Paul Nicholls moves further ahead of Willie Mullins in champion trainer title race
Paul Nicholls extended his lead over Willie Mullins after another intriguing afternoon in the race to be crowned British champion trainer on Thursday.
Nicholls began the day a shade over £43,000 in front of his rival and hit the bullseye twice at Warwick to enhance his chances of claiming a 10th National Hunt title. El Bandit (15-8) scooted clear in the hands of Sam Twiston-Davies to win the second division of the Close Brothers Maiden Hurdle, earning £3,249.
The Close Brothers Finance Handicap Hurdle was particularly fruitful for the Ditcheat maestro, with even-money favourite The Eaglehaslanded scooping the first prize of £7,148 and Easter Day picking up £525 for finishing fourth.
Stilletto was even-money to win the most valuable event on the card, the Close Brothers Novices' Limited Handicap Chase, and while he proved disappointing and finished last of the three runners, he still picked up a cheque for £2,310.
Nicholls' fifth and final runner at Warwick was Brio Conti in the Close Brothers Standard Open NH Flat Race and the newcomer got £238 for finishing a close third, taking the trainer's Warwick earnings to £13,470.
Tom Jonason, assistant trainer, said: "After the Ayr meeting (last weekend), we were absolutely buzzing on the way home, Saturday night and Sunday morning.
"It was all a bit dreary after Aintree. A long time ago Paul said he was not going to send everything to Aintree to save a few bullets and that showed at Ayr.
"Hopefully we have saved a few more for the weekend." It was not all bad news for Mullins, who added £8,519 to his total at Perth.
Townshend (1-2 favourite) came good to claim victory and £3,899 in the Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer Novices' Hurdle, before Tennis Cap filled the runner-up spot behind last year's winner Witness In Court in the Lindsays Handicap Chase, earning £4,620.
Nicholls has the chance to move further clear at Exeter this evening, where he saddles another five horses. The first Exeter runner, Boa Island, secured £477 for finishing third in the Racing UK In Glorious HD Novices' Hurdle.
The show continues on Friday when Nicholls has four runners at Chepstow's evening meeting, while Mullins saddles just one runner at Perth, with Rolly Baby declared for the McCarthy & Stone Chase.