambert.

Willy Twiston-Davies, assistant to his father, said: “I thought that was impressive, he made a lot of ground up early in the straight and was left dawdling in front a bit.

“We’ve always held him in high regard and he’s getting his act together as the years go on.

“The Pertemps Final has got to be under consideration, he’s had a hard race but he’ll definitely have an entry and we’ll see what the handicapper does.

“Chasing next year will be his thing. We’ve always known he was an exciting horse and he’s proven that again today.”

Salver took another step towards a potential outing at next month’s Cheltenham Festival after maintaining his unbeaten Virgin Bet Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle at Haydock.

Gary Moore’s youngster had impressed in winning each of his first three starts to date, never more so than when beating his rivals by upwards of 21 lengths in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow over the Christmas period.

The son of Motivator was bidding to make it four from four over obstacles on Merseyside – and while he made a couple of small jumping errors in the extremely testing conditions, the 2-5 favourite was ultimately not hard pressed to score by three and a half lengths in the hands of Caoilin Quinn.

Josh Moore, assistant to his father, said: “He’s done it nicely and it’s sort of a case of he’s done what he had to do.

“I think he can be better than he was today as he was quite wound up beforehand, which he isn’t usually.

“It’s proper heavy ground out there and they’ll either go on it or they won’t. As we saw at Chepstow, he goes on it, but Haydock heavy is completely different to anywhere else.”

Paddy Power trimmed Salver’s odds for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham to 10-1 from 14-1, while he is 8-1 from 12-1 with the same firm for the Boodles.

However, Moore junior revealed his Festival participation will be ground dependent.

“I think he will only be going there if it is soft or worse than soft. You’d definitely want to be seeing soft in the going description anyway,” he added.

“If it’s a good ground Triumph I can’t see him running there. It’s quite a big occasion for a young horse, there’s Aintree afterwards and you’ve got the option of France as well.

“There’s lots of options and we wouldn’t be in a rush to make any decisions. He’s a nice horse.”

Latenightpass will chart an unconventional passage to the Randox Grand National when he makes a belated debut over timber in the Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock.

The 11-year-old has been a standing dish in the hunter chase sphere for the majority of his career, where point-to-point handler Tom Ellis stewarded the gelding with great success.

However, success over the Aintree fences sparked dreams of a National bid and having finished no worse than fourth in three goes over the famous spruce, connections switched their veteran to nearby Dan Skelton to race under rules and set up a National bid.

It is a move that looks like paying off and having found the scoresheet for Skelton in a cross-country event at Cheltenham in December, Latenightpass finds himself on an official rating of 149 and effectively assured of his place in the line-up for the world’s most famous steeplechase, for which he is as short as 20-1.

To preserve that figure, Skelton has elected to revert to the smaller obstacles for his Aintree tune-up, and with his charge in rude health, is prepared to pitch him into a valuable contest while the iron is hot.

“Not many will debut over hurdles at 11, but he’s a novice because he has gone down an unconventional route,” said Skelton.

“He has lots of experience and he knows how to handle soft ground so we will see how he gets on.

“He could go and run in a £10,000 novice hurdle anywhere, but we thought we would take aim at something a bit better because of his high mark and this will be his prep for the Grand National.”

Isaac Des Obeaux may not yet be in line for Grand Nationals but could signal his readiness to compete at the top table if he builds on some encouraging performances this season.

Paul Nicholls’ six-year-old has scored twice over an intermediate trip at Chepstow this term and following a respectable effort in a Cheltenham Grade Two last month, steps up in trip for a race the champion trainer won with Makin’yourmindup 12 months ago.

“He ran a super race at Cheltenham the last day which suggested he wants three miles which this trip is,” said Nicholls.

“He doesn’t mind heavy ground and has won twice at Chepstow this year. Hopefully he is progressive and he will have a chance in a competitive race.”

The Ditcheat handler also holds a strong hand in the Virgin Bet Rendlesham Hurdle where his Red Risk will recommence rivalry with Gary Moore’s Botox Has.

Both finished among the also-rans in Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle, but before that were first and second in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby, with Red Risk gunning to reverse the placings this time.

“He will love the ground and he’s a Grade Two horse – we over faced him a little bit the last day,” continued Nicholls.

“He ran very well at Wetherby at the beginning of the season and if he repeats that I think he will be thereabouts.”

Six go to post for the Grade Two event which sees Ruth Jefferson’s high-class chaser Sounds Russian sighted for the first time since being brought down in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and Nick Alexander’s 2023 winner Wakool defend his crown.

The Skelton team will be represented by Martha Brae, but the up and coming force could well be Olly Murphy’s Butch who is unbeaten in three starts this term and got the better of a strong cast of rivals when bringing up a hat-trick at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

“He’s in good form and although he looks slightly wrong at the weights with one or two, hopefully he can be the improver in the race,” said Murphy.

“He will handle the ground fine and he’s a horse who is definitely not going to Cheltenham, so this will probably be his main target for the season in terms of it being a graded race before he goes chasing next season. We’re looking forward to him.”

Classic Chase winner My Silver Lining will head to Haydock on Saturday for the Virgin Bet Grand National Trial, rather than wait for next week’s Eider Chase at Newcastle which was her original target.

While the ground is heavy at both tracks, Lavelle sees little point in waiting a week with her mare, who she reports to be “absolutely flying” on the gallops.

Only out of the first two once in her last six races, the improving eight-year-old jumped with aplomb at Warwick and held off Galia Des Liteaux to win the £100,000 race and she is now chasing another major prize.

“She’s absolutely flying. Our original plan was to go to the Eider, so we discussed it today and it came down to the fact they are both going to be run on heavy ground – so do we want to run over three and a half this week or wait a week to run over four-and-a-quarter,” said Lavelle.

“We only made the entry for Haydock as a bit of a back-up originally, but we just can’t guarantee the ground will be any better next week and with an extra half a mile in that ground, it’s a lost to ask of the mare.

“I wouldn’t be worried about any track for her, but anywhere where jumping is at a premium suits her.”

Nicky Richards’ Famous Bridge will head next to the Virgin Bet Grand National Trial at Haydock after a luckless run in the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster.

The eight-year-old was well fancied for the Town Moor contest and sent off as the 13-2 joint-favourite under rider Sean Quinlan, with Paul Nicholls’ Kandoo Kid sharing the same starting price.

Famous Bridge’s popularity in the market can be attributed to his fine start to the season, with the gelding finishing a close fourth at Ayr and then winning two competitive Haydock chases, including the Tommy Whittle.

However, the field of 18 did not get away cleanly at Doncaster and there was a false start initially, meaning the horse lost his position and was left at the rear of the pack when they did begin to race.

He never really progressed from that spot and, as the race got away from him behind the successful front-running ride given to Annual Invictus, Quinlan made the call to pull up Famous Bridge and save him for another day.

Richards reports the horse to be none the worse for the run and hopes to have a little more luck in the Grand National Trial at Haydock in just over two weeks’ time.

“He’s fine, he’s had a little steady canter this morning and he seems well,” said Richards.

“The race was won and lost at the start, they were all coming in grand and if he’d been able to get away first time, he’d have been in the perfect position.

“It ruined it for him, the winner bobbed out and made every yard but as soon as you’re out of it in a race like that, it’s over.

“Sean made a very sensible decision, he felt there was no point going on with him. If he’d have gone the whole trip, he probably would have finished in the same place.

“Hopefully, we’ll get him freshened up and we’ll go for the Grand National Trial at Haydock.

“He seems fine, he only went a mile and a half and Sean did the sensible thing.

“Hopefully, we’ll get him nice and fresh and well and he’ll be grand.”

Vandeek is set to start off his season in the Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock in May.

The unbeaten Simon and Ed Crisford-trained colt carried all before him in his juvenile year, with his four wins featuring Group One strikes in the Prix Morny and Middle Park Stakes.

He is seen very much as a sprinter rather than one for the mile of the Classics and Haydock will be his destination before his first major target, the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.

“He’s looking super, he’s trotting and we’ll probably start him off in the Sandy Lane at Haydock at the end of May. One run before Royal Ascot,” Simon Crisford told ITV Racing.

“Commonwealth, July Cups – those sort of races we’ve got up our sleeve. The idea of not starting off in the Pavilion (Stakes, at Ascot) is we’d have to start training him a month earlier. Quite frankly, with the weather we’ve got at the moment, we’re wrapping him up in big, thick blankets.”

He added: “He was a little bit on the leg as a two-year-old. He was tall and lanky and never really looked like a sprinter physically. But now he’s beginning to take shape as a sprinter. His temperament is great and there’s so much to love about him.

“He’s done exceptionally well over the winter and fingers crossed he’s got a big season ahead.”

Saturday’s Peter Marsh Chase card at Haydock has been called off due to a frozen track.

Clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright had called an 8am inspection on Friday, but he was able to make an earlier decision after another cold night in Merseyside.

He said: “We got down to minus 3C overnight, so we were still going backwards last night. The track is frozen now and will still be frozen tomorrow afternoon.

“We’ve run out of time, we’ve got to the point where there’s no hope so we had to make a decision.”

Ascot’s Clarence House Chase card has also been cancelled due to the cold weather, leaving Taunton as the only possible British jumps card on Saturday, although the track must pass a noon inspection first.

Lingfield and Wolverhampton will race on the all weather on Saturday, with the first-named venue due to host jumps racing on Sunday as the third day of the Winter Million Festival.

The first day of National Hunt action was abandoned due to a frozen track and clerk of the course Stephanie Wethered has called a 2pm inspection for Saturday to measure progress in the anticipated thaw.

She said: “We saw lower than forecast temperatures overnight – we were forecast minus 4C but got down to a low of minus 8.69C and at 7.30am, we were still sitting at minus 8.5C.

“We are forecast highs of 4C today and then minus 3C overnight, followed by sunny spells and 6C tomorrow. The overnight temperature into Sunday is forecast to be 2C with some patchy rain.

“We’ve called an inspection for 2pm so we can assess the progress.”

The bumper eight-race Lingfield card is set to feature the Fitzdares Fleur De Lys Chase, with the Download The Racing App Lightning Novices’ Chase transferred from Friday’s cancelled card.

Fakenham are also scheduled to race over jumps on Sunday, with a 3pm inspection called on Saturday to evaluate their prospects.

Saturday’s meeting at Haydock will have to pass an 8am inspection on Friday if it is to go ahead.

Clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright admits it is a “long shot” the card, which features the Sky Bet Peter Marsh Chase, will take place, but given a rise in temperatures is forecast on Friday, he will wait a little longer before making a final decision.

He said: “It’s a long shot but we have got one eye on this thaw.

“We will probably fail to race, but we think it’s worth running with it a little bit longer in case that thaw comes a bit earlier than expected.

“We got to minus 7C last night so the majority of the track is frozen, including some areas under the covers, so we have a steep gradient to climb.”

There will be no Grand National bid for Famous Bridge in 2024, but the improving stayer will be set some stern tests as he attempts to continue his rise up the chasing ranks.

Trained by Nicky Richards, the eight-year-old is becoming a real force over staying trips and made it back-to-back Haydock victories when landing the Tommy Whittle Chase just before Christmas.

His thirst for a stamina test and sure-footed jumping makes him the ideal candidate for the Grand National and sporting the colours of the Hemmings Family, the Aintree showpiece will always be high up on the agenda.

However, Richards is keen to keep building Famous Bridge’s chasing experience in the second half of the current campaign where he will seek to add to his burgeoning CV.

“He’s going along grand and he looks like he stays well, he’s a good, tough lad,” said Richards.

“I think myself and Mick (Meagher, racing manager to Hemmings Racing) thought it was probably just a year too soon (for the National).

“It was just his seventh run over fences in the Tommy Whittle and he is a lovely horse going forward. If he gets another two or three nice runs this year, hopefully we will be able to work towards the National next year.”

Options for Famous Bridge’s next outing include a return to Merseyside in search of a Haydock hat-trick in the Sky Bet Peter Marsh Chase on January 20 or wait an extra week for Doncaster’s Great Yorkshire Handicap Chase.

“There’s the Peter Marsh back at Haydock but I don’t know if that might come a week too soon for him,” added Richards.

“I haven’t done a great deal with him yet but he’s had canters and everything and everything seems grand with him so we will see.

“Then there is the Great Yorkshire the week after and we probably need a bit of rain there.

“There are nice races about for him and he’s a grand horse going forward. We will be racing him and he will be running in good races.”

However, it is unlikely the Cheltenham Festival will enter the equation with a further Town Moor contest, as well as Aintree and Ayr taking precedence when the season enters spring.

“Mr Hemmings loved Aintree and he loved the Ayr festival as well, so that will all be discussed as we go along, one race at a time,” continued Richards.

“You also have the Grimthorpe (at Doncaster) as well which is quite a valuable race now, so there are plenty of different options.

“That one (Grimthorpe) is early March, so it would probably be too quick to then go to Cheltenham.

“But we will be keeping our options open and he’s in grand old fettle and we are very happy with the way he is going along.”

Nicky Henderson warmed up for a huge Boxing Day with a four-timer across both Ascot and Haydock on the final day of action before Christmas.

The two biggest names in Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard, Constitution Hill and Shishkin, will make their seasonal debuts at Kempton on Tuesday, in the Ladbrokes-sponsored Christmas Hurdle and King George VI Chase respectively. The first half of the season has not gone to plan for either of them, giving Henderson sleepless nights in the process.

Constitution Hill was due to run in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, with the meeting lost to the weather only to be rearranged for a week later. Henderson did enter him for the rescheduled event at Sandown, but heavy ground prevented him from running.

He was meant to be joined in the rearranged Fighting Fifth by Shishkin – but he also sidestepped it for the same reason, having also missed out at Newcastle in the Rehearsal Chase. The latter had been an original Plan B after he blotted his copybook by refusing to race at Ascot.

Henderson was at Ascot to witness French import Excello win the Howden Graduation Chase and Luccia lead home stablemate Impose Toi in the Betfair Exchange Trophy, while Issuing Authority and Pawapuri got their heads in front at Haydock.

“It’s always nice when the horses are running well. You’ve got to make the most of it because you can get bad patches, but they are being very well behaved at the moment,” said the 73-year-old.

“It doesn’t make me any less nervous for Tuesday as they are all doing different things.

“Those first two up at Haydock were good and I was very impressed with the mare (Pawapuri) and I was impressed with him (Excello) too.”

While Henderson allows himself to enjoy the festivities, he admits his mind will be wandering elsewhere.

“I enjoy seeing the people over Christmas and then the family on Christmas Day, but you are chomping a bit. Your head is still buzzing about what is to come,” he said.

“The most important part is the team behind it and they’ve got to work solidly over this weekend. A lot would prefer to be elsewhere but we can’t do that, we’ve got to mix in, rally together and keep our heads down.”

As for his big two, he will just be pleased to finally get a run into the pair of them.

“They were all right this morning, but you only need them to tread on a peanut and they could be lame tomorrow, it’s not that easy,” he said.

“Shishkin has been away but nothing very dramatic that we wouldn’t normally do, pretty routine.

“I’ve had some very entertaining suggestions about how we can persuade him to start. I can’t personally say I’m not worried about it, of course I am, but I really don’t think it’s a big problem, I really don’t.

“Someone will go down to the start with him and I just need to check with the starter what we can and cannot do. What I think you can’t do is carry anything, certainly not a Long Tom (whip). If we could do that it would be simple. He’ll be all right.

“He’s in good form, I would have loved to have had a race, but we haven’t – there’s nothing I can do about it now. I’m pleased with the way the last week has gone.

“As for the other lad (Constitution Hill), we’ve got three more sleeps, something like that.

“When you have a horse with his mentality, all the messing about hasn’t bothered him. He makes it easier than most horses would.

“His temperament is due to his father, Blue Bresil, he’s passed the genes on and they are so relaxed.

“You still have to remember you are starting a new season and they don’t always come back the same, this is no given.

“If he comes through this and it goes like last year I’d be confident about the next bit. But the first day out of the year is crucial, it’s like a first day at school. He’s been good at home, but there are new kids on the block and he’s starting a new term.”

Famous Bridge continued his ascent up the staying ladder with a determined victory in an attritional renewal of the Betfred Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase at Haydock.

Although a dual winner over hurdles, the Nicky Richards-trained seven-year-old always looked the type to do better over the larger obstacles and he won three of his first six chase starts.

Fresh from a course-and-distance success four weeks ago, Famous Bridge – sporting the famous silks of the late Trevor Hemmings – was the 5-2 favourite to add to his tally and stuck to his guns admirably in the testing conditions to emerge victorious.

Burrows Diamond had built up a clear lead by the time he rounded the bend into the the home straight and soon had the majority of his chasing rivals in trouble, with only Famous Bridge and Credo able to stay in the fight from the third-last fence.

Burrows Diamond did not bend in front, but Famous Bridge slowly ate into his advantage and he was a length to the good at the line.

Richards said: “He crept away and did it grand. Sean (Quinlan, jockey) thought he was going to win from the second-last. I don’t know if we would want to run him on that ground too many times as it is fairly gruelling.

“He is a youngish horse for a chasing horse and I think he is on the up, but you don’t want to keep putting the gun to their head on that ground.

“He is a young horse, and he has not had a lot of mileage. He is improving and I want to keep seeing improvement as the handicapper is going to make sure we need to improve.

“We know he is going to come (through near the end) as he likes to get in a battle and he is the type of horse that is hard to beat when he gets in one.”

Famous Bridge was given a quote of 25-1 for the Grand National by William Hill, but the Greystoke handler has other targets on his mind away from Aintree.

He added: “He won’t go up enough in the weights for the National this time. We’ve got thoughts. I don’t think we want to go extreme distances on gruelling ground yet.

“He has won two nice races now and something like the Grimthorpe we could go for. Mick (Meagher, racing manager to Hemmings Racing) would love to come back here for the Peter Marsh, but I don’t know if he wants to be on that ground all the time.”

Pawapuri successfully stepped up to Listed class with a decisive victory in the Betfred Hat-Trick Heaven Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock.

A dual winner on the Flat for William Haggas, the four-year-old was highly tried by Nicky Henderson on her first two starts over obstacles, running in Grade Two and Grade One company last season.

Having made the most of having her sights lowered on her reappearance in a maiden at Wincanton last month, the daughter of Golden Horn was back up in class in Lancashire and stuck her task well in the testing conditions to repel the challenge of Lunar Discovery by two lengths under James Bowen.

“She jumped well. She missed a couple on the way round when I forced her, but she stayed on well,” said the winning rider.

“It was her first time over two miles three (furlongs) and in the back of my head going down to the last I thought we’ve got another 300 yards left, but she finished well in the end.

“She is a big mare and it wasn’t really the right time for her last season. She has got her black type now, so they can have fun.”

Bowen is looking forward to returning to Merseyside on Boxing Day, having been booked to partner Henderson’s Jango Baie in the Grade One William Hill Formby Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

He added: “Hopefully it will be a big day – I’ve never had a Grade One winner and this will be one of the best chances I’ve ridden in a Grade One.

“Jango Baie is a sharp horse and is a proper two-miler at the moment. He is a nice horse.”

Pawapuri’s stablemate Issuing Authority had earlier belatedly opened his account over obstacles in the Betfred TV Beginners’ Chase.

Just three runners went to post for the extended two-mile contest, and Doyen Star was pulled up after never really threatening to land a telling blow.

Having tracked the pacesetting 11-10 favourite Inedit Star for much of the way, Issuing Authority – placed in each of his four races over hurdles without success – asserted in the home straight and passed the post 15 lengths clear.

“It is hard work out there as it is as deep as you can get. I barely got over the last (fence) to be honest with you,” said Bowen.

“I knew he would have come on for his last run. He jumped really well that day and we stepped him back down to an extended two miles today on this ground. I think that suited him as he is a strong traveller and a good jumper.

“Hopefully he can keep progressing now.”

Following successive wins at Sedgefield, Andrew Hamilton’s El Jefe (15-2) completed his hat-trick in the Betfred Nifty 50 Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle in the hands of Conor Rabbitt.

Hamilton said: “Last year we won the Last Fling (Handicap Chase) with All About Joe, but we lost him in the summer. It is nice to come back to Haydock and get another good winner.

“Last season he never lifted the bridle at all, and I could not find the bottom of it. He has come back this season looking like a new horse. He loves life and that was fantastic.”

Warren Greatrex views this weekend’s Betfred Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock as an ideal opportunity to get Bill Baxter up the weights ahead of his ultimate aim back on Merseyside.

The Lambourn handler sees the grey as the perfect type for the Grand National, perhaps not surprisingly given how well he took to the fences when winning the Topham back in April.

However, with the field for the National reduced to 34 this season, competition for places will be hotter than ever and Greatrex feels his current handicap mark of 140 needs to be higher to guarantee a spot.

“The plan has always been the Grand National and he probably needs to go up at least 7lb between now and when the weights are released, so the Tommy Whittle looks a good opportunity to try to get him up the weights,” the trainer said.

“The ground is soft, heavy in places, with more rain to come this week, so it will be tough conditions. I think the track will suit him, as he has run well around Haydock Park before over hurdles and he seems in good form.

“He will be put in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day, but I’m favouring the Tommy Whittle.

“It looks the place to go with the ground set to be in his favour – and with everything happening a bit slower in soft ground around Haydock, I would like to think he will be thereabouts at the end.”

Another reason Greatrex is favouring Haydock is the availability of jockey James Bowen.

“James has ridden him a fair amount and has won twice on him. He knows him and knows what he can do. James is a big part of the team now and is riding everything when he is available,” said Greatrex.

“It works well him being second jockey to Nicky (Henderson) and first jockey to us. He is a huge asset and to have him on board on Saturday would be huge.

“If I go to Wetherby, there are a lot more meetings on Boxing Day and the chances of James being able to ride are much less than he would be able to on Saturday, and that is a big factor.”

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