Apple's Shakira powers her way to impressive hurdle trial win at Cheltenham
Apple's Shakira created a huge impression on her British debut when winning the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham.
A sister to the multiple Grade One-winning mare Apple's Jade, the JP McManus-owned filly looks right out of the top drawer.
Philip Hobbs' Gumball had won his two previous races, but he had no answer to Nicky Henderson's three-year-old, who is now favourite for the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival in March after winning by 17 lengths as the even-money favourite under Barry Geraghty.
Geraghty said: "You could only be impressed, she was very good. She was learning as she went and the way she went to the line she could have gone a bit further.
"She has a great attitude and you could only love her. She's very talented."
Henderson said: "Barry has adored her from the first moment, she is funny though, as she shows nothing at home.
"But she does jump, Barry schooled her once and said 'this is the fastest thing I've sat on as a three-year-old'.
"She's not big, but has a lovely temperament and that was only the second race of her life. She has lots to learn, is still green but jumps like a big horse.
"That ground is soft, which she enjoyed, as she'd not want it too fast. I suppose the Triumph Hurdle is where she'll finish off, but she won't be hiding in her stable.
"I really didn't know what was going to happen today, I was hoping something like that as I had it in my mind it must be there some way.
"I did enquire how Apple's Jade worked at home and I was quite pleased to hear she doesn't show much, either."
Hobbs said of Gumball: "Our horse probably ran into a very good one there.
"We did look to be going better at one stage, but by the time they got to the second-last Barry was going far better. We won't blame the ground."
Experience proved vital as Black Corton gave Bryony Frost another big Saturday winner in the mallardjewellers.com Novices' Chase.
A week on from winning the Badger Ales Chase on Present Man, Frost was aboard another of Paul Nicholls' prolific winners and took her record to five from five over fences on the six-year-old, who won at 4-1.
Having made hay in the summer Black Corton was expected to be outclassed by Ballyoptic and West Approach, but his jumping held up while West Approach made a series of niggling errors and Ballyoptic clattered the last.
Frost said: "I wouldn't mind getting used to this. Hats off to the horse, from going around Worcester in the summer to beating those sort of horses.
"He gave me everything he had, I had heard Ballyoptic coming at the last and I was thinking 'don't get caught now, Blackie'. I'm five out of five on him now, but you'd have to ask him why we get on so well.
"We have to take him seriously now, he's put two very good horses to bed."
Nicholls said: "In all the time I've been training I don't think I've had a horse improve like him. I didn't think he had a chance today and that is six he's won now, he's getting better and better.
"This week he looked better than he's ever looked, despite all his races. The owners hadn't seen him run so I thought I'd let them see him and let him take his chance (once the ground had changed). He's not a typical chaser like the other two, he's 16:1 hands but gets on well with Bryony.
"Bryony is as good as any of the lads that are conditionals and she works hard."
He added: "There's a Grade Two at Doncaster and I suppose we could come back here and run in the three-miler in December. I can't believe how he has improved physically for all the runs, I could be brave and run in something like the Feltham and then give him a break before the spring."
Course specialist Perfect Candidate hung on for victory in the BetVictor.com Handicap Chase.
Paddy Brennan was positive on Fergal O'Brien's 10-year-old, tackling the front-running Three Faces West fully a mile from home and when that one cried enough he looked sure to win.
However, Scottish National winner Vicente began to close and but for two mistakes at the last two fences he may have got there, going down by less than a length. Gold Cup runner-up Minella Rocco was pulled up and favourite Premier Bond never went a yard.
Brennan said: "What a trainer, he has campaigned him beautifully. He took some stoking up, but he wanted it as much as me.
"It's always good to get winners here for Fergal. Fergal learned from the best in Nigel Twiston-Davies, who is the best trainer of a jumper I've ridden for, and one day he could be the best."
O'Brien said of his 7-1 scorer: "I've used a few words to describe this horse over the years, but never in front of the owners. It was fantastic and Paddy knows him so well.
"He had a nice run the time before, Paddy had to make his mind up today for him but the ground has come right for him and I've said for three weeks in a row now that Paddy is amazing in these situations, as he gives the horse every chance.
"I'm lucky to have the horse and Paddy. He's a phenomenal horse, we bought him for just 16,000 guineas and he's done us proud."
Looking to future plans, O'Brien said: "The Becher Chase might come too soon, but this race was always the plan. We'll just have to see how he is, he looks like a National horse and goes at home like a National horse, but these sort of fields suit him as he can dictate.
"I just feel in big field handicaps he doesn't get his own way, but I want to go back for the Becher."