Big Country may have earned himself an appearance at Royal Ascot with a doughty front-running victory in the Racing UK Zetland Gold Cup at Redcar.
Formerly trained in Ireland by Charles O’Brien, the five-year-old enjoyed an excellent debut season for Mick Appleby in 2017, winning three times as well as finishing second in the John Smith’s Cup at York.
He kicked off the new campaign with victory in the Lincoln Trial at Wolverhampton, but disappointed in the Lincoln itself and was a 9-2 chance stepping back up to a mile and a quarter for Redcar’s #50,000 feature.
With champion jockey Silvestre de Sousa on his back, Big Country was soon bowling along in front and saw off all comers to score by half a length from 25-1 shot Nicholas T.
Appleby said: “He did it well and did it the hard way. I thought it was a good performance.
“He’s in the Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot and we’ll enter him in the Wolferton Stakes as well. I’d imagine we’ll probably go for the Wolferton now.”
Declan Carroll’s filly Machree rediscovered the winning trail in the Watch Racing UK In Stunning HD Handicap.
The daughter of Lord Shanakill rounded off last season with an all-the-way victory at Catterick, but finished down the field on her return to action at Nottingham last month.
However, back on a sounder surface, the 13-2 shot readily scooted three lengths clear in the hands of 5lb claimer Ger O’Neill.
“She won nicely and got a good ride from Ger. We’re delighted,” said Carroll.
“I wouldn’t say she was disappointing at Nottingham. She was beaten less than four lengths and maybe the ground was a bit soft for her. She was certainly sharper today.
“She is entered at Catterick on Friday. We’ll see how she is, but I’d say it’s unlikely she’ll run there.
“Hopefully we can place her to win another one.”
The Kevin Ryan-trained The Great Heir got favourite backers off to a flyer, obliging as the 15-8 market leader in the opening Visit The All New racinguk.com Novice Auction Stakes under Shane Gray.
Makanah (11-4) opened his account at the sixth attempt for Julie Camacho and Paul Mulrennan in the Racing UK Profits Returned To Racing Median Auction Maiden Stakes.
Parole (8-1), turning out just three days after finishing a well-beaten eighth at Pontefract, raised his game to get up late in the Market Cross Jewellers Handicap for Tim Easterby and Rachel Richardson.
Humphrey Bogart stars at Huntingdon
Humphrey Bogart signalled he could be a promising recruit to the jumping game when he put his training problems behind him with a first win over hurdles at Huntingdon.
The 2016 Lingfield Derby Trial victor and Epsom Derby fifth delighted connections as he took the Daily Racing Specials At 188Bet Maiden Hurdle by 10 lengths in the hands of Nico de Boinville.
It was just the third racecourse appearance for the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding in 21 months, but showed he still retains plenty of ability.
“It was pretty amazing considering he’s had a few problems. He’s had a tendon injury. We’ve had to be patient and his owners have had to be patient with him,” said James Ramsden, managing director of owners Chelsea Thoroughbreds.
“It was very exciting to see him in the winner’s enclosure.
“We’ll wait to speak to Nicky. We’ll get the horse home first and think about things.
“I think the plan is to continue hurdling. He wants a bit of cut in the ground.
“They watered at Huntingdon last night and we did think about it. He certainly wouldn’t have wanted it any faster. It will be hard to find suitable ground now.”
Humphrey Bogart is likely to have a break before resuming over hurdles in the autumn when he has his conditions.
“We just wanted to see him back and make sure we’d still got a horse,” said Ramsden.
“That was the idea for today, to show he’s still got it and he still retains his ability.
“Nicky has been pleased with how he’s been schooling. Bit by bit these things click into place.
“He deserves a little break now and we should have some exciting times come the autumn when the heavens open up again.
“He could be a dual-purpose horse, but the idea is to press on with the hurdling campaign.”