LAMBOURN trainer Nicky Henderson described Top Notch as his stable’s favourite horse after seeing him win the Christy 1965 Chase in impressive fashion at Ascot on Saturday, writes Dave Wright.

Royal Regatta, bidding to win the race for the second successive year, overcame a slow start to take the lead, but Nico de Boinville always had 5/2 joint-favourite Top Notch handily placed and they moved in front approaching the second-last fence before going on to win by eight lengths from the Tom George-trained Double Shuffle.

Henderson said: “If you had a poll of the most popular horse in the place, he would win. Everybody loves him, you could not have a nicer horse.

“He would die for you and he has been like that all his life. He is just game, tough and loves it. A lot of horses are more talented, but nobody puts more in than he does.”

Top Notch may now go for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, with Sky Bet cutting his price to 16/1 and also to 8/1 for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Tom George went one better in the Shawbrook Handicap Chase with Sir Valentino (16/1) battling hard to the line in the hands of Johnny Burke to hold off a challenge from Cepage.

He had been pulled up on his return to action in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter earlier this month, but on different going he comfortably lasted out the two mile one furlong contest to win on his first visit to Ascot.

Burke was later suspended for four days for using his whip above the permitted level.

The Henderson/de Boinville just missed out on a double when L’Ami Serge finished a length-and-a-half behind Lil Rockerfeller (9/4) in the Coral Hurdle over two miles three furlongs.

Neil King’s six-year-old winner loves it at Ascot, having now won twice, finished second twice and third once, and he could be back for the Long Walk Hurdle there on December 23.

Back in fourth place was the 10/11 favourite Defi Du Seuil, the top juvenile hurdler who had won all of his seven previous starts.

Trainer Philip Hobbs could offer no explanation for his four-year-old’s performance in the five-runner field and the post-race routine testing failed to reveal any abnormalities.

Following two wins up at Carlisle, Count Meribel (7/2) completed his hat-trick in the Mitie Events & Leisure Novices’ Hurdle.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ five-year-old benefited from a smart ride by Mark Grant to claim an eight-length win in the extended two mile five furlong contest.

Toviere (12/1), the mount of Leighton Aspell, won the three-mile BAM Construct UK Chase by holding off a persistent challenge from Clondaw Cian by a neck.

Trainer Oliver Sherwood commented: “The little bit of experience helped him.

“He is just an honest, genuine horse. The only thing I was slightly concerned about was the ground.”

It was a memorable day for jockey Max Kendrick after the Ben Case-trained Graceful Legend (11/1) provided him with a first winner at Ascot in the Trisoft Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.

Kendrick said: “It’s my first winner since breaking my collarbone and it is a good place to do it.”

The Ascot Stewards looked into running of Graceful Legend, who showed improved form compared to her previous run at Wetherby earlier this month where the mare finished sixth of eight, beaten by 50 lengths.

Case’s explanation that the six-year-old had benefited from the first-time application of cheekpieces as well as the step up in trip from two miles to two miles five furlongs.

In the concluding Elite AV Standard Open NH Flat Race, Ben Pauling’s Nestor Park (6/1) ridden by David Bass got the better of 5/2 favourite Portrush Ted to win by a neck with Malachite (Henderson/de Boinville) back in third.

Ascot’s next meeting is on Friday and Saturday, December 22-23.