Numitor stayed on strongly to record a decisive success in the valuable Unibet Middle Distance Veterans’ Handicap Chase Finale at Haydock.

Sean Bowen was always travelling strongly on Heather Main’s 10-year-old in the £100,000 contest and sent him on past long-time front-runner Riders Onthe Storm entering the home straight.

A couple of sketchy jumps at the next two fences allowed the chasing pack to close in, but the 100-30 favourite got his act together over the last couple of obstacles and galloped clear to beat Dubai Days by five lengths.

Numitor only recently returned to action after a 340-day lay-off, when finishing fourth at Exeter under Bowen’s brother James.

Championship chaser Bowen told Racing TV: “One thing he did benefit from is that James didn’t knock him around once he was beaten (first time out), he didn’t use his whip once and I think that’s probably been a massive contribution towards winning here.

“James said to keep sending him, but every time I sent him, he put down. But he was a good old spin.

“He’s actually not in love with that ground now and I think that on better ground, you probably can send him from anywhere – he’ll keep coming for you.

“But today, on that ground, he’s probably not in love with it – but he’s a tough horse and keeps going through anything.”

Bowen was also in the saddle as Secret Trix plugged on to get the better of Doughmore Bay in an attritional finish to the New Racing TV App Challenger Stayers Hurdle Series Final Handicap Hurdle.

It was a fourth win of the season for Olly Murphy’s gelding, all gained under the title-chasing jockey, as he prevailed by a length and a quarter at 11-1 following a winter lay-off since the end of October.

Bowen said: “He felt a lot better horse today, he obviously benefited from the break massively. At every point today, I thought I was going to win, apart from when he started pulling up half a furlong from home.

“I was going well turning in and I didn’t really want him to wing three out and two out, as he doesn’t do a whole pile in front, although he was a bit slower than I thought he might be at them. But he went round like the best horse in the race, to be fair.”

Brentford Hope defied top weight in the My Pension Expert Challenger Two Mile Hurdle Series Final Handicap Hurdle, holding off the late challenge of Holly, who could never quite recover from a mistake at the final flight.

Harry Derham’s seven-year-old had won well in a qualifier at Newcastle earlier this month and was sent off the 5-2 market leader under Paul O’Brien, despite carrying 12st.

Go Dante snatched the Betfair Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle on the nod for Olly Murphy and Sean Bowen.

The eight-year-old was the 5-1 joint-favourite for the contest and was patiently ridden by Bowen in a field of 15 rivals.

The bay did not always jump with fluency and did not look the obvious winner as they turned for home, with plenty of horses ahead of him and two hurdles left to jump.

He was gaining ground constantly, however, and began to close in on Dan Skelton’s Faivoir at the head of affairs.

The two horses drew level as the post neared and a photo finish was required to split them, with Go Dante coming out on top by a nose.

Murphy said: “Horse and jockey were both very good there and my best friend (jockey) Harry Skelton has finished second, so it’s a good job I didn’t get a lift down with him.

“It was a great horse race and Faivoir is a tough horse and has won a County Hurdle.

“Go Dante has progressed well and we always thought he was going to be really good and he’s come here today off a mark still in the 120s. I’m not saying I would have been disappointed if he didn’t win, but I thought he was better than his mark just yet to prove it.

“He’s won a good pot today and these are the races you want to win aren’t they.”

Go Dante holds entries in both the County Hurdle and Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival, but Murphy will resist the temptation to head to Prestbury Park, instead thinking of one more run elsewhere before a possible chasing campaign next term.

He continued: “The first thing I said to Barbara (Hester, owner) is we won’t be running next week and the only reason I left him in was in case he bolted up.

“He’s a horse who has not underachieved, but he’s had a lot of problems and it’s a big well done to my team at home. He’s been a tough horse to train and he broke his pelvis in a nasty schooling incident. He’s been through the mill this lad.

“I think he will improve for a fence (next year) and I imagine he’ll have one more run over hurdles this year. Where that will be I don’t know, but I would imagine we might have a look at something at Aintree or Punchestown, or maybe the Scottish Champion Hurdle – something like that if it is soft.

“He’s had a very good year and hopefully he will be a very nice chaser next year.”

Sean Bowen has indicated he could prioritise winning chances ahead of Festival rides during Cheltenham week.

The rider is trying to make up lost ground with Harry Cobden in the jump jockeys’ championship, having had his progress halted by a knee injury sustained on Boxing Day that kept him sidelined until early February.

Bowen claimed his first winner since returning to action at Kelso on Saturday, with Cobden 11 victories in front before racing on Sunday.

While the table topper will have a strong book of Cheltenham rides for Paul Nicholls, Bowen could look elsewhere as he tries to rally in the title race.

He said: “I might be there the first day for Not So Sleepy and if it came up really soft, he’d have half a chance, I’ll just pick and choose from there.

“I could be at Ffos Las or Fakenham on Gold Cup day, something like that. I need winners.”

Bowen is attached to Olly Murphy’s yard and the trainer is thrilled to have him back in action.

He said: “It’s tough for these lads, Harry and Sean are going at it but they are two young boys, the pressure they are under to be champion jockey.

“Sean has had a horrible injury and it’s taken him a while to get back rocking and rolling, he’s ridden through pain, he’s chewing pain killers and it’s been hard.

“We haven’t been flying ourselves, they haven’t been running bad, we’ve just had second after second. Hopefully he can get rolling again now.”

Cobden and Bowen are well clear of three-times champion Brian Hughes, who himself often bypassed days at the Festival in order to ride better chances at lower-profile fixtures.

Murphy hailed the talent of both title challengers and believes a proper battle for the crown can only benefit the sport.

He added: “The boys are two fantastic talents, Harry and Sean. It’s really healthy for National Hunt racing and may the best man win, they are two fantastic jockeys. I think it’s fantastic for Britain to have these two.

“They sit next to each other in the weighing room, it’s mentally tough and they are two fantastic lads. I don’t know Harry overly well but he conducts himself well and so does Sean.

“I’m delighted to have Sean on my side, he’s a humongous part of my team.”

Thunder Rock provided Sean Bowen with his biggest success since returning from injury in the Listed bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso.

Bowen – who has seen his lead at the top of the jockeys’ championship eroded and then passed by Harry Cobden – has struggled for winners since his return to action but victory on one of Olly Murphy’s stable stars will have done him the world of good.

Given a patient ride, Thunder Rock grew in confidence as the race progressed, as Minella Drama, Aye Right and Elvis Mail tried to stretch things.

Grand National fancy Monbeg Genius struggled to get on terms and when Thunder Rock went cruising on by as they turned into the straight, it was clear he had no more to give.

Thunder Rock found plenty in the home straight and the heavily-backed 9-4 favourite came home seven lengths clear of Minella Drama, booking himself a ticket to Aintree and a step back up in class.

Bowen said: “He proved he stays three miles. They went quick and every time I gave him a squeeze he picked up.

“I was confident where I was and Olly gave me a lot of confidence going out to ride him. I’d been riding a lot more seconds than winners since I came back and I was getting a bit frustrated. It always helps having a good boss like that.”

Murphy said: “I really enjoyed that. I went to Cheltenham in December when I felt like I’d set him up for a big handicap but he may as well have pulled up and it’s been an upward curve since then.

“He ran well the last day at Musselburgh on the wrong track when he was wheel-spinning for two and a half miles but it did his confidence good.

“I said to Sean not to get in a battle with him and ride him with confidence because he was the classiest horse in the race and to make that tell and he did just that.

“It’s been hard for Sean, he’s riding through pain and we’ve had a quiet couple of weeks ourselves so this will do him the world of good.”

He added: “I think we’ll go to Aintree with him for the Bowl now, it’s a Grade One so he’ll need to step up again but a small field suits him and he’ll be back over 150 in a handicap again.”

Sean Bowen is looking to make up for lost time when he makes his return from a lengthy absence at Huntingdon on Thursday.

Bowen held a significant advantage over Harry Cobden before he suffered a nasty fall from Gordon Elliott’s Farren Glory in the Grade One Formby Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree on Boxing Day.

A problem with a knee has kept him on the sidelines since, and Cobden has whittled away at his advantage to such an extent that before racing on Wednesday the gap had been reduced to just four.

Bowen returns on Olly Murphy’s Roccovango in the Mulberry Developments Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

“It’s been a long six weeks out of the saddle, and I really can’t wait to get back riding on Thursday,” said Coral ambassador Bowen.

“I don’t tend to watch much racing when I’m out of action, but I do watch James (brother) and support him, and I’ll always check the results to see how Olly’s horses have got on. It is always tough seeing the horses you’d have been on go out there and win, because even though you’re happy they’ve won, you always want to be the jockey to win on them.

“Harry has been riding right at the top of his game recently, and Paul’s (Nicholls) horses are also in great form, so I really need to get back riding winners if I want to be champion jockey, which make no mistake, I do!

“I’d much rather still have a comfortable lead, but the fact Harry is now breathing down my neck at the top of the championship has given me that extra bit of fire in my belly to want to get back out there and ride as many winners as I possibly can.

“It’s very much going to be a numbers game for me for the rest of the season, so wherever I think I have the best chance of riding a few winners is where I’ll be heading, regardless of the high-profile action that might be taking place elsewhere.”

He added of Roccovango: “He’s not a horse we know much about as he’ll be having his first start for Olly on Thursday, but he’d look potentially well-handicapped on some of his form in Ireland, so he goes there with a chance.

“I’d say we’ll have to go some to beat Harry Derham’s horse Nordic Tiger though, as he looks particularly well-in at the weights.”

Title-chasing rider Sean Bowen has been cleared to make his comeback from injury at Huntingdon on Thursday.

Bowen, out of action since a fall at Aintree on Boxing Day, has seen his long-established lead at the top of the jump jockeys’ standings chipped away at in recent weeks by Harry Cobden.

Before racing on Tuesday Cobden had reduced the lead to just five, and that during a time when his main backer Paul Nicholls is habitually quiet. His runners have clicked back into gear recently, though, and he provided Cobden with a four-timer at Musselburgh on Sunday.

Bowen has one ride at Huntingdon, on Olly Murphy’s new recruit Roccovango in the Mulberry Developments Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

“It was great to jock Sean back up on a horse this morning,” said Murphy.

“He’s riding out tomorrow, his rehab has gone well and he told me he was on the Equicizer yesterday, did some exercises and all was good.

“We’re looking forward to having him back. He’s a huge part of our team and is someone all the young lads look up to as well.

“He’s a big part of the furniture at Warren Chase and we’ll be doing all we can to get back behind him, along with many other people, to make him champion jockey.

“He was flying up to Christmas, he’d been riding extremely well all year but unfortunately the life of a jump jockey means injuries are a part of it and he had a bad fall at Aintree on Boxing Day and missed six weeks.

“Harry Cobden has clawed back a lot of his lead, he is riding extremely well as well and he’s ultra-talented. We wish the two of them the best of luck, but obviously our loyalty is to Sean.

“It will be good for jump racing if the two of them stay injury-free until the end of the season and have a good tussle.”

Asked to sum up Roccovango’s chance, Murphy said: “He’s a new recruit who had some nice novice form. I’d like to think he’s got a nice each-way chance.

“Harry Derham’s horse (Nordic Tiger) will be hard to beat escaping a penalty for winning last week, but I’d like to think my lad could be competitive and it would be magic if we can give Sean a winner on his first ride back.”

Not So Sleepy stayed on best of all to win the rescheduled Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown.

Saved from Newcastle’s abandoned card last weekend, the race lost plenty of its lustre when Nicky Henderson withdrew the current champion hurdler Constitution Hill and stablemate Shishkin.

That meant just four went to post, with Goshen and You Wear It Well setting a strong enough gallop in the conditions.

By the second last those two had done their running while Not So Sleepy, who turns 12 in a few weeks, was still on the bridle under Sean Bowen.

Love Envoi, who had not really been travelling throughout, soon appeared on the scene but approaching the last Not So Sleepy, who dead-heated in the race with Epatante in 2021, quickened eight lengths clear.

It was a noteworthy success for Bowen, who also holds a sizeable lead in the race to become champion jockey.

Booster Bob could have an exciting future having stayed on strongly in testing ground to claim the Betfair Claremont Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

Sent off the 5-6 favourite for the Listed event, Olly Murphy’s five-year-old had previously relished testing conditions when claiming a Uttoxeter novice event by 18-lengths.

However, even he struggled to get into a rhythm in the deep ground at the Esher track and relied on his class to overhaul Helnwein once strenuously ridden after the last by Sean Bowen.

“I was never happy,” said Murphy. “I don’t think he jumped great for him and he loves that ground, but they went very steady and turned it into a sprint which wouldn’t have suited.

“He’s got a lot of ability and I don’t think he did a lot right today. I don’t think the hood suits him now, he wants that off.

“They went very steady and when you go steady in a tactical race, sat last of three isn’t the best place to be. He was very free as a bumper horse and he’s come a long way in a short period of time.”

Despite seeing Booster Bob as both a horse for further and fences, it is Haydock’s Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle (January 20) up next. However, a trip to the Cheltenham Festival appears off the cards for this season.

“Do I think he is a horse for the Supreme? No is the answer,” added Murphy.

“I think he’s an out and out chaser and he will probably go to Haydock now for the Supreme trial at the end of January – bad ground, two miles. He’s crying out for two and a half, but he can race with the choke out and I would be just worried about going two-and-a-half just yet.

“I wont blow his mind now this season. If there was a bit of slow ground at Aintree or something like that, then maybe. But going round Cheltenham in a 16-runner Grade One isn’t for this lad at the moment.”

Martin Keighley’s Found On will bid for black type as she returns to Market Rasen for the Rhino.Bet Bud Booth Mares’ Chase on Thursday.

The eight-year-old has been consistent in recent seasons, winning six of her last eight starts over distances varying from two and a half miles to three.

She hit the ground running this season when making her yearly reappearance at this track in October, winning a competitive handicap chase by four lengths under Sean Bowen.

The mare will now return to the Lincolnshire circuit at Listed level, where she is set to join four rivals over an increased trip of three miles.

“It was a really good performance, her first run of the season at Market Rasen,” said Keighley.

“That was quite a strong handicap and she did it well, as soon as she won there we had this in mind as we’re desperate to get her some black type.

“We’ve saved her for this race and hopefully she can, she’s been to the track twice and won there twice, she’ll like the decent ground so I’m hoping for a big run.

“The Dan Skelton horse will be a hard one to beat, but she’s in good form and if she doesn’t win and is in the first three, it will be great to get her black type.”

The Skelton horse in question is Galia Des Liteaux, a Grade Two winner last season who was most recently seen coming home fourth behind Gerri Colombe in the Mildmay at Aintree.

Nicky Henderson’s Tweed Skirt, Sue Smith’s Burrows Diamond and Jedd O’Keeffe’s Fairfield Ferrata complete the line up.

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