Though well beaten by the impressive Fox Norton who is set to stick to two miles, Jefferson’s talented grey won a three-way fight for minor honours and will be campaigned with the blue riband race in mind.
Given the rain-softened ground, Jefferson was relieved – following an entry mix-up – to have missed Saturday’s BetVictor Gold Cup.
“He has run well and run a blinder,” reflected the Malton trainer. “He will go back up in trip. In a way I’m glad he didn’t run yesterday with 11st 12lb on that ground. That might have been the race that would finish him for the season. Trevor Hemmings (owner) wants an entry in the Gold Cup as he said he has won enough Ryanairs. We will give him an entry, as there is always a take-out stage.
“I think on good ground he would be fine as he settles nowadays. We will see what he is like, but there is the Peterborough Chase in three weeks’ time.”
Cloudy Dream could not have been more impressive when making a winning comeback at Carlisle earlier this month in a race won 12 months ago by Bristol De Mai, now one of the top three miler chasers in the country.
Jefferson’s ambition is shared by jockey Brian Hughes who reported: “He’s run a blinder. He hated that ground and it’s a shame it’s like that – the ground is horrendous. He has just got some heart to get back into it. The winner is a good horse though.”
As for Fox Norton who sealed the race when spread-eagling the penultimate obstacle, it was a second high-profile win at the meeting in the red, green and yellow colours of Barnsley-born owner Alan Potts who died last week. Just like the novice chaser Finian’s Oscar on Friday, it was another redemptive ride for former Gold Cup-winning jockey Bryan Cooper who was recently retained by Potts to ride his horses in training with in-form Colin Tizzard.
Next month’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown is the immediate target – the two mile Grade One test looks a viable proposition following the absence of Nicky Henderson’s Altior – but Fox Norton does hold an entry in Kempton’s three-mile King George Chase on Boxing Day. “It is a great thrill to be riding horses like this,” said Cooper, whose career has been in the doldrums in recent months. “I have never really ridden a proper two- miler before and when they jump and travel like that, it is some experience. He is a fair one. We went a nice gallop.
“I was a little bit worried about the ground but, even though he had never ran on it before, Colin said he will handle it grand.
“He’s got a King George entry but, when he’s winning like this over two miles, there’s no need to change anything. We’ll see how it goes though. He’s in his own league at this trip at the moment so why change things?
“It was very sad what happened to Alan. I didn’t know him that well and I only really got to know him a bit about three or four weeks ago. It’s a big loss to the game and he loved his big days and big winners.”
Faugheen is once again at the head of the ante-post market on the Champion Hurdle after an impressive return to action in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.
The 2015 Champion Hurdle hero could not have been more convincing in the Grade One contest after 665 days on the sidelines. PaulTownend was deputising on Willie Mullins’ star for the injured Ruby Walsh who broke a leg in a fall on Saturday.