Nells Son got the better of the previously unbeaten North Lodge in a thrilling climax to the bet365 Premier Novices’ Hurdle at Kelso.
A winner on his hurdling debut at the Borders circuit in October, the Nicky Richards-trained Nells Son had since finished second at Ayr and fourth behind the top-class Jonbon at Haydock.
The seven-year-old was a widely unconsidered 16-1 shot for this £50,000 Grade Two, but he displayed a willing attitude in the hands of Irish jockey Sean O’Keeffe to pip Alan King’s Cheltenham Trials Day winner North Lodge by a short head.
Richmond Lake, runner-up to Jonbon at Haydock, appeared to be faltering when suffering a heavy fall at the final flight and bringing down Donny Boy. Both horses eventually got to their feet.
Richards said of the winner: “He’s a grand horse and we’ve just sort of built him up.
“How he got beat Ayr, I’m not sure – I’d say it was just the trip that beat him.
“We dropped him back at Haydock where we rode him to run a good race as I went there thinking ‘are you as good as I thought you were, or am I getting it wrong?’ I thought he ran a grand race.
“He’s fairly ground dependent – he needs a bit of soft ground, this horse.
“There’s the Scottish Champion Hurdle (at Ayr) the week before Aintree this year, so I’ll see what the weather is doing up in Scotland.”
Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, Richards is excited to see what Nells Son can achieve over fences next term.
“I said to Sean when I first had a word with him, ‘you’ll be seeing this horse at Leopardstown next Christmas’,” the Greystoke handler added.
“He’ll be going chasing next year and I’d say he’ll make a wonderful chaser.”
Richards went on to complete a quick-fire double with 15-8 favourite Famous Bridge in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle.
The Fame And Glory gelding unseated Brian Hughes two flights from home when odds-on to score at Kelso a month ago, but made no mistake on this occasion under the champion jockey elect.
Richards said: “He’s a lovely horse. It looked like he was very much coming to get involved here last time. It’s hard way to learn a lesson, but he probably did learn from it.
“We’ve done a good bit of schooling with him since and I think he was a lot more professional today, even though he’s still raw.
“There’s a couple of handicaps at Aintree. I know the great man (late owner Trevor Hemmings) isn’t here, but it’s still nice to do what he would have liked to do.”
Cuban Cigar may have earned himself a place on Lucinda Russell’s Cheltenham Festival team with victory in the bet365 Juvenile Hurdle.
Twice a runner-up over obstacles for Richard Hannon, the four-year-old finished well-beaten on his first start for his new connections in the Victor Ludorum at Haydock a fortnight ago.
But dropping in class in the hands of Derek Fox, the 100-30 chance knuckled down from the final flight to get the better of 6-4 favourite Genuflex by a length and a half.
Russell said: “He’s a cracking little horse who is very straightforward and has been very well trained by Mr Hannon.
“We were really aiming at the Go North Final at Musselburgh at the end of the month, but the trainer would now quite like him to go to Cheltenham.
“We’ll see what Gerry (McGladery, part-owner) wants to do, but he is in the Triumph Hurdle.”