Crawford brothers lead Ulster charge
It was a good day for Ulster racing at Catterick with Verona Opera winning for the Crawford brothers, while there was also a win apiece for jockeys Tony McCoy - his 180th of the season - and Brian Hughes.
Verona Opera was ridden by Steven Crawford and trained near Larne by older brother Stuart, while McCoy triumphed on Buckwheat and Hughes on Intense Tango.
Stuart Crawford has made a habit of making successful raids on the north of England as well as Scotland and his yard is now among the strongest in Ulster.
Verona Opera - second to Another Bill at Ayr in November - won the Racing Again 21st January Standard NH Flat Race by six lengths, adding to a long list of Crawford successes at tracks including Sedgefield, Ayr, Perth and Musselburgh, while Ardmillan triumphed at Down Royal's big Boxing Day meeting.
John Ferguson is enjoying a great season and Buckwheat became the latest high-profile recruit off the Flat to take to the winter game with an effortless win in the Watch 3 Devices On RacingUk.com/Anywhere Novices' Hurdle under McCoy, who is closing in on a 20th successive champion jockey title.
Rated over 100 when with Andre Fabre, he looked to have plenty on his plate taking on Donald McCain's Konig Dax, who had beaten Willie Mullins' Douvan when last seen in France.
However, that one was weak in the market and pulled up, as did Ellison's Zaidiyn, leaving Buckwheat to coast home in his own time, bar a blunder at the final flight.
Ulster great McCoy said: "He did it well apart from stepping at the last."
Intense Tango followed up her good hurdling debut with a win in the racinguk.com Fillies Juvenile Hurdle.
Sent off the 1-2 favourite having finished second in a Listed event at Aintree, Ulsterman Hughes did not have to get overly serious after the last as she drew a length and a half clear of Jonjo O'Neill's Saint Lucy.
Trainer Karl Burke has major plans for Intense Tango.
"She hated the ground - Brian said she'd be even better still on some nice ground," he said.
"That was a lovely school round and it was a case of 'job done'.
"There's a chance she could go to Doncaster at the end of this month for a Grade Two, it depends how that cuts up I suppose. We could miss Cheltenham and aim her at the Grade One at Aintree where with her allowance she could be very interesting.
"She'll only have one or two more runs before we send her back on the Flat."