Harry makes big impression
Big Hands Harry paid quite a large compliment to his Cheltenham-bound stablemate Royal Boy when laughing at his rivals at Newbury.
Nicky Henderson's pair met at Ascot shortly before Christmas, when Big Hands Harry was an unfurnished Irish point-to-point winner and Royal Boy had already finished third in a Tolworth Hurdle.
They were separated by six lengths on that occasion but Royal Boy proved capable enough to win the Tolworth on his second attempt and is one of the favourites for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle on March 12.
So it was no big surprise to see Big Hands Harry sent off the 8/11 favourite in the Physicool "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle and he fairly danced through the exhausting ground to beat Alan King's French recruit Ziga Boy by 10 lengths.
Henderson attempted to play down the performance on what was a very low-key and dank afternoon in Berkshire.
He said: "I do hope the handicapper won't over-react - he has won a very moderate contest in very bad ground. He'll go chasing next year."
Henderson and Barry Geraghty made it a double for the day with No Pushover (2/5 favourite) in the closing Rickety Bridge Mares' Standard Open NH Flat Race.
Stiff Upper Lip's transfer to Henderson's Lambourn neighbour Oliver Sherwood appears to be working out well as he triumphed in a very one-sided Floor V Davis HL1979 Juvenile Hurdle.
Only a fair handicapper for Richard Hannon, the gelding finished in mid-division on his jumping debut at Warwick but in an event where hardly any horses got involved, Stiff Upper Lip (15/8) ended up cantering 20 lengths clear under Leighton Aspell.
"Richard Hannon likes sending me jumpers - we got Carry On Sydney from him and hopefully he'll sneak into the Fred Winter," said Sherwood.
"He gallops and stays and I think that was one of my best bits of race-planning for years as it wasn't a good race. We'll try to win under a penalty."
All three starters were in with a shout approaching the second-last of the Berry Bros & Rudd Handicap Chase until Sir Valentino crashed out, leaving Felix de Giles to drive the 4/6 favourite Umberto d'Olivate five lengths clear of Stone Light.
"He has been a great horse for us this year, so consistent and versatile," said winning trainer Rob Walford. We'll keep him going as he's not a summer horse."
Another in-form horse boosted trainer Jamie Poulton's finances in the Agetur UK Novices' Limited Handicap Chase.
Farbreaga (4/1) jumped rather too vigorously to the left at stages but his enthusiasm allowed him to follow up last month's Southwell success as Tom O'Brien quickened 15 lengths away from Dunlough Bay.
Lewes-based Poulton said: "I had my biggest bet in 10 years on him, £200 this morning, as he was the only improver in the field. There's a 0-135 back here in three weeks and he probably goes for that."
Henry Oliver, who would often ride Restless Harry for Robin Dickin before officially retiring from the saddle before Christmas, is making a good fist of training and Whispering Harry (2/1 joint-favourite) continued his progress in the same colours in the RR Elite Novices' Handicap Hurdle.
"I've just got a bit more time to spend with the owners now I'm not riding," said Oliver. "It was quick enough since his last run at Ludlow but he seemed in good form."
Jockey Richard Johnson followed up in smooth fashion on 5/6 favourite Bincombe in the three-runner Fredk Sage Co Ltd Handicap Chase.