Encore D'Or (Robert Cowell/Luke Morris, 9/4 favourite) made his first start of 2019 a winning one when swooping to win the £30,000 Betway Conditions Race on Tapeta at Newcastle today this evening.
The five-furlong Tapeta contest was a Fast-Track Qualifier, with Encore D'Or now guaranteed a free and automatic place in the £150,000 Betway All-Weather Sprint Championship, staged over a furlong further on Polytrack at Lingfield Park on £1-million All-Weather Championships Finals Day, Good Friday, April 19.
It was Ornate (David Griffiths/Phil Dennis, 11/1) who took the seven-strong field along with Encore D'Or settled just off the pace in third.
Encore D'Or, trained by Robert Cowell in Newmarket, was asked to quicken approaching the final furlong and ran on well to take the lead in the final half-furlong.
The seven-year-old son of Oasis Dream went on to score by a neck from Ornate, who kept on well to hold second, with Stone Of Destiny (Andrew Balding/P J McDonald, 7/2) staying on from the rear to be third, a further half-length in arrears..
The winning time came to 58.27s - the record time for five furlongs on Tapeta at Newcastle is 57.78s.
Encore D'Or was recording his 11th career victory, of which eight have come on All-Weather surfaces. His biggest victory came in the Listed Scarbrough Stakes on turf at Doncaster in 2017, while on his previous start he finished the half-length runner-up in the G3 Mercury Stakes on Polytrack at Dundalk on October 19.
Encore D'Or races almost exclusively over five furlongs these days, but he did come third in the 2017 the £150,000 Betway All-Weather Sprint Championship over six furlongs.
Winning jockey Luke Morris said: "Encore D'Or is a real favourite of mine. I have won three races on him and, although he is a big, brute of a horse, he is a gentle giant who tries very hard.
"I saddled him this evening and when I put the saddle on, I was slightly concerned as he looked a bit burly. Robert [Cowell] has left plenty to work on and I think Encore D'Or will improve from today.
"He has not done that much work coming here, though I worked him the other day and he worked well. He was the class act in the field and I am pleased he was able to show that tonight.
"I was almost going too easily at the furlong pole and got there a fraction sooner than I wanted to really. He idled a bit in front and got a bit tired as well. I think there is plenty more to come.
"I am sure all roads will lead to Good Friday now, with possibly a couple of Listed races on the way.
"He has won plenty of five-furlong handicaps around Lingfield and, on this mark, is more than capable of winning a Listed race (the Listed Betway Hever Sprint Stakes on February 23).
"I rode him in the sprint final two years ago and he finished third. For me, he probably needs to step up again to beat Kachy, but he has every chance of being in the mix."
Trainer David Griffiths, based in South Yorkshire, said of the runner-up: "I am delighted with Ornate. Obviously, you don't like getting beat in a race like that, but he was wrong at the weights and has run a cracker.
"You have to think that is his best run for a long time. We were hoping the winner and the third would be a bit rusty on their first runs back, and that we would be able to get away with it, but the winner is a class horse on his day. The third is decent too and he has split them, so hopefully we are on the way up.
"He had a couple of runs here for Robert [Cowell] and didn't run very well. Newcastle can be a funny track like that, sometimes they like it and sometimes they don't, but he seemed fine tonight.
"He will get six furlongs too and even at the end there he was coming back at the winner. There is Finals Day to look at over six and I think we will have some fun with him on the grass as well.
"Ornate was wrong all last year pretty much. He wasn't finishing his races and dropped 20lb in the ratings and we were literally scratching our heads wondering what was up with him.
"We eventually found it and his run at Wolverhampton [in December] was probably his first real good run. He has just gone on and on since then.
"There is a 0-100 handicap at Southwell before he gets assessed again next Thursday, so he could go there."
Earlier on the Newcastle card, there were two £25,000 handicaps. The first of these was the extended two-mile Betway Live Casino Handicap which went to Busy Street (Michael Appleby/Alistair Rawlinson, 9st, 6/1).
The winner triumphed by three quarters of a length after a sustained duel in the final furlong with 6/5 favourite Stargazer (Phil Kirby/Robert Winston, 9st 12lb), who had won a Fast-Track Qualifier over the course and distance on December 15.
Busy Street, a Juddmonte Farms-bred seven-year-old son of Champs Elysees, was running over two miles for the first time in his career.
Winning jockey Alistair Rawlinson said: "I always thought Busy Street was a horse that could relax over any trip. He has won over a mile and a quarter at Yarmouth and has come and won over two miles here.
"He switched off and I got a lovely tow into the race. He travelled round effortlessly and, to be fair, I was just trying to keep him on the bridle as long as I could.
"The step-up in trip was in the back of my mind but, in all heart, he has done it very well and we had full faith in him.
"He is a brilliant little horse. I don't how much the lads got him for (£12,000 at Goffs in May, 2018), but he has always been ultra-consistent and a big run like that was what he needed as he has bumped into horses that were either very well-in or just nice horses in general.
"For him to get his head in front for a nice prize is brilliant for the lads and the boss."
Part-owner Martyn Elvin added: "I had my reservations about running over two miles today. He had been running over a mile and a half on the turf and the handicapper seemed to have got him as he was always finishing second and third. He was paying for himself.
"Mick (Appleby - trainer) and I looked at this race and thought if he can get two miles at Newcastle, it brings a lot more options. Really, I was just not optimistic at all and I didn't back him. I just wanted him to stay.
"I think he has stayed well and it was a really, really perfect ride from Ali. He knew what he had to do.
"If you can get two miles at Newcastle, you can get two miles anyway. If you ask Mick Appleby what he thinks, he is on about the Cesarewitch and even talking about going to Australia."
Pinnata (Stuart Williams/Joe Fanning, 8st 6lb, 2/1 favourite) brought up an All-Weather three-timer when taking the £25,000 sunracing.co.uk Handicap over seven furlongs. The five-year-old son of Shamardal was following up wins over a mile on Polytrack at Chelmsford (November 29) and Kempton Park (December 14).
Going to the front a quarter of a mile from home, Pinnata ran on well for a comfortable length and a half success over Straight Right (Andrew Balding/P J McDonald, 9st 9lb, 9/4).
Joe Fanning said: "Pinnata is a hell of a horse. Stuart (Williams) just said we are dropping back in trip but just travel comfortably, and the horse has done it very well.
"Two and a half out, I was going very well but Stuart said with the drop back in trip when you get to halfway make sure you squeeze him on from there.
"He has done it well today and hopefully there is more to come."
Winning joint-owner, Hertfordshire-based David Reynolds who owns the horse in partnership with Chris Watkins, added: "You can never be confident at this level, but Pinnata won very well last time and we thought we still had a bit in hand.
"We were up against some good animals today but he won it well. We were dropping back to seven today but that didn't bother me. He is a lovely little horse.
"Stuart is a top trainer and I have had a couple of horses with him for years and years. One of our first horses with him was Blacktoft about 15 years ago who won about 11 races, eight on the All-Weather.
"We then moved on to horses like The Scorching Wind and Mythical Blue. At the moment, we are also partners in Human Nature.
"We would love to aspire to Good Friday with Pinnata and it is a possibility. We will sit down with Stuart and see what is available. The horse is quite versatile, as he has won over a mile and would probably get a mile and a quarter too.
"There are lots of options with him It is a great position to be in to have such a nice little horse."