Nozic delight for owner Clare

Part-owner Simon Clare was left "over the moon" after veteran chaser Nozic rolled back the years at Plumpton.

The 13-year-old was originally bought by Coral to run in the 2010 Grand National for 10 winners of various competitions being run by the bookmaker and The Sun newspaper.

Clare, PR director for Coral, maintained an interest when Nozic changed ownership again a year later and has developed a real bond with the teenager, who had spells with Paul Nicholls and Nick Gifford before joining Zoe Davison.

Having fallen down the weights, he was a 5/2 shot to win the Bernard O'Brien Memorial Handicap Chase, a race in which he was successful back in 2012.

Nozic travelled with plenty of zest and dug deep for Wayne Hutchinson to fend off Dynamic Idol by two and three-quarter lengths.

Clare said: "I've been involved in racing for 25 years and I can honestly say I have never been as emotional about anything in the sport as I am about this horse.

"Today was absolutely brilliant. It wasn't a great race and he's dropped down the weights, so I half expected him to do it, but it isn't easy getting a 13-year-old to the racecourse.

"Zoe is a brilliant horsewoman and I thought Wayne gave him a fantastic ride.

"We would probably have retired him if he hadn't run well today. When he won this race two years ago we were thinking of retiring him, but he won it and then the following season he won at Kempton and was second in a couple of big handicaps.

"This season he has been a bit disappointing, but he's bounced back and we're over the moon.

"People don't realise how much horses love being in training. Horses are like humans - I don't think anyone really looks forward to retirement - you end up doing the gardening and everyone forgets about you!

"He's fit and well and he loves training, so we'll keep going with him.

"I think he might even come on for today and I don't see why he can't win again."

The most valuable race of the afternoon was the Aspen Insurance Mares' Handicap Hurdle, with Hutchinson steering 11/10 favourite Our Phylli Vera to victory for his boss, Alan King.

Making her first appearance since striking at this track in mid-December, the five-year-old was made to work hard to get the better of Was My Valentine by a length.

Mark Ball, racing manager for owners Let's Live Racing, said: "We're really thrilled with the mare and I thought Wayne gave her a fantastic ride. He seems to have struck up a really good relationship with her.

"We've had this race in mind for about six weeks and Alan has produced her to the minute.

"It was an obvious target as it was 0-115 race for mares' only and it was worth 10,000, so we're delighted it came off.

"She hadn't run for a while as Alan obviously shut his yard and then when we saw this race coming up, the owners were good enough to delay running her for another three weeks.

"I'm not sure where she'll run next. She's not a mare you would want to run every week, so we'll see what the handicapper does and then have a look at the programme book."

It was a decent day for favourite-backers on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival, with five of the seven winners heading the betting.

Sergeant Mattie, Charlie Longsdon's 5/6 favourite, got punters off to a great start in the opening Aspen Insurance 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle, scoring by an eased-down four lengths in the hands of 7lb claimer Charlie Deutsch.

Dont Do Mondays (15/8 favourite) showed plenty of heart to defy top weight in the Aspen Insurance Novices' Handicap Chase for trainer David Bridgwater and jockey Alain Cawley.

Anthony Honeyball and Robert Thornton combined to take the Aspen Insurance Handicap Hurdle with 5/2 favourite Solstice Son, while the Anise Catering Handicap Chase went to the Venetia Williams-trained 7-4 market leader Tarraco, ridden by Aidan Coleman.

The concluding Aspen Insurance Supports The Handicap Hurdle went to 13-2 shot Hold The Bucks.