Cheltenham hopeful Barters Hill takes difficult test in his stride
Ben Pauling was still undecided regarding the Cheltenham Festival target of Barters Hill but the unbeaten hurdler showed once again he is one of the toughest horses in training when winning at Doncaster.
Already a Grade One winner, he was supposed to face his stiffest task to date against Willie Mullins' Up For Review in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, but after going head-to-head for the first two-and-a-half miles, the Irish challenger was broken.
Barters Hill (4/7 favourite) still had to show his renowned battling qualities, though, as Ballydine had been sheltered from the strong headwind throughout and laid down a stiff challenge.
But Pauling's pride and joy stuck his neck out for a three-quarters-of-a-length success for David Bass.
"That just shows how tough he is," said the Gloucestershire handler. "He had every right to get beaten -they'd set it up for something to come from behind but he still found more. For the first time he'd been taken on for the lead so that answered another question.
"David (Bass) will tell me Albert Bartlett but I'd be scared of nothing in the Neptune. He travelled so much better for the better ground - I haven't ruled the Neptune out.
"We've got six weeks now so even though he had a hard race, it wouldn't bother me if he just walked for two weeks.
"Coming here people said it didn't matter if he got beaten, but it did to me - he's the horse of a lifetime."
Alan King enjoyed an incredible afternoon at Cheltenham but he also had two winners on Town Moor, including in the feature Sky Bet Chase with Ziga Boy (8/1).
A course winner last month, for which he incurred a 15lb rise, Grand Nationals could be on the agenda after his three-and-a-quarter-length defeat of Coologue.
"Brendan Powell gave him a hell of a ride - it's his first winner for me," said King from Cheltenham. "Ground is key to this horse, that's why we went to Doncaster as they missed the rain all week.
"The Scottish National could be for him as good ground is best for him and he likes to ping off." Dan Downie, racing manager for owners the Axom syndicate, said: "You'd have to be thinking of Aintree after that, he loves good ground and he should get in the race now, you'd think."
King also struck in the opening Philip Shackley 60th Birthday Celebration Handicap Hurdle with McCabe Creek (9/1) to provide a first winner for Jamie Insole, who lost an iron after the last.
Nicky Henderson's Vaniteux got back to winning ways in the Grade Two grand-national2016.co.uk Lightning Novices' Chase and was subsequently cut to around 8/1 for the Arkle.
Nico de Boinville hit the front early enough on the 6/4 chance but he held Arzal at bay by three-and-a-quarter lengths.
Henderson said: "I'm not sure whether he wants another run or not, but we could sharpen him up a bit, either at home or with a racecourse gallop. My guess would be that he won't run again before Cheltenham as he has had three runs over fences already, which is just about par for the course."
Brian Ellison's Smart Talk (7/1) booked her ticket for Cheltenham with a win in the OLBG.com Mares' Hurdle.
"We could run her in the novice mares' race (Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle) or the other one (OLBG Mares' Hurdle), we'll just wait and see," said Ellison.
Arthur Moore has achieved an awful lot in his distinguished career but Dandridge (8/1) provided him with a first winner at Doncaster in the Play Channel4 Racing's Pick 6 Handicap Chase. Confidently ridden by the excellent 5lb claimer Donagh Meyler, the result was never in much doubt throughout.
"That's my first winner here, it's only taken me 40-odd years," said Moore.
"If he (Dandridge) gets into the Grand Annual we might have a crack at that, but I think the race at Aintree (Red Rum Handicap) will suit him better."
At Fairyhouse, Limini enhanced her Cheltenham prospects with a convincing victory in the Three Coolmore NH Sires Mares Novice Hurdle.
The five-year-old, ante-post favourite for the new mares' hurdle at the big meeting, had not been seen making a winning debut for owner Rich Ricci and trainer Willie Mullins at Punchestown in May.
However, the 4/5 shot overcame that absence with aplomb to dismiss closest pursuer Cashelard Lady by 11 lengths in the hands of the trainer's nephew, Danny Mullins.
"Danny said she did it very easy, and her jumping was better when they were going a quicker pace," said the trainer's son and assistant, Patrick.
"She has a big engine, and should come on from it.
"It's good for Danny who is making the most of his opportunities."
Sunday Indo Sport