Happy Diva is not surprisingly set to step up in class after defying a penalty with ease at Wetherby.
Kerry Lee’s six-year-old had been put up 16lb by the handicapper after winning at Fontwell on Boxing Day, but she only had to carry an extra 7lb in West Yorkshire.
Conditional jockey Richard Patrick still had her on a tight rein for much of the straight, with his main concern being getting his mount over the obstacles.
She managed that to win the Today’s Racing Just £10 Mares’ Handicap Hurdle by seven lengths from fellow 9-4 joint-favourite Two Swallows.
“Last time the race fell apart behind her so I felt a 16lb rise was harsh, but it was right looking at that,” said Lee.
“We had to run again with a penalty and she’s improved again. We’ll go back looking for black type now.
“She’s a gorgeous mare. She was actually in the Listed race at Sandown (on Saturday) but we’d have been giving weight away to horses rated higher than us.”
Hainan landed the feature Racing UK-sponsored three-mile chase for Sue Smith and Danny Cook with a typical bold-jumping display.
Second to an unbeaten horse in Battle Of Shiloh last time out, the 7-2 joint-favourite was gifted a 10-length lead from the outset and never saw another rival.
Only six, he is all stamina and it would be no surprise to see him turn up in a Midlands National one day given the ease of this nine-length win.
“It was nice to get an easy lead out in front and he’s a very strong stayer,” said Cook.
“He’s still only a baby really for these types of races, he’s just turned six but he jumps and stays.
“I had it in my head that I wanted to steal a lead and that was how it turned out, so it was nice.”
There were some long faces among the members of the Mick Fitzgerald Racing Club as their Westend Story, fifth in the Champion Bumper last March, was beaten a long way for the second successive time this season, this time by Lakeside Castle in the two-mile five Racing UK Maiden Hurdle.
A 20-length third on his hurdling debut at Warwick, he was sent off the 1-2 favourite to shape much better. However, Harry Skelton had Richard Johnson in trouble some way out on Dan Skelton’s newcomer, who had some decent bumper form in Ireland last season.
The 7-4 chance coasted home to win by 23 lengths.
“He’d run well behind Blood Crazed Tiger last time and he’s a nice horse for Gordon Elliott,” said Harry Skelton. “We thought he’d run well, but we didn’t expect that.
“He loved the ground, he’s a real galloper and he’ll make a nice chaser one day, but we’ll take our time with him.”
Ian Williams was full of praise for James King who coaxed Amber Gambler (8-11 favourite) to a third win since Boxing Day in the amateur riders’ chase.
“He’s never ridden for me before and while he looked the one to beat, it takes some nerve to hunt one round like that. We’ll give him a break now,” said Williams.
Allfredandnobell (5-1) has already shown more over timber than in his Flat career and broke his duck at the second attempt in the Racing UK Juvenile Maiden Hurdle.
Without a win in 12 outings over the past couple of years on the level, he was third on his hurdling debut at Catterick and stuck on tenaciously to win for Micky Hammond and Finian O’Toole.
“He’s obviously a better hurdler, but he has ended up with a very workable mark on the Flat (54) and that might be something we’ll look at in the future,” said Hammond.
The first division of the bumper was won by a promising type in Nicky Richards’ Uncle Alastair (12-1) who showed a willing attitude to prevail under Craig Nicol.
The second division went in fine style to Some Reign – available pre-race at 40-1 but backed into 8-1 at the off – for Rose Dobbin and Graham Lee.
In the same race Joe Colliver had his first ride since being sentenced to 10 months in jail at Teesside Crown Court in August for lying about the circumstances of a car crash and paying a friend to take the blame.
He finished sixth on the Hammond-trained Skywards Reward.
Willie Mullins accepts the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle represents the “last chance” for Faugheen to get a run before the Cheltenham Festival in March.
The brilliant nine-year-old won the race 12 months ago, but he has since been sidelined with a suspensory problem that ruled him out of his defence of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last season.
Reigning Champion Hurdle heroine Annie Power is also amongst seven Mullins entries for the Grade One at Leopardstown on January 29, but she has not yet been sighted this season.
“I want to get them out as soon as I can,” Mullins said.
“Annie Power has two options – she also has the race at Punchestown (a two-and-a-half-mile mares’ hurdle) that she won last year – before going to Cheltenham.
“But it would be Faugheen’s last chance before Cheltenham.
“They are both well – both are riding out and doing plenty.”