Alex Ferguson's good Christmas continued yesterday at Doncaster where he was on track to see Harry The Viking carry his colours to victory in the novices handicap chase.
The Manchester United manager -- who saw his team join their city rivals at the top of the Premier League on St Stephen's Day -- part-owns the Paul Nicholls-trained six-year-old, which was following up a success over fences on this course three weeks earlier.
A bad mistake six from home failed to derail Harry The Viking (5/2), which outpointed Ikorodu Road by a head thanks to the determined efforts of jockey Daryl Jacob. "He's a workmanlike horse who only does what he has got to do," said the Wexford rider. "He's a powerful stayer and I probably got to the front too soon on him, but that was just the way the race worked out."
However, Nicky Henderson stole the show at the track with a 19/1 treble through Open Hearted, Prince Of Pirates and Tour D'Argent.
Open Hearted (9/2) kicked off proceedings in the queen's colours when opening his account over obstacles in the maiden hurdle. Always in the front rank, Andrew Tinkler's mount led before the third-last and comfortably held the favourite Ile de Re by four and a half lengths.
Prince Of Pirates (11/8) rallied on the run-in under a power-packed Tony McCoy finish to lift the Mirror Punters Club Beginners' Chase. A mistake at the final fence appeared to leave the way clear for 5/4 favourite Habbie Simpson, but McCoy was having none of it.
Sporting the JP McManus colours, McCoy galvanised his mount to get up close home to win by half a length. "He made a few novicey mistakes and he was looking round at everything," said Henderson's assistant Ben Pauling. "Going back to his bumper form, he beat Bobs Worth, so we know he's got an engine."
Tour D'Argent was the easiest of the Henderson winners, landing the Pyramid Carpets Novices' Hurdle with the minimum of fuss. Bringing up a double for McCoy, the 4/7 favourite made all of the running to score in a canter by nine lengths from An Capall Mor. "I would think he might try to defy a penalty before going on to better races," said Pauling.
Air Force One rolled back the years when registering his first win since taking a Grade One novice chase at Punchestown in April 2008 in the staying handicap chase.
Trainer Charlie Mann had expected to retire the nine-year-old after this race but has now scrapped that idea after he got up on the run-in under Noel Fehily to beat Beneficial Reform by two and a quarter lengths.
"I thought this would be his last race," said Mann. "He was a 164-rated horse at one stage and was running in Gold Cups, Hennessys and King Georges.
"He worked well on Wednesday and I rode him, but I thought he was not in love with the game. He's rated 120 now and the handicapper has given him a chance."