Personal Ambition is likely to head for Aintree’s Grand National meeting after coming out on top in thrilling renewal of the bet365 Premier Novices’ Hurdle at Kelso.

Never far from the pace set by Choose A Copper, Ben Pauling’s charge – whose only defeat in three prior hurdle starts was when third in this Grade Two company at Sandown – soon had them all at it when Kielan Woods went for home.

To his credit, 9-4 market leader Jango Baie stuck to his task when giving chase, as at one stage it looked as if Nicky Henderson’s Boxing Day Grade One scorer might drop away.

Nico de Boinville’s mount had closed right up jumping the last, but try as he might he could not quite reel the leader in under his 5lb penalty, going down by half a length to the 3-1 winner.

Pauling said: “It didn’t exactly go to plan early doors, there was a good gallop down to the first, probably too much of a gallop I would say, and he missed the first and the second and I was thinking ‘this is not ideal’.

“Thankfully he got into a nice rhythm after that and it was great that he toughed it out, as he needed to today. It wasn’t a facile victory, he had to really dig deep and he hasn’t had to do that before really, so it was great to see him do it.

“He’ll probably go to Aintree, that would be the obvious route. We were never going to go to Cheltenham because I knew that he could make the sort of mistakes he did today.

“I still think he’s a horse that just needs time on the track and I think the flat track at Aintree will suit him more than the undulations of Cheltenham.

“He’s obviously got loads of ability and he’ll be a lovely horse in time.”

Woods only returned this week after serving a 45-day suspension related to his use of the whip.

He said: “This is massive. It’s not easy for Ben Pauling to convince owners to put me up after what I’ve been doing, but I’ve learned my lesson and it’s great that Angus and Lynne (Maclennan), who are big owners, have put me up. It means a lot.

“That was brilliant. He stuck at it really well, he was good and tough. He’s very talented, but he’ll be a nicer chaser, he doesn’t have much respect for hurdles. He’ll be a good horse when he gets fences.”

An intriguing field of four will go to post for the M1 Agency Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon on Thursday.

Some good horses have won this Listed affair over the years – including the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin in 2020.

Representing Seven Barrows this year, and heading the market, is Jango Baie, winner the Formby Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree on Boxing Day.

That win in what was the Tolworth Hurdle took his record to two from two over timber, and he will once again be partnered by James Bowen.

“We’re going two-mile-three with him this time and it’s a slight step up (in trip), he was around Aintree over two last time,” said Henderson.

“I thought he was finishing that race very strongly, so I wanted to have a look at him around two and a half just to see. He’s in both the Supreme and the Baring Bingham (at the Cheltenham Festival) come March.

“The owner has both Jango Baie and Jingko Blue – and I’ll put the wrong horse in a race someday soon – and the other horse won very nicely at Sandown on Saturday.”

Two others in the field are unbeaten so far in their hurdling careers – Bugise Seagull for Charlie Longsdon and the Ben Pauling-trained Handstands.

Like Jango Baie, both are two from two and the latter was most recently seen scoring in a novice event at Newcastle.

“He’s a lovely horse who does everything you ask of him at home but no more,” said Pauling.

“I hope his jumping is sharp enough, but he’s certainly a horse that we’ve got no idea where the bottom is and we like him a lot really.

“He’ll be a fabulous chaser next year, but I think he can be a good hurdler this year as well.

“This is a lovely race, it’s cut up in numbers but the quality is there I suppose and it’ll be interesting to see where we fit amongst these and give us a steer towards where we go in the spring.”

The other contender is the Joe Tizzard-trained Diamond Ri, who confirmed the promise of his debut second when winning at Warwick last month.

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