Nigel's a man in command

Imperial Commander stole the show at Newcastle with an impressive victory that sets the scene for a likely trip to the Cheltenham Festival.

Imperial Commander stole the show at Newcastle with an impressive victory that sets the scene for a likely trip to the Cheltenham Festival.

Nigel Twiston-Davies' six-year-old was cut from 33-1 to 25s for the Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle by VC Bet after Tony Evans eased his mount to a 19-length verdict in the St James Security Novices' Hurdle.

Evans gave Imperial Commander a positive ride and only had the eventual runner-up Jass for company for most of the two-and-a-half-mile contest.

But once that rival began to tire, the 11-10 favourite asserted full control and breezed to an eyecatching success in what could emerge as an informative novices' hurdle.

Twiston-Davies' charge already has winning form at Cheltenham when he landed the odds on his debut in a good bumper last October.

Although he was disappointing in a Grade Two at Prestbury Park in December, connections feel he is a far better proposition than that sixth-placed finish to Flight Leader would indicate.

Twiston-Davies' head lad Richard Bevis said: "I don't imagine he'd run again and I'd guess he'd go to Cheltenham now. Some of the horses weren't 100% at Cheltenham in December but they are now."

Evans added: "The ground and the trip were completely against him last time but he did that well. He's entitled to go to Cheltenham on that run and you would be half-confident."

Cedrus Libani (3-1) put up a game effort in the strong head-wind to take the WBX.COM Novices' Hurdle over two miles.

Howard Johnson's gelding was found out over two miles, six furlongs at Ayr but came into his own over this shorter trip.

Paddy Brennan only had to keep Cedrus Libani up to his work to win in good style by two and a half lengths.

The Ring and Ferdy Murphy's odds-on favourite Naiad du Misselot dead-heated for second place.

"He's a lovely horse and I can't wait to ride him over fences," said Brennan.

Murphy went one better 30 minutes later when Barton Sun broke his maiden tag at the 15th time of asking in the Springfield Motor Group Novices' Handicap Chase.

Graham Lee made smooth progress two out and booted the 3-1 shot to a one-and-a-half-length call from Jimmys Duky. Murphy said: "As long as the handicapper doesn't go too mad, he would win again."

Connections of El Andaluz praised Tom Dreaper after the rider astutely judged the pace to run away with the WBX.COM Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle.

Dreaper made all aboard Brian Ellison's 7-2 chance, who finished second to the progressive Negus De Beaumont over course and distance on his last start.

"He was given a fantastic ride and having a good jockey on board makes all the difference," said Lorraine Ellison, daughter and assistant to the successful trainer.

Lucinda Russell scored a late double courtesy of Master Sebastian and Breakwater House in the final two events.

Recent Ayr scorer Master Sebastian defied top weight with a gritty length-and-a-half victory in the Springfield Honda Handicap Chase under Peter Buchanan.

"I wasn't worried about the trip as I knew he'd always stay three miles," Russell said of the 4-1 winner.

Breakwater House (11-2) defeated Robbie Dye by a short head in an exciting finish to the James Fletcher Marquee & Pavilion Hire Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.

"It's a bit embarrassing really but that was my first ever bumper winner," smiled Russell. He's a lovely horse and is still as green as anything."

There was a distinct shortage of top performers in the Gosforth Decorating And Building Services Handicap Chase, which went the way of Baligrundle (9-1).

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