Conti looks set for National tilt
Silviniaco Conti reaffirmed his position as the elder statesman of the Paul Nicholls stable with a Betfair Ascot Chase victory that could put him on the trail of the Crabbie's Grand National.
Despite collecting a brace of King Georges and Betfair Chases, the 10-year-old chestnut suffered from arriving in the post-Denman and Kauto Star era and has never quite captured the imagination in the same way as his predecessors.
He has tended to be more dogged and determined than stylish but, fitted with first-time blinkers, it was as if Nicholls had found a new horse as he winged enthusiastically over the fences for Noel Fehily and trounced Dynaste by 20 lengths.
Although Silviniaco Conti had started to look a spent force this season as he struggled with wart-like sarcoids, his 2-1 starting price was a gift with the benefit of hindsight.
"I was mortified after the King George, I couldn't believe how badly he ran," said Nicholls. "We cauterised his palate, got his sarcoids right, and this is first time he hasn't been in any pain.
"The problems he's had have been incredible. I knew he was coming right but I thought another fortnight might have done him good, he was very fresh beforehand. When he's right he's a very good horse, you have to be to win seven Grade Ones."
Silviniaco Conti will now head straight for Aintree. He is twice a winner of the Bowl but, with a feasible weight of 11st 8lb, there might never be a better time to try the big one.
"It's definitely a possibility, we'll make that decision nearer the time, but it's highly likely he'll run in the National," Nicholls said.
"Noel's keen. He's 10, he's won at the course, and he could have a good chance of winning it. I'm certainly not going to say no. It's like when we won with Neptune Collonges , he's one of those class horses. Why not?"
National Hunt's biggest race might also be within reach of Kerry Lee, who continued to make such an impression in her first season with another valuable Saturday winner. In the last six weekends alone, Lee has landed a Welsh National, Classic Chase, Game Spirit and now Haydock's Betfred Grand National Trial, with Bishops Road the latest member of her small Herefordshire stable to thrive in the mud.
Teaming up with the relentless Richard Johnson, on the threshold of his first double-century, the Irish recruit was prominent throughout the gruelling three and a half miles and found just enough to prevent Katie Walsh and Broadway Buffalo creating further headline news for female riders.
Bishops Road drew nine lengths clear and should make the cut for a start with a weight of 10st 3lb, although conditions should be rather different by the spring.
"I'm very lucky. I bought this horse and he'll go straight to the National now," she said. "I'm so lucky to have a fantastic assistant [father Richard], who trained so many winners. He's a huge part of the team as is mum and my brother, Tom. I have a lot going for me in that respect."
Nicholls has essentially turned the corner following a quiet spell but Irving was one to run inexplicably badly, trailing home a distant last of four behind Rayvin Black in the Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.
He earlier revealed that Victoria Pendleton, the Olympic cycling champion who was unseated on her rules debut over fences at Fakenham on Friday, could have one more chance to make amends with Pacha Du Polder before the Cheltenham Festival in another hunter chase at Wincanton on on Wednesday week.
While Nicky Henderson, meanwhile, is yet to finalise his team for next month's Cheltenham Festival, Vyta Du Roc looks almost certain to make the cut following his victory in the Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices' Chase at Ascot.
Although a decision as whether he will contest the RSA or National Hunt Chase is still to be made, the seven-year-old finally translated his smart hurdles form to fences when lifting the Grade Two prize. In a race of considerable change, the 9-2 shot, who looked booked for a place at best facing up to the final fences, conjured up a spirited rally to pass Le Mercurey on the run-in, before holding the late challenge of Minella Rocco by half a length.
Victory for Vyta Du Roc, who was cut from 25-1 into 14-1 for both the RSA and National Hunt by William Hill, initiated a double for the Lambourn handler along with gifting owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede their second victory in the race having captured it with Ainsi Fideles 12 months ago.
"That was good. Daryl (Jacob) gave him a great ride," Henderson said. "He is in the four-miler as well as the RSA as he does stay. He jumped really well today. We did start him off over two, then went two and a half and today was over three. That was the best he has jumped and he does stay well.
"He is a classy sort of horse and apart from that mistake in the Neptune, in which he finished fourth, he would have nearly been second. If they (owners) want to go for the RSA, I would not say no. We've nothing else in that department that could go that way. He is getting it together now. That was his best run by a considerable distance."
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