Auroras Encore won a thrilling renewal of the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday .
Trained by Sue Smith in Yorkshire and ridden by scots born jockey Ryan Mania, the 66-1 outsider swept into the lead at the final fence and kept going strongly to score.
Cappa Bleu finished well to snatch second spot from Teaforthree as the winning post loomed.
Super Solwhit in sparkling show
World Hurdle hero Solwhit turned in another superb display in the hands of Paul Carberry to claim the John Smith’s Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree.
Charles Byrnes’ talented but fragile nine-year-old (9-4 favourite) was always travelling well in the middle of the pack and was still cruising in behind the leaders at the top of the home straight, but Carberry was keen to bide his time.
The ultra-confident jockey was looking round for dangers between the final two flights and Solwhit sealed victory with a spring-heeled leap at the last. He kicked on up the run-in to score by three lengths from Holywell, with Smad Place back in third.
Carberry said: “He was absolutely brilliant today. He travelled great the whole way and jumped absolutely brilliant. I’d say he’s nearly twice the horse today he was at Cheltenham.”
The jockey was having his first ride since suffering a heavy fall at Fairyhouse on Tuesday and admitted he was unsure earlier in the week whether he would make it to the Grand National meeting at all. He said: “Wednesday morning I thought I wouldn’t, but on Thursday I felt better and thankfully I’ve progressed well.”
Byrnes said: “I thought he did it very well at Cheltenham, so I was confident today, even though there were a couple of other horses thrown in.
“The only problem with going to Punchestown is that the gap is quite small, but the three-mile race is the only option he has and he’ll probably go if he’s OK. He was going to go over fences at one stage, but at his age, I don’t think we’ll go that way.”
Solwhit is 7-1 from 10-1 with Paddy Power to win next year’s World Hurdle at Cheltenham, where he could meet four-time winner Big Buck’s, currently sidelined by injury. Byrnes added: “He’d have to be very good to beat Big Buck’s, who is trained by a genius (Paul Nicholls), but you should never be scared of one horse.”
Holywell could meet Solwhit again in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle at Punchestown.
His trainer Jonjo O’Neill said: “The winner won easily, the others may have run below par, but he’s run a good race and we’re very happy with him. If the ground is soft we’ll go to Punchestown with him and after that we’ll leave him off. He’s in the Stayers’ Hurdle but so is Solwhit, that’s the bad news.”
Cooper lands Special victory
Bryan Cooper’s great season continued as he guided Special Tiara to victory in the John Smith’s Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree.
One of the rising stars of the National Hunt weighing room, Cooper rode three winners at last month’s Cheltenham Festival and enjoyed his first Aintree winner aboard First Lieutenant in Thursday’s Betfred Bowl.
With Grand Annual winner Alderwood, Arkle runner-up Baily Green and the ever-popular Overturn in the field, it was no surprise to see Henry de Bromhead’s charge sent off a largely unconsidered 28-1 shot for this Grade One event.
Special Tiara disputed the lead with Overturn for much of the two-mile journey, but appeared to have been seen off when Overturn quickened into a clear lead off the home bend.
But Overturn began to wander on the run to the final fence and was claimed on the flat by Special Tiara, who got up by a length and three-quarters. Alderwood was outpaced before plugging on to finish third, while Baily Green made a serious mistake at the first fence and never fully recovered, eventually pulling up.
Cooper said: “Going to the last I thought I had a bit more horse. He wings fences and I thought if he winged the last I might get there, but Overturn is a real tough horse and when I went past he battled again. It’s been an unbelievable time for me.”
De Bromhead said: “Bryan gave him a super ride. He’s a bit of a tearaway so we mainly just loose school him at home. His jumping was superb - we thought with good ground and an easy two miles he might have a chance. He only just gets two miles. He’s a big, galloping horse and loves jumping.
“We discussed this race in October, when he ran over two and a quarter miles against Baily Green. He’s only starting back again now and he will run in the two-mile Grade One at Punchestown.”
Overturn’s trainer Donald McCain said: “We shouldn’t be disappointed, but we are sick for him. He’s just a little bit short of top class and needs some help with the ground. I don’t think we’ll be going to Chester again, but he’s still in there (Chester Cup), he’s in at Punchestown. We’ll get him home and see how he is.”
Trainer Tom Mullins said of Alderwood: “We think the track may have been too tight for him and at that level he wants softer ground. We’ll see about Punchestown. It depends how he is, but he a nine-year-old so he might be able to take it.”
Punchestown on Sacre’s radar
Punchestown could be on the agenda for Sprinter Sacre after a step up in distance made little difference to him as he turned in another breathtaking performance in the John Smith’s Melling Chase at Aintree.
Stepping into the unknown as he tackled two and a half miles for the first time over the larger obstacles, he was a 1-3 favourite to beat a top-class field including Ryanair Chase winner Cue Card, Ireland’s big hope Flemenstar, and his own stable companion Finian’s Rainbow, winner of this race last season.
Cue Card and Flemenstar disputed the lead, with Sprinter Sacre travelling and jumping with his usual extravagance in behind, and once unleashed by Barry Geraghty, the writing was on the wall. Cue Card stuck to his task, but Sprinter Sacre brushed him aside and jumped the last to score by four and a half lengths without coming off the bridle.
Flemenstar was a long way back in third, with Finian’s Rainbow, who was sent to the front leaving the back straight by Tony McCoy, fading into fourth.
Geraghty said: “He was brilliant. I suppose I could have done with going a little bit quicker. He travelled a bit too well and I had to take him back a few times to make use of his jumping. Because of the distance I didn’t want to get to the front too soon. He wasn’t wanting to do anything silly like tear off with me.
“When you let him loose like at the second-last, he does it too easily. The two and a half miles didn’t make any difference. He has plenty of pace and is very versatile.”
Trainer Nicky Henderson, who sent out four winners on the card, said: “He’s a natural athlete. He’s got a huge amount of ability and knows how to use it. I don’t think anybody has taught him about jumping. It is sheer natural talent. As Barry says, that is probably as far as he wants to go. He gets two and a half.”
The handler was not completely ruling out a quick return at Punchestown on April 23, adding: “I’m not ruling it in or out, I sort of think I’d like to show him to the people in Ireland one day. He’s not had hard races, has he? Let’s see how he comes out of this.”
Looking to next year, he said: “I think we’ll stick to the two-mile route and I’d have thought next season would be exactly the same.”
Francis Casey, son and assistant of Flemenstar’s trainer Peter Casey, said: “He jumped brilliantly, but none of the others made a mistake either. He’s probably been born in the wrong era. Who’s going to beat that horse (Sprinter Sacre)? He’s going to Punchestown in a couple of weeks and he’s only in the two-mile race.”
Lieutenant takes charge in Bowl
Ryanair Chase runner-up First Lieutenant (7-2) went one better with a determined performance in the Betfred Bowl Chase at Aintree. Mouse Morris’ raider didn’t have the speed to peg back Cue Card at Cheltenham, but stepped up in distance here, he was prominent from early on the second circuit in the hands of Bryan Cooper.
Menorah jumped the last in front and appeared set for victory, but First Lieutenant’s stamina kicked in and he wore down Philip Hobbs’ charge to score by three-quarters of a length. Even-money favourite Silviniaco Conti made a couple of errors as the action hotted up and was a never-nearer third.
Morris said: “He really deserved one. He’s got a big heart and he jumped super for Bryan, but I thought we were struggling turning in. He hasn’t run a bad race all season and was second in all the good handicaps and Grade Ones. I’m delighted for the horse and the team at home. I wouldn’t have thought he’d go to Punchestown, but we’ll see.”
Cooper said: “I’ve been knocking on the door with this lad all season so it’s great he’s got his head in front. He’s been up against Bobs Worth, Tidal Bay, Cue Card - he really deserves it.
“I was on and off the bridle the whole way but he jumped exceptionally well and I was always trying to save a bit. It’s a shame Davy (Russell) can’t be here, he’s riding at home today at Thurles with not a bother on him.”
Paul Nicholls said of beaten favourite Silviniaco Conti: “Ruby said if he hadn’t missed the ditch he would have won. I suppose if he hadn’t fallen in the Gold Cup we could have ridden him more positively as he’s not a speed horse, more of a stayer. In the future we’ll ride him like we did at Haydock.”
Philip Hobbs said of Menorah: “I’m really pleased, it’s the first time he’s had decent ground all season and I’d be inclined to finish him off on a high note now.”
Fishers flies in again
At Fishers Cross won his sixth race from as many starts this season with a brilliant performance in the John Smith’s Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, completing a double on the day for Tony McCoy and his retaining owner JP McManus after the victory of My Tent Or Yours.
So impressive in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, Rebecca Curtis’s stable star was an 11-8 favourite to secure a second Grade One haul and the result was scarcely in doubt.
Always travelling ominously well down the outside of the field, the six-year-old swung for home full of running and responded generously when asked to go and win his race. Just A Par finished off well to grab the runner-up spot, but was never in danger of threatening the winner, finishing eight lengths adrift.
McCoy said: “This horse has been winning all winter on heavy ground. For some reason last season he couldn’t jump and he was hard to get right.
“Rebecca (Curtis) has done unbelievably well and has turned him inside out. She was adamant he would cope with the ground - we could have taken the windy route and leave him after winning at Cheltenham.
“He was every bit as good as he was at Cheltenham, but it wasn’t as good a race. He felt every bit as good, he’s getting the hang of winning. It’s great for JP and Noreen (McManus) to get winners at these big meetings.
“He’s a good horse. He was the best horse and he stays. I made sure he didn’t get done for toe and from the last to the winning post he just kept going. He’s a lovely little horse.”
Curtis said: “I was a bit worried about the ground today, but he’s proving to be really versatile. He jumped brilliantly and he still seems to be improving. I don’t see any rush to go over fences and we’ll go down the staying hurdle route next season.”