Westwood dreaming of Festival
Monkerty Tunkerty won at Doncaster on Wednesday to spark dreams of the Cheltenham Festival for Jessica Westwood.
Westwood set out from her base at Minehead in Somerset at 6.30am but it proved to be a worthwhile five-hour journey as she now has a contender for the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase.
The 11/4 favourite shrugged aside a decent field of seasoned campaigners in just his fourth handicap to show he would not be out of place at next month's Festival.
The former hunter chase and point-to-pointer put his head in front three out and stuck to his task well to beat Marufo by two and three-quarter lengths, with West End Rocker another three-quarters of a length away in third.
"He's my first runner here and he's my only horse in training. I have a bumper horse who might run later in the spring," said Westwood.
"I've always liked coming here as I had success leading horses up when I worked for trainers like Jeremy Scott and Philip Hobbs.
"He's still learning and made a few mistakes because they went such a gallop and he's not used to that.
"It took five hours to get here but was definitely worth it.
"He's in the JLT Specialty and the Byrne Plate, but I think the former race over three miles will be the one."
Trainer Nicky Henderson and jockey Barry Geraghty enjoyed a double with Otto The Great and Minella For Fitness.
Otto The Great (5/2) put in an assured display on his debut over fences to defeat stablemate Private Equity by three and a quarter lengths.
"He jumped brilliantly. We just got racing a bit early in the straight and galloped into the fourth-last. Apart from that he was foot perfect," said Geraghty.
"He didn't win over hurdles but had some great runs. He was second in Ascot early in the season and then disappointed at Newbury, but we always knew he would take to fences."
Minella Forfitness got up in the last stride to deny Cheltenian a winning comeback after two years off in the SIG Insulation EBF "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle.
Minella Forfitness was only third over the final flight but the 9/4 favourite responded to Geraghty's urgings on the drive to the line and got the verdict by a short head.
"He ran a bit with the choke out so I had to wait until he filled up again," said Geraghty.
"I think he's suited by further. It was only after the last when I felt I had a chance.
"He's more of a horse for next year."
Cheltenian's trainer Philip Hobbs and jockey Richard Johnson went one better when Doctor Foxtrot (20/1) overcame a 518-day absence to win the SIS Live Handicap Hurdle and deny Geraghty, on the length-and-a-quarter runner-up Mister Dillon, a treble.
"He's had a long time off and kept on going very well. He got a good run up the inside," said Hobbs.
"He'll probably jump fences before very long. We might run him another handicap hurdle race first."
However, Johnson was banned for a day (March 10) for careless riding.
Dante's Storm (11/10 favourite) will try to improve on his fifth in the Foxhunter Chase two years ago when he returns to Cheltenham after a 10-length victory in the CGA Foxhunter Trial Hunters' Chase.
Trainer Alan Hill said: "He's more relaxed more and the tongue-tie helped.
"I think he's as good, if not better, than he was two years ago.
"We'll go there and try to hold up this side of the Irish Sea's challenge."
The John Ferguson-trained Purple Bay (even-money favourite), ridden by Denis O'Regan, just held Wilde Blue Yonder by a head in the 32RedPoker.com Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
"We'll see in a week about whether to think about Cheltenham. If not, there's always Aintree," said Ferguson.