Neil Mulholland is eyeing up another tilt at the Grade Three Betway Summer Plate at Market Rasen (Saturday 16th July) with the hugely likeable Exelerator Express (11-4 Favourite), who got off the mark for the campaign with a game victory in the Watch On Racing TV Handicap Chase (3m 1f) at Aintree this evening.
The eight year old is at his best on quicker ground and made a fine return to action when an excellent fifth behind Sam Brown in the Grade Three Betway Handicap Chase over the course and distance on Grand National Day. Though he had to be at his best to return to winning ways here, showing plenty of heart to grind down the front-running Indy Five and collar him within the shadows of the post, scoring by a neck under Sam Twiston-Davies.
That victory was a sixth under Rules for Exelerator Express and Mulholland was hopeful that this run would set him up nicely for the Summer Plate in July, a race in which he was an excellent second behind Francky Du Berlais 12 months ago.
Wiltshire-based Mulholland said: “He ran here on Grand National Day on his first run of the season and finished fifth and we were very happy with how he ran that day, so the plan was always to come back here. It’s probably a little stepping stone now towards the Summer Plate at Market Rasen.
“Both Market Rasen and the Perth Gold Cup would be two races on his radar, along with the Uttoxeter race as well. They’re likely targets and we may even look at the likes of the Kerry National. The horses are running really well at the moment and while our numbers aren’t massive, we’re hoping for a good summer campaign.”
There were several nice performances across the seven race card, which included an impressive hurdling debut for the Olly Murphy-trained Ukantango (4-6 Favourite), who took the opening racingtv.com Novices’ Hurdle (2m ½f) in style.
The son of Ocovango caught the eye when winning a bumper on his first start under Rules at Stratford in March and he was similarly stylish here, surging clear after the last for an eased-down nine length success in the hands of Aidan Coleman.
And Murphy was hopeful that there could be plenty more to come from his charge when he returns in the autumn. He said: “He’s a nice horse and he won a bumper first time out for me at Stratford, I thought bar the last he jumped immaculately for a horse who had to make his own running and he’s certainly not a horse for the summer.
“He’ll be turned away now and we’ll come back in the autumn. It was nice to get a run into him before he goes out and he’s one to look forward to for next season.”
Another to open his account on the night was the Ben Pauling-trained Henry’s Friend (8-1), who defied his moniker as outsider of the field when making his first start on the racecourse a winning one in the 100% RacingTV Profits Back To Racing Maiden Hurdle (2m 4f).
And winning jockey Kielan Woods was full of praise for his charge in the aftermath. He said: “It was a very good start. He’s a horse we’ve liked an awful lot and his jumping has always been great, so we just felt that he didn’t need to run in a bumper.
“We’ve started him over hurdles and to be honest we thought if he galloped over the line today in fourth we’d be delighted so to do that was brilliant. He’s a lovely young horse and he’s off to the sales so hopefully he gets bought back to the yard!”
Elsewhere on the night, there was a welcome return to form for the Dan Skelton-trained Destrier (7-1), who came out on top in a thrilling photo finish when finding plenty to snatch victory in the racingtv.com Handicap Chase (2m 4f) from the runner-up Barton Knoll.
The nine year old showed some smart form in his younger years, finishing third in the Grade One Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree in 2019, and he took advantage of a drop in the weights to tough things out on his first start over fences in over 12 months – much to the delight of jockey Harry Skelton.
He said: “We weren’t quite sure who’d won that crossing the line! He’s deserved that though. He’s a good horse over fences and the handicapper has given him a chance.
“To be fair he was placed here in a Grade One and he got absolutely hammered by the handicapper for that and he’s suffered forevermore really, but that’s been a long time coming and on his day he’s a nice horse. He likes that good ground so we’ll just keep him busy.”