Sceau Royal completed his Cheltenham Festival preparations with a comprehensive success in the Napoleons Casino & Restaurant Owlerton Sheffield Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster.
Alan King’s six-year-old had won three of his previous four starts over fences, most recently claiming Grade One glory in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown in early December.
Despite having to concede weight to each of his three rivals back at Grade Two level, he was the 1-2 favourite on Town Moor and was given a thorough examination by the front-running and bold-jumping Shantou Rock.
The latter remained in the lead jumping two fences from home, but Sceau Royal wore him down on the run to the last and went on to score by two lengths.
King said: “I’m pleased and relieved. It was a good test for him as they went a very good gallop and I’m just pleased it’s out of the way.
“This was the logical place to come. We had to get a run in as it’s long time between December and March. We gave him a break after Sandown and we’ve left a bit to work on, so I’m happy.
“Fingers crossed he’ll go straight to Cheltenham now.”
Sceau Royal remains a best-priced 6-1 second-favourite for the Arkle Trophy on the opening day of the Festival in March.
Footpad, who like Sceau Royal is owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, is the 11-8 market leader.
There was a thrilling climax to the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices’ Hurdle, with Enniscoffey Oscar narrowly outpointing Shannon Bridge after a thrilling duel.The Emma Lavelle-trained Enniscoffey Oscar (9-2) had opened his jumping account in impressive style here in early December and showed tenacity to go with his talent to lift this Grade Two prize by a short head in the hands of Leighton Aspell.Lavelle said: "This isn’t his ground, but he’s getting better and better and is as hard as nails. I love him and I’m absolutely delighted."It was probably my fault he wasn’t doing as well earlier in the season as we didn’t have them fit enough. As it’s turned out it might have been a blessing for him as he’s been able to learn on the job."He was so good here last time this race was always the aim and we wanted to find out whether we should aim for the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham or go for one of the handicaps."After that performance, and the way he’s improving, I think the Albert Bartlett will be the next step."The prolific Maria’s Benefit clinched her fifth successive victory in the Grade Two olbg.com Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle.The Stuart Edmunds-trained six-year-old was the 10-11 favourite to add to her previous wins this season at Newton Abbot, Sandown, Ludlow and Taunton and bowled along enthusiastically throughout in the hands of Ciaran Gethings.Irish Roe loomed up ominously in the home straight, but Maria’s Benefit dug deep to see her off by three-quarters of a length.Edmunds said: "That was great. She had to be tough today."She’s very good and very tough and I’m 90 per cent sure she’ll go for the mares’ novice at Cheltenham. She’ll probably get an entry in the Supreme, but it’s about winning."The ground is tacky enough today and I’d like to think she’ll be better on better ground."Maria’s Benefit is around 4-1 for the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle on day three of the Festival in March.The judge was required for a third time on the day to split Duke Of Navan and Bigmartre in the Sky Bet Britain’s Most Popular Online Bookmaker Handicap Chase.The Nicky Richards-trained Duke Of Navan (6-1) travelled powerfully under conditional jockey Ryan Day, although the hat-trick-seeking 9-4 favourite Bigmartre proved a worthy opponent.The pair battled all the way to the line and flashed by almost as one, but Duke Of Navan was confirmed the winner by a short head.Richards said: "He’s a very strong traveller this horse and has always been the strongest finisher, but he finished strong today."Although he hasn’t won that many races, he’s run a lot of good ones and Ryan gave him a great ride."We’ll see what the handicapper does and go from there. He won at the Scottish Grand National meeting at Ayr a couple of years ago and there might be something for him there, but he’ll have a run or two before then."He’s a better horse on better ground."