Game set and match for Willoughby Court in Novices' Chase

The G2 Ladbrokes Novices' Chase over just short of two and a half miles was billed as a match between Yanworth (Alan King/Barry Geraghty, 5/6 Fav) and Willoughby Court (Ben Pauling/Nico de Boinville, 15/8), both G1-winning hurdlers. It was the latter who came out on top, taking the lead at the halfway point and staying on well to score by three lengths in the top-quality five-runner race.

Winning trainer Ben Pauling said: "That was really good. Willoughby Court was clever when he needed to be and brave at a couple. He wasn't worried like he was at Huntingdon and that was so good to see, so I am thrilled.


"We knew that this distance is still as short as he wants around a flat track. It was a great ride and he was exceptional.


"We will probably stay at two and a half miles and maybe look towards the Dipper (January 1) at Cheltenham. It won't hurt him to go there. It's fabulous for Paul and Clare (Rooney, owners) and everyone involved.


"There was not as much pressure today. Yanworth has run a fantastic race in behind and I am sure they have got things they will work on, but we are obviously very happy with our lad. He jumped brilliantly - he was brave when had to be but also clever when he needed to be. 


"Nico just said there that he could have sat a bit longer and that he has more gears than we give him credit for. He made into a bit of a slog but I was very happy with that.


"He will always improve fitness-wise [from first run] because he does things so easily at home, but his jumping today was a different gear. I know he went a bit long and low at one but even that would be cribbing him unfairly. He barely put a foot wrong. It is great to see because I always thought he was a chaser and now he is proving me right.


"I think he could be very good now. Only time will tell, but it is the fact he is so much easier to train this year. He was so fractious as a young horse and was almost living on his nerves the whole time, whereas now he is an easy horse to train and is able to put the effort in when it is needed.


"When Nico said he has more gears than we thought he had, I said 'Arkle?' But he said 'no, no, we will stay at JLT.' I am sure Willoughby Court will stay three miles in time but this season will be two and a half. I would imagine the Dipper at Cheltenham will be our next target."


Nico de Boinville, enjoying a 12/1 double after the earlier success of Santini, added: "He was as straight as anything and slightly edged off to the right. He was just novicey at Huntingdon - draw a line through that - and he has been schooling well at home. I didn't come here thinking that there were going to be any problems, but that's the public perception.


"Willoughby Court is very good and he showed me a few gears there as well. I was umm-ing and aah-ing about whether he was a three-miler but I think you would have to stick it is as an aah because he showed a few gears. He is a nice horse and will definitely come on for the run again.


"It is not that I got to the front too soon but perhaps I asked him for a bit much too soon. I probably went through the gears a bit too early on. He has got slightly tired in the last half furlong but I am sure if a horse came to him, he would have gone again.


"He is a lovely horse and has put Huntingdon behind him. He has come here and hasn't missed a beat jumping. So many good horses have won this race in the past and I am sure he can go on to bigger and better things.


"I think we will stick to two and a half for now. He probably hasn't quite got the pace of the Altiors and things like that. I can envisage him going up to three miles eventually."


Yanworth made a mistake at the fourth last and looked to be out of contention before staying on again after the last.


His trainer Alan King said: "He made a couple of mistakes, which you can't afford to do against a horse like the winner. However, he got round and was very competitive.


"He will have learned plenty again today and that was only his third run over fences. What happened at Exeter last time wasn't ideal, but today's run will bring him on again. Newbury has probably the biggest fences in the country and is a good test.


"We will look at something over the Christmas/New Year period for him next. He has a few nasty over-reaches. Hopefully, he will not need any stitches but it might hold me up for a week or 10 days or so."


Yanworth's jockey Barry Geraghty said: "Yanworth on the whole jumped well apart from two and I would say they took their toll.


"You have to give credit to the winner because jumping the last I thought we had a good chance of getting him. I would say he was only waiting for help. He is a very good horse. Yanworth ran a good race and will have learnt from that."