Nico de Boinville will be aboard the main attraction in front of around 2,000 spectators when Altior lines up in the Tingle Creek Chase on Saturday, and he warmed up for the former two-mile champion’s return to action aboard a possible star of the future, as Star Gate quickened clear of two opponents to win the Grade Two Ballymore Winter Novices’ Hurdle here on Friday.
Three-runner races on heavy ground do not always produce form to rely upon, not least when, as here, the pace is moderate to slow. Star Gate, though, appeared to win despite the conditions, taking command between the final two flights before quickening further clear of Valleres up the hill.
The winner was De Boinville’s first ride for Evan Williams, who was at Exeter to see Bold Plan snap the stable’s 45-runner losing streak, which had lasted since Coole Cody’s victory in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in mid-November, less than half-an-hour before Star Gate completed an across-the-cards double.
“I was really impressed,” De Boinville said. “We didn’t go much of a gallop early on, but he certainly quickened up well, he was very impressive over the last, and quickened all the way to the line.
I do this job because of horses like that; they get you out of bed in the morning. He’s still such a raw horse and there’s so much more to come from him, it was very much about looking after him, getting him jumping and away we went.”
Altior is odds-on for Saturday’s Tingle Creek, and De Boinville reports the dual Champion Chase winner to be in boisterous form ahead of his first race since early February.
“He’s hard to sit on at home because he’s bucking and squealing,” he said, “and every time I school him at home, I terrify the boss [Nicky Henderson], but it’s good fun. You’ve got to enjoy these days, horses like Altior don’t come around too often, so I’m really looking forward to it and coming there with lots of positivity.”
Star Gate was cut to 25-1 (from 40-1) for the Grade One version of the Ballymore at Cheltenham in March, although Williams does not seem inclined to plan any further than the winner’s next race.
“He’s a nice young horse, but he’s one for the future,” the trainer said. “It was a muddling type of a race and you can read lots into these things, but the reality is that he got the job done and it’s all part of his
education. He’s only a four-year-old and we wouldn’t be thinking of anything other than smaller steps. We won’t get too excited just yet.”
Bold Plan, meanwhile, is 33-1 for the Marsh Novices Chase at the Festival after a comfortable defeat of the 2-9 chance The Big Breakaway at Exeter. The runner-up is out to 20-1 in a place for the three-mile novice chase at Cheltenham in March, having started the day at around 8-1.
The Moore family annexed the two-mile handicap chase as the trainer Gary Moore’s Darebin and Early Du Lemo were separated by a neck at the line, with his sons Jamie and Josh on the winner and runner-up respectively.
The 1-2 was encouraging for the stable as it prepares Goshen, the fourth-favourite for the Champion Hurdle, for the International Hurdle at Cheltenham next weekend. It will be Goshen’s first start at the track since his dramatic departure at the final flight in last season’s Triumph Hurdle, when he had the race at his mercy.
“He’ll gallop in the morning and if everything’s good after that, he’ll go to Cheltenham,” Moore said. “He needed a bit more time [after running in September] and I hope they’ve had the rain there.”