sport

Holywell tops Festival players

There were plenty of Cheltenham clues on offer at Doncaster, with at least four of the scorers possibly heading to the Cotswolds next month.

Holywell waltzed away with the Pertemps Final last March and bettered that when second to Solwhit in a Grade One at Aintree a month later.

It is fair to say he has reached nothing like those heights over fences to date, but his hurdles rating had him miles clear of his opponents in the Betdaq No Premium Charge Novices' Handicap Chase.

Tony McCoy was at work early on the 10/11 favourite but in typically determined fashion the champion prevailed by three-quarters of a length from Victor Hewgo.

His Festival options are endless, with even a return to timber for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle not ruled out.

"I think he finds chasing hard as he's not very big," said McCoy.

"He might not be as good over fences and could be a horse that goes back hurdling at some stage."

Trainer Jonjo O'Neill added: "I don't know where he'll go know (at Cheltenham). He's in the four-miler, the three-mile handicap, the RSA and the Word Hurdle.

"We'll just wait and see and leave all his options open and it's up to us to pick the right one."

There are few better trainers of four-year-olds than John Quinn, and his Pearl Castle defied a penalty in the Betdaq Free Premier League Game Saturday Juvenile Hurdle.

Having blundered three out, he came back on the bridle quickly for Brian Hughes, who then switched to the outside on the 4/6 favourite, a manoeuvre which brought the jockey a two-day ban (March 5-6).

His Cheltenham options are in the hands of the handicapper, with the Fred Winter and Triumph Hurdle, for which he is as low as 12/1, in the mix.

"He came back on the bridle after his mistake which is a good sign," said Quinn.

"Left to me, this horse wouldn't go to Cheltenham on soft ground and we'd wait for Aintree, but you know what Cheltenham is like. Come Gold Cup day they might have to turn on the taps.

"He had to work hard but the second (Zamoyski) is no mug at all on the Flat."

The Betdaq 25 No Lose Mobile Bet Doncaster Veterans' Handicap Chase attracted some real old favourites and it was Tranquil Sea (12/1) who came out on top, qualifying for the Crabbie's Grand National in the process.

The 12-year-old won Grade Ones over hurdles and fences when trained in Ireland by Edward O'Grady, but perhaps his finest hour was when he was victorious in the 2009 Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Bought by Warren Greatrex before the start of this season with the principal aim of running at Aintree, he needed to finish in the first four in a chase over three miles to qualify for the National.

He beat a former World Hurdle runner-up in Time For Rupert by an eased-down two lengths.

"He needed to finish in the first four and it will still be touch and go whether he gets in (off 9st 12lb)," said Greatrex.

"The Topham (Aintree) is an option, but the Kim Muir (Cheltenham) could be tempting now as he didn't have a hard race."

Un Ace (7/1) threw his hat into the ring for the Supreme or the Neptune with an impressive display in the Betdaq 3% Commission British Stallion Studs EBF "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle.

Making his debut over obstacles and having his first start for Kim Bailey, the six-year-old quickened up nicely from the 5/6 favourite Stellar Notion in the hands of Nick Scholfield.

"He's a very nice horse. He wouldn't have come off the bridle but for a mistake at the third-last," said Bailey.

"I've just been waiting for decent ground. I had him ready to run at Ascot in December but it hasn't stopped raining since.

"He's in at Cheltenham (Supreme and Neptune) and that was how I sold him, as a potential Festival horse. It was too soft for him today, really.

It usually takes an above-average recruit to defy a penalty in a bumper and Zeroeshadesofgrey (9/2) looks just that after beating some expensive recruits under Trevor Whelan.

Winning trainer Neil King said: "He'll be entered for Cheltenham but we don't want to bottom him as he's a chaser of the future.

"I've waited 10 years for a horse like him."

Alan King's Seventh Sign was a 22/1 winner of the Betdaq 500 In Free Bets Handicap Hurdle in the hands of Noel Fehily, while Palypso De Creek (6/4 favourite) followed up his Wetherby victory in the CGA Foxhunter Trial Open Hunters' Chase but will return to the pointing fields rather than the Festivals.