Trainer Paul Nicholls and his stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies landed the £60,000 Betfred Classic Chase with Hawkes Point at a cold and blustery Warwick, writes David Hucker.
Run over a stamina-sapping trip of three miles and five furlongs, the Classic Chase is the jewel in the Warwick crown and it lived up to all expectations with three previous winners among the 14 runners facing the starter.
Last year, the veteran Carruthers, winner of the 2011 Hennessy Gold Cup, was the only horse to give Shotgun Paddy a run for his money and he lined up this time with a significant weight advantage over his rival.
Rigadin de Beauchene, who landed the spoils in 2013 and West End Rocker, successful in 2011, were also back for another crack at the prize, but there was a new kid on the block in the shape of the novice Return Spring from the Philip Hobbs yard.
Hobbs had been thwarted in the opening Betfred Goals Galore Novices’ Handicap Hurdle when the well-backed Avel Vor was run out of it close home by Vesuvhill, but that did not stop punters piling into the relatively inexperienced Return Spring who, having headed the betting all week, was sent off the 9-2 favourite to beat his older and more experienced rivals.
But, his supporters never looked like collecting, as Return Spring was always trailing the main pack and was eventually pulled up by Richard Johnson.
It was Shotgun Paddy who led the field onto the final circuit and he was full of running until a blunder at the third-last fence knocked the stuffing out of him, allowing Hawkes Point to take control and hold off the challenge of Theatrical Star in a driving finish.
Deputy Dan, a winner on the card last year, was fancied to land the day’s main supporting race, the £32,000 Betfred Mobile Hampton Novices’ Chase (Listed) over three miles and half a furlong.
Despite heading the ratings, he put in some sticky jumps behind leader Grand Vision and, although his class kept him in contention going to the last fence, Deputy Dan could not find any extra, as Tom Cannon and Sego Success swooped to take the prize.
Shantou Bob, a winner of three races prior to being beaten by just a nose by Vyta Du Rocat at Sandown, was hot favourite to take the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (registered as the Leamington Novices’ Hurdle).
Pushed along down the back straight, he could never get to the leading group, eventually running on through tiring horses to finish third behind Three Musketeers and Ballagh.
Trainer Dan Skelton said that the winner, who was having just his third start, will not be going to the Cheltenham Festival in March, but will be saved with a chasing career in mind and could go to the top of the tree.