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.”

Thunder Rock is being prepared for the Virgin Bet December Gold Cup Handicap Chase next month, with Olly Murphy keen to have a crack at Cheltenham’s valuable pre-Christmas feature.

The seven-year-old won his first two outings over the larger obstacles before running with credit in some high-class events last term and impressed on his return to action at Carlisle with a victory over Mahler Mission in the Listed Colin Parker Memorial Chase.

The runner-up is disputing favouritism for Saturday’s Coral Gold Cup at Newbury, with Murphy targeting handicap riches of his own at Cheltenham on December 16.

There is a prize-fund of £130,000 up for grabs in the showpiece event of Prestbury Park’s December Meeting and the Warren Chase handler is keen to take his chance while Thunder Rock is currently rated 146 over fences.

“He’s in good form and he’s being trained for the December Gold Cup at Cheltenham,” said Murphy.

“That’s the plan of action and it’s his turn to try to win at Cheltenham and we’re going to have a go at a really good handicap. He’s come out of Carlisle really well and he’s going to be trained for that race.

“It wasn’t a humungous entry so we’re going to have a go and it’s unbelievable prize-money. He actually ran really well over course and distance there in January in the Dipper, he’s in good form, we’ll go there fresh and we’re looking forward to running him.”

Murphy is also taking plenty of encouragement from the return to form of Strong Leader, who bounced back from disappointing in the Welsh Champion Hurdle to finish a gallant second to the improving Blueking D’Oroux in Ascot’s Coral Hurdle.

It was the first time the Grade One runner-up had competed over further than two miles and the trainer believes there will be more to come over intermediate and staying distances as the season progresses.

Murphy continued: “I would imagine you will see him over further in time and he probably didn’t jump as well as he can. Whether that has cost him the race or didn’t cost him the race, I don’t know but it certainly didn’t help his cause.

“I’m not sure where we will go yet and I haven’t spoken to his owners, but there are handicap options over Christmas, there’s the Relkeel Hurdle (Cheltenham, January 1) and there’s a two-and-a-half-mile Graded race at Lingfield over Winter Millions weekend in January.

“Those types of races will be on the cards and don’t be surprised if you see him over three miles before the end of the season. But I think we will see him improve an awful lot and we haven’t seen the finished article yet.

“He’s definitely a horse who wants a trip and two miles is far too sharp for him. I’m looking forward to making a plan for him and it will definitely be over middle distances or even further.”

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