Freshness has been cited as the reason for the below-par display from Marie’s Rock at Newbury, with owners Middleham Park Racing no closer to knowing if their star mare truly stays three miles.

The Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old was a Cheltenham Festival heroine for her syndicate members in 2022 before following up at the Punchestown Festival the following month.

She added to her haul of victories when successfully reappearing in the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day but failed to defend her Mares’ Hurdle crown when seventh behind Honeysuckle.

Having decided against a move up to three miles at the Festival, connections finally made the step up in distance at Aintree a month later, where she finished second to a thriving Sire Du Berlais.

Given another chance to prove herself over a staying trip, Marie’s Rock was sent off the 6-5 favourite to get her new campaign off to a winning start in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle.

However, over-exuberance both pre-race and in the early exchanges put paid to her chances and left connections willing to put a line through her disappointing fourth-placed finish under Nico de Boinville.

“I suspected we knew our fate when she was leaving the parade ring really, and she was as wound up as I’ve seen her in recent memory,” explained Tom Palin, racing manager for Middleham Park’s National Hunt string.

“She is Marie’s Rock, she does get sweaty and she does get buzzy, but she was very, very on it and Nico said she was on it at the start, just always on her nerves.

“She came there looking like she was going to be deadly and nothing was found and that was because she spent her energy at the start really, the damage was done before the tapes went up.

“There’s a fine line with horses like her and she’s so brilliant and so quick, but you just need to harness it and I think she was just too fresh and too free to do herself any form of justice.”

The defeat has left the Middleham Park team scratching their heads regarding Marie’s Rock’s next move, still lacking clarity over their eight-time winner’s staying potential.

Although eased in the Long Walk Hurdle market, connections are refusing to completely give up on three-mile ambitions, despite a crack at back-to-back Relkeel Hurdle victories followed by the Mares’ Hurdle back down in trip creeping onto the radar.

“We’ll regroup and go again and see whether we go again over three miles next time or drop back to two-and-a-half for the Relkeel,” added Palin.

“She’s the defending champion in that and is very good over two-and-a-half-miles at Cheltenham. That could be just the ticket, or we could stick to three miles in the Long Walk.

“We’ll have a bit of a discussion as a syndicate and with the trainer and see just where she is in the next 10 days or so.

“She was too free to accurately judge if she is going to be a three miler or not, but what I would say is that at this stage, the Mares'(Hurdle) is a bit more open to consideration than it was going into Friday.

“My comments (previously) have been it’s very much just the three-mile route, but when the facts change, your opinions are allowed to change as well and I’m not as all-in – nor is Nicky or the team – on the three-mile division being her sole campaign this year. We’ll know more as the season goes on.”

If abandoning the Long Walk in favour of the Relkeel, one possible route available to the Marie’s Rock team is a temporary drop in distance that allows the mare the chance to defend her crown, before a third attempt at three miles over the Stayers’ Hurdle track and trip in the Cleeve Hurdle on Festival Trials Day.

“You could go Relkeel and then onto the Cleeve at the end of the month and go back up to three miles that way,” continued Palin.

“Then she will be hard fit because she’s had two runs, burnt off any freshness and there would be no excuses.

“You would have a pretty good sighter and handle on whether she is right to line up in a Grade One staying race from there on in.”

Hansard defied a welter burden to win the Bet In Race With Coral Intermediate Handicap Hurdle at Newbury for Niall Houlihan and Gary Moore.

Saddled with top-weight due to some smart form in novices, he dwarfed many of his rivals in the race registered as the Gerry Feilden.

Beaten less than four lengths in a Grade One at Aintree by Henry de Bromhead’s Inthepocket at the Grand National meeting, he had made a satisfactory return to action when second to Rubaud in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.

With Jamie Moore sidelined with a serious injury, his father has put plenty of faith in Houlihan and he continues to repay him.

Houlinhan saved every inch of ground on the inner but he looked booked for a place at best two out as Bad and Brentford Hope set a target. Arguably Under Control was travelling the best at that stage, but she was almost pulled up on crossing the line having faded tamely.

With Brentford Hope failing to pick up on ground quicker than ideal, Hansard dug deep and the 15-2 shot went on to win by three-quarters of a length.

“We were very lucky to get him and it was very nice of Noel (Fehily, syndicate manager) to send him to me. He’s a very nice horse and he’s big enough to jump fences one day, whether he does or not I don’t know,” said Moore.

“Wincanton and the pace of the race took the fizz out of him, they went hard from the word go which suits him.

“He’s in the valuable race at Ascot (Betfair Exchange Trophy, December 23) just before Christmas and after that it just depends what the handicapper does to him as we could be in trouble if we over-race him.

“He does all the right things that make you think he could be (a Pattern performer) but he has to improve again.

“He wouldn’t want to run tomorrow but he’s a hardy horse who takes his racing well.”

When asked about a possible crack at the Betfair Hurdle back at Newbury over the same course and distance, Moore said: “Absolutely, but I don’t think he could win that with 12st.”

Fehily said: “I was delighted with that and he’s a horse we liked last year as a novice.

“I was a bit disappointed maybe with his run at Wincanton the last day and I think maybe he is learning to settle a bit better now and they went fast today which suited him.

“I feel a bit sorry for Jamie Moore today, he has been fantastic and I’m sorry he’s missed it as he loves this horse. But it was a great performance and we’re very happy.

“He’s got a big step up to get into Grade Once company, but to win a handicap like that off top-weight, he probably is a Graded horse now. I’ll speak to Gary and see what the plan is, but we’re going in the right direction anyway.”

This afternoon’s Coral Gold Cup card at Newbury will go ahead as planned following a precautionary inspection.

The entire track was covered again after racing on Friday and was reported to be frost free underneath at inspection time.

Officials will, however, continue to monitor conditions with a further drop in temperatures expected before day break.

It was positive news too from Fairyhouse, too, where day one of the track’s Winter Festival also passed an inspection.

Hermes Allen made a fine start to his career over fences with a smooth success in the Coral John Francome Novices’ Chase at Newbury.

The six-year-old looked a top-class prospect after striking Grade One gold in the Challow Hurdle at the Berkshire track late last year but was unable to replicate that form in the spring after being sent off favourite for both the Ballymore at Cheltenham and the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

Having undergone wind surgery during the off-season, the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding was the 13-8 market leader for his reappearance and chasing bow and ultimately got the job done in convincing fashion.

The keen-going Nickle Back took the six-strong field along for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey and looked to have the chasing pack in trouble rounding the home turn, with Harry Cobden having to ask Hermes Allen a question or two to close the gap.

However, Nickle Back’s earlier exertions began to take their toll halfway up the straight and Hermes Allen soon took his measure before stretching six and a half lengths clear.

“It was a proper race today, which you’d expect, and I’m thrilled with that. He jumped well, travelled well, learnt a lot and galloped on well,” Nicholls told Racing TV.

“Harry was thrilled with him, he said he was very clever jumping, especially late on, and that’s just what you want from a novice chaser first time.

“I’ve said quite openly, we missed a month’s work with him and I’ve been chasing my tail to get him ready, to be honest. It’s only a fortnight ago that I thought we’d get here, luckily we were able to gallop him here on the gallops morning, he’s schooled well and we’ve just about got away with it.

“He will improve fitness-wise, but he’s just got natural ability. His form in the first half of last season was very good, then he lost his way a bit, but he was struggling with his breathing all season and I think that caught up with him in the spring. He’s the finished article now.”

The Ditcheat handler now faces a quandary over how best to campaign what appears a particularly strong team of novice chasers in the staying division.

He said: “The idea is that Stay Away Fay runs at Sandown next week (Esher Novices’ Chase) and Knappers Hill is going to go to Kempton (Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on Boxing Day). I was thinking this horse would go for the Dipper on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham, but that’s gone now, so we’ll have to come up with something else.

“I don’t want to run them against each other at the moment. We’ll have to in the spring, but at the moment it’s pointless really.

“Whether I go to Cheltenham in a fortnight’s time with this horse over two-and-a-half and then leave him for the Scilly Isles (at Sandown in February), that could be a possibility.”

John McConnell is out to put a recent quiet spell behind him by claiming one of the biggest victories of his training career so far in the “iconic” Coral Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday.

The County Meath handler is one of coming forces on the Irish jumps scene, as advertised my multiple Graded-race victories in recent years and a first Cheltenham Festival success with Seddon last season.

Mahler Mission may well be a Festival hero himself, had he not fallen two fences from home when still bang in contention in the National Hunt Chase in March.

And following a pleasing comeback run when second in the Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle last month, the seven-year-old will line up this weekend with leading claims.

“I’m very happy with him, everything has gone well and we’re looking forward to it,” said McConnell.

“He’s travelled over and travelled fine, everything is good that way and there’s not a bother on him.

“Conditions should be OK, so we’re looking for a trouble-free run and after that we’ll see what happens.

“We were delighted with Carlisle. I think given it was two and a half miles on a right-handed track it was a very good run, and this trip should be more suitable.”

While Mahler Mission clearly has plenty going for him, there are a couple of obvious negatives.

Not only has McConnell gone over 50 days and saddled more than 40 runners since his last winner, but the Irish also have a surprisingly poor record in the former Hennessy Gold Cup, with the victory of the Willie Mullins-trained Total Recall in 2017 a first for the raiding party since Bright Highway’s success in 1980.

McConnell, though, remains positive, adding: “We’ve been a little bit quiet, but the jumps horses have been running mainly OK and it’s very competitive at this time of year, so I’m not overly worried.

“The Irish don’t have a great record in the race, I don’t know if there’s a particular reason, but hopefully we can change that.

“It’s one of the iconic races I’ve grown up watching and to have a runner in it is great, to think about winning it is just unreal.”

There is a second major contender from Ireland in the form of Gavin Cromwell’s Stumptown.

The six-year-old has disappointed in his last three races, but had previously looked a likely candidate for a race of this nature by winning at Sandown and finishing second in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham.

Cromwell said: “He’s in great nick and has a lovely racing weight, so hopefully he will have a good chance.

“The last day he ran in the Kerry National he made a mistake, I think it was four out, and wasn’t beaten far, so it wasn’t that bad of a run.

“When he was pulled up in the Irish Grand National it was quite soon after Cheltenham and it was run on very soft ground, which probably wasn’t ideal.”

The home team is headed by Complete Unknown, who bids to provide Paul Nicholls with a fourth victory in the race as a trainer and a sixth overall, having also ridden the winner twice in the 1980s aboard Broadheath and Playschool.

Nicholls told Betfair: “This race has been his target since he came back into training early in July. Second-season chasers have a great record in the Coral Gold Cup and he comes to Newbury in top form after a tidy win at Newton Abbot in October when he was only half fit. That was his first start since a wind op in the summer and he has improved tons for the outing.

“Complete Unknown schooled really well on Thursday and we are very happy with him. Most of his form is on testing ground, but that is mainly down to circumstance and he was an excellent second to Gerri Colombe on good to soft going at Aintree in April. As long as the ground at Newbury is similar he should be fine.”

Dan and Harry Skelton combined to win last year’s Coral Gold Cup with Le Milos and are out to repeat the feat with Midnight River, who returns to handicap company after finishing third in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on his seasonal debut.

“Midnight River is very well and this is what we have had our eye on for a while with him. He jumped on Wednesday morning and that told us everything is ready,” said the trainer.

“I was delighted with his run in the Charlie Hall, he couldn’t beat the first two that day, we tried to go with them turning in but he didn’t have that class if you like, but he’s improved a good bit since then and we’ve aimed at this ever since.

“He’s been in all those top handicaps last season so he does have that experience, but I’m sure it will be a very good race, it always is.”

Other contenders include Lucinda Russell’s top-weight Ahoy Senor and the Sam Thomas-trained pair of Stolen Silver and Our Power.

Russell said in her blog for William Hill: “He’s a very classy horse, but it is a heck of a weight to carry round. He’s run very well round Newbury before, where the fences suit him, and I think we’ll see a much-improved performance from his run at Wetherby.

“At an each-way price I think he’s been overlooked and we think finishing in the first four would be a satisfactory result. I’m quite bullish about him in a way because he’ll be much better for his comeback run, but it’s a big field and he has to carry top-weight.”

Jeriko Du Reponet justified his lofty reputation with a facile success on his rules debut at Newbury.

An impressive winner on his sole start in the Irish point-to-point field in the spring, the French-bred four-year-old was subsequently snapped up by JP McManus and sent to Nicky Henderson.

The Seven Barrows dogs had been barking his name even prior to a recent racecourse gallop at Newbury, while he was already prominent in ante-post lists for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March even before he jumped off for his competitive introduction in Berkshire.

Jeriko Du Reponet was the 4-11 favourite for the Coral Get Closer To The Action “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle, a race Henderson has won six times in the last 10 years, with two McManus-owned stars in dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air and the top-class Jonbon among those on the roll of honour.

Nico de Boinville had to chivvy the trainer’s latest candidate into the bridle on a couple of occasions in the home straight, but he was motionless after jumping the final flight upsides in front and soon eased three and a quarter lengths clear of the runner-up King William Rufus.

“It was quite straightforward, the main thing was to give him the experience as well. I thought he was very genuine, it rode like an okay race and he’s gone through it well,” De Boinville told Racing TV.

“There was a bit of a tight gap, which it was good that he came through, and once he’s got through that he’s come back on the bridle.

“He’ll obviously come on for the run, he had a nice piece of work here about 10 days ago and he’s a very good-looking horse.”

Paddy Power make Jeriko Du Reponet an 8-1 shot for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, while Unibet were even more impressed and offer just 4-1 for the traditional Festival curtain-raiser.

Friday’s meeting at Newbury will go ahead as planned, but a precautionary inspection has already been called ahead of Saturday’s Coral Gold Cup card.

The opening afternoon features two Grade Two contests, the Long Distance Hurdle and John Francome Novices’ Chase, and following a morning inspection, the venue is fit for action with the going described as good to soft, good in places on the chase course and good to soft on the hurdles track.

Covers were put down earlier in the week and they will be reapplied at the end of Friday’s card ahead of overnight temperatures which could dip as low as minus 4C overnight.

With another cold day forecast on Saturday, clerk of the course George Hill has called a 7.30am check to assess conditions.

An inspection will also take place at Newcastle on Friday afternoon ahead of Saturday’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle.

Champion Hurdle hero Constitution Hill is set to make his seasonal bow in the Grade One feature, with fellow Nicky Henderson inmate Shishkin starring in the line up for the supporting Rehearsal Chase.

Covers were also deployed at Gosforth Park, but a precautionary inspection has been called for 2.30pm on Friday, with the track reported to be raceable despite just over a centimetre of snow.

Leicester’s Sunday card will have to pass an 11.30am check on Saturday with a hard frost anticipated on Friday night.

Harry Derham is eager to see further progress from Brentford Hope when he lines up in the Coral Bet Bundles Intermediate Handicap Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday.

A useful operator in both codes for Richard Hughes previously, he has won three times in just four starts for his new handler, with Derham having seemingly found the key to unlock the talented six-year-old’s full potential.

He returned with an emphatic 16-length success over the Gerry Feilden course and distance earlier this month and having been raised 11lb by the handicapper, now faces the toughest jumping assignment of his career as he takes on Nicky Henderson’s big-race fancy Under Control.

Also a track-and-trip scorer and a winner of four of her five career appearances, the unexposed four-year-old comes with a fearsome reputation in a race Henderson has won three times in the last four years and Derham concedes Brentford Hope’s task would be much simpler without Under Control’s presence.

“I think Under Control is pretty hard to ignore and her form looks pretty good to me, I would much rather she wasn’t in the race,” said Derham.

“She’s obviously a course-and-distance winner too, but I’m very pleased with Brentford Hope. He will have improved for that last run but he would have needed to.

“He’s a good horse and he looks to me like he has improved this season. It was nice to see what he did at Newbury, although maybe he won a bit too far.

“He’s a good horse but Saturday will be a really big test for him so he will have needed to improve.

“I wouldn’t have minded the ground to be a little bit wetter to be honest. I would have loved it to have been a bit slower and it looks like it has dried up quite a lot this week, but he will take his chance and hopefully he will run a big race.”

Sam Thomas bids to become just the third man to have both ridden and trained the winner of the Coral Gold Cup when he saddles Stolen Silver and Our Power in the Newbury feature on Saturday.

The late Andy Turnell and Paul Nicholls are the only others to have achieved such a feat, and Thomas is halfway to completing the accomplishment, having steered the Nicholls-trained Denman to the first of two famous victories in the race his during his Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning season.

Denman shouldered top-weight when delivering his astonishing display in 2007 – and while Stolen Silver has not got as much of a burden to carry, the eight-year-old has only Ahoy Senor above him in the handicap following a victorious comeback at Chepstow.

That was the first time Stolen Silver had competed over three miles and Thomas is hoping there could be more to come over staying distances.

“The style he won in at Chepstow was really pleasing, he jumped brilliantly, relaxed, and saw the trip out well,” said Thomas.

“I think he hopefully still has more to offer over that distance, which is exciting.

“Obviously, you don’t quite know sometimes until you run these horses over the extreme trips. However, I do feel he is a much more relaxed horse this season at home, and I think that’s a sign of him telling me he wants to step up in trip.

“I have no reason to believe he won’t get three-mile-two, it’s a flat track, they go a good gallop there and you need to stay very well. If he’s ever going to stay that trip, then it will be at a track like Newbury.”

Joining Stolen Silver in the same ownership of Walters Plant Hire and Potter Group is Our Power, who won back-to-back staying handicaps at Ascot and Kempton last season before finishing the campaign well held in the Grand National.

He returned at Newbury for a sighter of the course over hurdles, and Thomas hopes that early outing over the smaller obstacles will put his charge spot-on for a bold bid.

He continued: “Our Power had a good spin over hurdles to give him a good blow out. We would have loved to have run over fences, but we didn’t want to risk him winning again and ruining his chances of having a nice weight in the Coral Gold Cup. Hopefully he is still off a workable mark.

“He’s a very laid-back character and doesn’t give much away at home, but he’s come out of the race nicely and it gave us a bit of time to kick on and give him some more work. Hopefully it has blown away the cobwebs.”

A trip to Newbury on Saturday week is a possibility for Dysart Enos having delighted Fergal O’Brien at Huntingdon earlier this month.

Unbeaten in three starts in bumpers, including when blitzing the field to claim Grade Two honours at Aintree in the spring, she enhanced her perfect record on her hurdles debut with a thoroughly impressive display in the hands of Paddy Brennan.

She scorched seven and a half lengths clear of her rivals on that occasion and her handler is now considering a shot at Listed glory in the Play Coral “Racing-Super-Series” For Free Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle on December 2, with the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival remaining the five-year-old’s ultimate aim.

O’Brien said: “She will be entered for Newbury and we’ll have a look and see what’s about. We are just trying to pick our way to try to get her to Cheltenham.

“She’s in great form and has come out of the race at Huntingdon well and we keep our fingers crossed.

“There was a lot to like about it, she was a bit keen and a bit novicey at some of her jumps, but at the important part of the race she quickened up nicely.”

Stumptown will bid to provide trainer Gavin Cromwell with another big-race victory on British soil in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday week.

The County Meath handler has his string firing on all cylinders at present, highlighted by four winners across meetings at Navan and Cheltenham last weekend.

Cromwell also enjoyed a treble at Cheltenham’s October meeting and is eyeing further riches in the UK with Stumptown, who struck gold at Sandown in February before being narrowly beaten by Angels Dawn in the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival.

The eight-year-old was subsequently pulled up in the Irish Grand National and has failed to trouble the judge in two outings so far this term at Galway and Listowel – but Cromwell is hopeful he can show his true colours in Berkshire granted suitable conditions.

He said: “His target is to go to Newbury. I hope the ground remains on the nicer side as he certainly doesn’t want it too deep.

“I think the English fences suit as he’s inclined to get in deep to a fence, as he did in Listowel and made a mistake. He seems to be able to get away with it a bit easier in the UK.

“I’m hoping Ahoy Senor stays in as we’d have a lovely weight (10st 2lb).”

The in-form trainer is also poised to send exciting bumper winner Only By Night over hurdles having secured Listed honours at Navan.

It was initially thought the mare would stay competing in bumpers, but given she is already a five-year-old, Cromwell has had a change of heart and indicated her next outing is likely to be over obstacles.

“She is a lovely mare, she’s five and looks a chaser in the making,” he said.

“I think we will go hurdling with her. I was very undecided at the weekend and then Derek O’Connor got off her and said he doesn’t know anything that would beat her in bumpers for the rest for the year.

“That seemed a bold statement and you don’t know what Willie (Mullins) could come up with, but I think we will go hurdling with her because she’s five rising six and if you go hurdling next year, you are six rising seven and then seven rising eight when you are going chasing.”

It is 10 years since Triolo D’Alene provided Nicky Henderson with his third victory in what is now the Coral Gold Cup – but in Dusart the Seven Barrows handler believes he has another live contender.

Triolo D’Alene was a second success in as many years for Henderson, following on from subsequent Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth, with Trabolgan in 2005 being his first winner.

Dusart has always been highly regarded and won three of his first four outings over fences, but he only ran three times last season, without success. He was one of four stablemates galloping at Newbury on Tuesday.

“Dusart did it well enough this morning and has had a nice away day like Jonbon, who came here the other day, he walked round the paddock and went home,” said Henderson.

“He’s been here before and is a good horse. The Coral has always been the plan and he would benefit from some decent ground.

“He had all sorts go wrong last season and was travelling beautifully when being brought down in the Scottish National.”

It is a fixture Henderson always targets and it is likely to see Under Control reappear, the four-year-old filly beating stablemate and Greatwood Hurdle winner Iberico Lord at Sandown when last seen. Marie’s Rock is another due to be in action.

“Under Control will run in the Gerry Feilden here on Saturday week. She needed to do something and is marginally straighter than Marie’s Rock,” said Henderson.

“She’s not something that hits you as being gorgeous, but she’s an absolute poppet. She’s talented and her form is strong.

“Marie’s Rock runs here in the three-miler (Long Distance Hurdle) and she will go in anything. It will be nice though to get some nice ground. It was pretty soft under the rail this morning. Nico (de Boinville) is very pleased with her.”

One horse from the yard who is garnering plenty of talk is new recruit Jeriko Du Reponet and he is another likely runner at the meeting, along with Willmount, a winner at Newbury first time out for Henderson having looked smart in bumpers with Neil Mulholland.

“Jeriko Du Reponet won a point in Northern Ireland. He’s never done anything before today,” said Henderson.

“Last night I needed a fourth horse to bring and he fell into place. He’d never had an away day, but I wanted to see if he might be ready for Newbury.

“Willmount is an exciting one who won well here and could come back. He’s quite exciting.”

Middleham Park hurdlers Red Risk and Marie’s Rock are likely to cross paths in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury next month.

Both horses run in the silks of the ownership group, and Marie’s Rock has won at the highest level for connections, taking both the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and the Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown last year.

The Nicky Henderson-trained mare was second to Sire Du Berlais in the Liverpool Hurdle on her final start last season and will reappear for the new campaign over the staying trip.

There she will encounter Paul Nicholls’ Red Risk, an eight-year-old who has been moving out of handicap company in recent starts and made a promising start to the season when second in the Grade Two bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby’s Charlie Hall meeting.

Tom Palin of Middleham Park said of the two horses: “I think they’re going to do battle, they’ll be taking each other on at Newbury in the three-mile Grade Two there (December 1).

“That’s been Marie’s Rock’s target for a while, that was the logical starting point for her.

“Red Risk ran a cracker at Wetherby, I thought we were going to go past the other horse but he really toughed it out as well. We were delighted with the run.

“He does go very well fresh, we’ll run at Newbury but the one question we have is whether it’s a bit too soon after Wetherby.

“Then we’d just look at giving him a bit of a freshen up going into something ahead of the spring, maybe a Cleeve Hurdle or something akin to that.

“They’ll probably end up taking each other on at Newbury in that Grade Two and it will be fascinating to see who comes out on top.”

Marie’s Rock will proceed from Wetherby in the direction of the top staying contests, with the big festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree pencilled in for the spring.

“She’s obviously got that useful weight allowance and I think she has a pull as it is on official ratings but that performance (by Red Risk) the other day was a very, very good performance,” Palin said.

“We’ve just got Red Risk figured out and Marie’s Rock is in great form. Her campaign kind of plans itself; Newbury, Ascot, Cheltenham for the Cleeve, Cheltenham for the Stayers’ and Aintree again.”

Willmount made the perfect start to life over obstacles with an effortless win in the Agetur UK Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury.

Trained by Neil Mulholland last season to win two bumpers, he moved to Nicky Henderson over the summer and the change of scenery has certainly not done him any harm.

Nico de Boinville found himself in front aboard Oli Harris’ £340,000 purchase after half a mile due to the speed at which his mount was jumping and from then on it was a solo affair.

Only Beny Nahar Road and Onewayortother attempted to keep pace but when De Boinville kicked clear on the turn for home and pinged the third last, the race was over and he cruised to a 13-length success.

“He gave me a lovely feel actually. There wasn’t much pace on so I was happy to just roll away down the back, he pricked his ears nicely and quickened away into the straight,” De Boinville told Racing TV.

“He jumped very nicely, was slick when he needed to be and he could fiddle away as well, which is great.

“He’s very uncomplicated, these pedigrees are showing more and more with their temperament and everything.”

John McConnell is excited about the chances of Mahler Mission in next month’s Coral Gold Cup at Newbury following his promising comeback run at Carlisle on Sunday.

The seven-year-old looked the likely winner of the National Hunt Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival before crashing out two fences from home and he made his first competitive appearance since in the Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase in Cumbria over the weekend.

Running over an inadequate trip of two and a half miles, Mahler Mission set out to make all the running before eventually being reeled in by the classy Thunder Rock, but was 10 lengths clear of the remainder in second and McConnell could not have been happier with the performance in defeat.

He said: “We were really happy, we obviously wanted to get a clear round in after what happened in Cheltenham and he ran a really nice race over a trip that was obviously a little bit on the short side.

“He was beaten by a proper horse of Olly’s (Murphy) and overall we couldn’t be happier with him.

“He kept going to the line and will come on for the run in terms of fitness as well. He jumped really well and we think he’s probably slightly better left-handed as well, so there’s lots of positives.”

With the cobwebs blown away, McConnell is looking forward to stepping him back up in trip for one of the season’s most prestigious handicaps at Newbury on December 2.

He added: “That (Coral Gold Cup) is the plan – left-handed, nice trip for him and at the minute he’s got a nice weight (10st 10lb).

“I would imagine the weights could go up a little bit, but anything under 11st would be a lovely racing weight and it looks an obvious target for him.

“I don’t want to think about it too much as I’d get too excited, but if I was looking from the outside in I would think he’d have a right chance.”

Mahler Mission is one of 41 horses still in contention for the Coral Gold Cup following the latest acceptance stage.

The weights are headed by Lucinda Russell’s Ahoy Senor, who could look to bounce back from a disappointing reappearance in Saturday’s Charlie Hall Chase, but would have to carry 12 stone.

The Scottish handler has also left in her Grand National hero Corach Rambler (11st 4lb), who similarly failed to fire on his return to action at Kelso last month.

Dan Skelton’s Protektorat (11st 11lb) and the Venetia Williams-trained Royale Pagaille (11st 5lb) are both still in the mix, while the race sponsors make Jonjo O’Neill’s Monbeg Genius (10st 6lb) their 7-1 favourite despite the fact he was pulled up at Ascot over the weekend.

Coral’s David Stevens said: “Following his defeat at Ascot on Saturday, we eased Monbeg Genius to 10-1 from 6-1 for the Coral Gold Cup, but punters seem willing to overlook that run, and the Cheltenham Festival third has reclaimed his place at the head of the Newbury betting.”

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