sport

Fago excels at Newbury

Paul Nicholls used a Newbury novice chase to unveil Kauto Star eight years ago, so plenty of attention should be taken of Fago.

While there was no suggestion Graham Wylie's purchase will become such a decorated hero of Ditcheat, Fago took to British fences with aplomb and connections immediately nominated him for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.

Sent off a well-backed 5-4 favourite for the Betfred Double Delight Novices' Chase, the darkly-coloured five-year-old was dropping back in distance from recent tries for Guillaume Macaire but displayed the requisite speed to complement his tidy jumping as Ruby Walsh pushed him three and a half lengths clear of Ohio Gold.

"We haven't had him long and he jumped much better than you might expect for a horse that we thought could find improvement from what we've seen at home," said Nicholls' assistant, Dan Skelton.

"He has done all his schooling in the school, as the weather has meant he could not go outside.

"Better ground and a bit more time with us should see him improve, too.

"He'll be entered in the Arkle and the obvious step up would be the Kingmaker at Warwick, although that's not set in stone."

Officials had managed to cover the track in order to beat the freeze on a bone-chilling afternoon, and it was curious to see in the winner's enclosure two names far more familiar with Flat racing.

Andrew Balding is a fleeting presence on the scene but Chiberta King's third attempt resulted in a wide-margin victory in the Betfred "The Bonus King" Novices' Hurdle.

"He is my string," Balding said of the 8-1 shot.

"We have had some good ones in the past, like Scorned, Briareus and Distant Prospect, but I think I only had a bumper winner last year.

"This horse was Group-placed on the Flat but he was finding it hard to win.

"The main thing was to run him left-handed and get him to jump straight.

"I know he has plenty of experience but I would think Cheltenham will come a year too soon."

The Flat trend continued into the Betfred Goals Galore Handicap Chase.

Loch Ba (8-1) was effectively still giving Henrietta Knight back-to-back victories in the Harwell Trophy, following Glens Boy a year ago, as she is still deeply involved with the yard of near-neighbour Mick Channon, who has taken over the string following her retirement.

"I didn't think he did anything wrong when he was second at Ascot last time. He didn't put a foot wrong here and he jumped great," said Channon.

He deferred plans to Knight, who said: "I think he might go for one of the three-mile handicap chases at Cheltenham."

The thoughtful Harry Fry had already mapped out the rest of the season for Violin Davies (7-4 favourite), who was in a league of her own in the EBF/TBA Mares' Novices' Chase.

"She'll be a very valuable broodmare one day but hopefully there are more races to be won first," said Fry.

"There are a couple more qualifiers next month, and the big mares' race back here in the spring is the target."

Seventh Sign (7-4 favourite), a useful staying handicapper for Tommy Carmody in Ireland, just survived a furious late challenge from another promising newcomer Veauce De Sivola in the Betfred Mobile Lotto Juvenile Hurdle.

New trainer Alan King said: "We gelded him in December and it has been the making of him.

"He was only just ready but I wanted to get him out with the weather that's about at the moment.

"He should be a bit sharper for the experience."

Tom Scudamore kept Vieux Lion Rouge's unbeaten record intact in the Betfred Hat Trick Heaven 'Junior' bumper, but received a four-day whip ban (January 30-31 and February 1 and 3) in the process.

Trainer David Pipe said of the 7-4 favourite: "I was worried this trip would be a bit short as he's an out-and-out galloper.

"He might get an entry at Cheltenham (Champion Bumper)."

Fry and Nicholls' mentor, Richard Barber, prepared Chapoturgeon (4-7 favourite) to take the Betfred "Bonus King Bingo" Hunters' Chase for the second consecutive season.