Rouge Vif staked an early claim for some of this season’s top-two mile chases with a stunning performance on his return to Cheltenham.
Winner of the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick in February, the six-year-old was last seen finishing third in the Arkle Trophy at the Festival in March.
He appears to have improved significantly since, judged on an impressive weight-carrying performance in the Bentley Flying Spur Handicap Chase – travelling with enthusiasm and jumping with aplomb under Daryl Jacob on his way to a seven-and-a-half-length success.
Whittington was claiming the two-mile contest for the second year in succession, having saddled another stable star in Saint Calvados to secure victory 12 months ago.
“He was awesome,” said the Wantage handler.
“He has got a god ground action and is just so slick to jump out of it – on better ground you see him at his best.
“He was in his comfort zone there and has loved it today. I hoped he had improved for a summer break as I ride him myself most days and he feels a more powerful animal.
“He has obviously strengthened up a lot, but to win a handicap off a mark of 156 like that is impressive – he has slightly surprised me.”
Bookmakers were quick to slash Rouge Vif’s odds for both the Tingle Creek at Sandown and the Queen Mother Champion Chase back at Cheltenham.
Whittington is keen to let the dust settle before considering future plans, adding: “Today he looked like a proper two-miler. Daryl says he will stay two-and-a-half, but I don’t think we will be going up in trip yet.
“Coming back here for the Shloer Chase in three weeks’ time is a potential option, but we will have to get home and discuss and talk to Andrew (Brooks, owner), as it will be his decision and we will go from there.”
Trainer Dr Richard Newland and conditional jockey Cillin Leonard teamed up to land the squareintheair.com Handicap Hurdle for the second year in succession, this time with Captain Tom Cat.
The same combination claimed victory with Duke Street in 2019, and this year’s candidate appeared to hold excellent claims following back-to-back wins at Uttoxeter during the summer.
Always on the pace, the 15-2 chance kicked clear from the home turn and had enough in the tank to hold Debestyman at bay by two lengths.
Newland said: “He won those two novice hurdles in the summer, I thought he was impressive in the second one and thought he might be reasonably well handicapped.
“We were actually going to run in the conditional jockeys’ race later in the day, but I just decided in the last week or two he would better suited to this as they’d go more of a gallop and the step up in trip has obviously worked for him.
“He’s got a lovely, big stride and a lovely way of doing things – he just gallops and jumps and will make a great chaser.
“It was a very good ride and a super performance from the horse today. There are plenty more races in him, but it is probably more likely over fences where it will get really interesting.”