On The Blind Side (7/1) made a winning return to hurdles when edging out Mrs Milner and Golden Fortune in a pulsating finish to the Listed Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle.
The Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old was happy to track Dandy Dan for much of the three-mile contest before taking up the running for Nico de Boinville approaching the second-last flight.
Last year’s winner Golan Fortune laid down a persistent challenge, with Mrs Milner also pressing for the lead as all three duelled for the advantage over the last. On The Blind Side asserted near the line to edge out Mrs Milner by a neck, with Golan Future a further length and three-quarters in arrears.
Nico de Boinville said: “He loved it back over hurdles, despite the ground. He loves having his own bit of space, it’s always quite hard in those big field chases to find a little bubble, but there today he’s really enjoyed it and he loves the hurdle game.”
He explained he was picking his route based on ground, rather than to give him space: “That was definitely ground [in mind] — I call it Barry Geraghty’s route, just where they haven’t poached it.
“We’ll see [if he stays over hurdles for the season], that’s up to the boss. We are lucky because if we can find small-runner fields in chases then he’s just as effective over fences, so we will see how we go as he can change between the two.
“He really knuckled down and found all the way to the line, he had to as well.”
Reflecting back on the Paddy Power Gold Cup he added: “That wasn’t [Mister Fisher’s] ground at all. I think he’s fairly ground dependent, I was worried as soon as that rain storm came as it wasn’t ideal, but look — we live to fight another day and he didn’t have too hard a race.”
Asked about his thoughts on riding Shishkin again, he added: “I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got lots of nice horses to come out, some already have, so here’s to a good season ahead.”
2.50pm Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle (Listed) 2m 7f 208y
1 On The Blind Side – Nicky Henderson 8-11-06 Nico de Boinville 7/1
2 Mrs Milner – Paul Nolan IRE 5-10-05 Robbie Power 4/1JF
3 Golan Future – Phil Middleton 8-10-12 Mr Sam Lee (7) 4/1JF
Distances: nk, 1¾
Tote win: £5.50 PL: £1.90 £2 £2 Ex: £36 CSF: £36.08 Tricast: £129.18 Trifecta: £187.60