Carole provides festive Spirit
Two very smart horses fought out the finish to the Listed Call 08006118377 OSE Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Haydock, with Carole's Spirit presenting Robert Walford with the biggest win of his fledgling training career.
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Don Cantillon's As I Am had won a similar race at Newbury and, despite being burdened with a 5lb penalty here, jockey Conor Shoemark again employed forcing tactics.
Keshi Pearl had looked the likely winner turning into the straight but her effort was short-lived as As I Am went back in front.
Leighton Aspell had still not asked for everything on the 2/1 favourite, though, and Carole's Spirit battled on gamely to win by two and a half lengths.
The winner hails from a very successful family as her mother, Carole's Crusader, has produced several classy types such as Mad Max and Carole's Legacy.
"Leighton always thought he was getting there, but I wasn't as confident," said Walford. "We won't go for the mares' final at Newbury, she'd have top weight and you can't win that with top weight.
"We might look at the Grade Two over three miles at Ascot in January (Warfield Mares' Hurdle, January 18) she'd stay the trip all right. She doesn't need it soft, she was third in a Listed bumper at Aintree on good."
It was a big day for Aspell who also landed the feature Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase aboard Night Alliance and you can read the report here
Leviathan had earlier showed plenty of guts when getting off the mark for the season in the Terry Rugg Memorial Handicap Hurdle.
The Venetia Williams-trained six-year-old had run well at Uttoxeter 11 days ago but looked booked for a place at best when Hartside was produced between the last two flights and looked the likely winner.
However, Liam Treadwell was probably glad of the company and his mount, the 3/1 joint-favourite, stuck his neck out well to win by a length, with Irish raider Trucking Along in third.
Treadwell said: "He took a real grip at the start and didn't really drop the bridle until we passed the stands. He had to be tough in the straight as the ground is tacky and gluey and it's a fair headwind. I think his last run just took the freshness out of him."
Sue Smith notched an across-the-card double when Mwaleshi showed the benefit of experience in the onestopenergy.co.uk Novices' Chase - 20 minutes after stablemate Blakemount won at Newcastle.
Paul Nicholls' Valco De Touzaine set out to make it a real test under Ryan Mahon, but the testing conditions began to take their toll on the pacesetter.
Jonathan England grabbed the rail turning into the straight aboard Mwaleshi (4/1) and saw out the trip in a stronger fashion to strike by five lengths.
The winner was paying a handsome compliment to Nicky Richards' Eduard, who beat him in convincing fashion at Carlisle.
Harvey Smith, the Bingley handler's husband, said: "I just hope the handicapper doesn't go overboard or he could prove hard to place. The second had a silly rating, in my opinion."
Granville Island (4/1) was given a patient ride by Sean Quinlan to win the Shirley Leigh Memorial Handicap Chase.
Trained for local owners by Jennie Candlish, the six-year-old carried bottom weight but that was only 5lb less than Wings Of Smoke at the top of the racecard.
It was those two who fought it out in the straight, with Quinlan leaving his challenge late before coming away to score by two lengths.
Alan O'Keeffe, Candlish's partner and assistant, said: "He's been a victim of his own consistency, he always runs his race and gets no respite from the handicapper.
"I'm so pleased his won here as this is the local track for the owners but now he's won he'll probably go up a few pounds and go back to finishing second and third again."
Special Catch looked a handicap blot in the nationwidevehiclecontracts.co.uk handicap hurdle and so it proved for the 11/8 favourite.
Keith Reveley's six-year-old had finished close up behind subsequent Relkeel Hurdle winner More Of That on his last start and though James Reveley had to keep him up to his work to beat Art Professor, it was pretty straightforward in the end.
"His form had been franked and he looked the best horse in the race," said James Reveley. "He might go up enough to get into something like the Betfair at Newbury or the Lanzarote (Kempton)."
The Philip Hobbs-trained Sausalito Sunrise (4/1) saw out the trip well to defeat Matthew Riley in the One Stop Energy Race Day Handicap Hurdle in the hands of Tom O'Brien.