The only time Young Hustler was headed in the three-miles 110-yards contest was when Latent Talent, running in blinkers for the first time, had the temerity to grab a brief advantage after the third-last fence. But Young Hustler's riposte was rapid. With a burst of speed worthy of his sprinter sire Import, he regained the lead on the final bend and came home with his ears pricked.
Twiston-Davies was delighted. 'A proper horse,' he said, 'but, mind you, he had to win like that to have any chance at Kempton.' Looking further ahead, the trainer revealed he holds a 40-1 ante-post betting voucher about his charge for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March. Hills make Young Hustler 5-1 third favourite for the King George behind 5-2 joint-favourites Barton Bank and The Fellow, and have cut him to 16-1 for the Gold Cup.
Young Hustler's natural, efficient jumping was a pleasure to watch. He tended to go a little left-handed, but Twiston-Davies said: 'He seems to jump away from the rail, wherever he is. At Cheltenham he goes right-handed.'
Young Hustler is the first horse wholly owned by Gavin MacEchern, though the Gloucestershire-based businessman has had 'legs' before with his friends Ray 'Barton Bank' Mould and Pat 'Captain Dibble' Vaughan. MacEchern, boss of the Arlington Securities property firm, rides out at Twiston-Davies's Naunton yard, but is not allowed on his own horse. 'Too sparky, much too valuable,' he said.
The Ascot specialist Sweet Duke, runner-up on his three previous outings this term, came good at the right time of asking for a dogged win in the day's most valuable race, the prestigious Long Walk Hurdle.
The race was something of a dress rehearsal for the Stayers' Hurdle - also at Cheltenham in March - and Sweet Duke had his favoured conditions of a strong pace, cut underfoot (the going looked softer than the official good) and his proper distance.
Of the joint-favourites yesterday, the Irish mare Shuil Ar Aghaidh fell at the flight opposite the stands on the first circuit, and Triple Witching finished seventh, virtually pulled up, continuing a disappointing day for his trainer, David Nicholson, and owners, Shirley and Bill Robins.
Their Baydon Star's winning run came to an end with a desperate blunder at the penultimate fence in the Noel Novices' Chase, leaving Easy Buck to run out a 15-length winner. But the odds-on favourite, tackling two miles-plus over fences for the first time, had been under pressure to get on terms with the leader and victory had by no means been assured. Then, in the two-mile handicap chase, the Robins' Wonder Man was comprehensively outpointed by the Nick Henderson-trained Billy Bathgate.Reuse content