A brilliant round of jumping from Warriors Tale sealed a muddy edition of the Betway Grand Sefton Handicap Chase for multiple Grand National-winning owner Trevor Hemmings.
Warriors Tale, an evident non-stayer in this year’s National, got every yard of this two-mile-five-furlong trip over the big fences and shrugged off a stopping weight of 11st 12lb to win tenaciously by a length and a half from long-time leader Brandon Hill.
Paul Nicholls’ nine-year-old, ridden by Sean Bowen, gradually picked his way through the field to be in front when it mattered at 15-2.
Hemmings, whose famous green-and-yellow silks have prevailed three times in the Grand National, was on hand to welcome back his latest Aintree victor.
“That’s lovely, to get a winner here,” he said, as the rain continued to pour.
“We thought he could win. He didn’t get the best of starts – two or three bumped into him during the race.
“But he kept going.”
Warriors Tale faded and was pulled up in his first National attempt, but Hemmings thinks there may still be a second.
“Yes, we’re hoping to get a couple of horses in the big one,” he added.
“He did all right (last year). Again this year, I’m sure he’ll be knocking on the door.”
Bowen did not sound so sure, hinting any repeat bid will be very much ground dependent to try to eke out stamina.
“I rode him in the National, and he jumped and travelled brilliantly but probably didn’t quite stay,” he said.
“Today, back to two and a half, he was a little bit flat out early on but he crept into it nicely – and his amazing jumping won it for him.
“He ground it out all the way to the line.
“It was nearly heavy ground when he ran in (the National) last time, so if the ground was quick we would go for it – but at the same time, if it came up like it was today, he probably wouldn’t get the trip.”
The traditional Aintree drama could not wait for the big fences on Saturday, and got under way before noon as the Betway Heed Your Hunch Novices’ Hurdle rewarded any ambitious punters who did just that on 40-1 winner West To The Bridge.
In-running investors doubtless had a rollercoaster ride, too, in a race which was over pretty much before it had begun for odds-on favourite Eldorado Allen – thanks to the antics of jumps debutant The Grand Visir.
The son of Frankel swerved violently going to the first and dumped Tom Scudamore, before also taking out Eldorado Allen.
The Grand Visir was far from done with either, running back loose past the stands towards those remaining in the initial six-strong field and forcing clear leader Champagne Mystery into the rail in full view of an incredulous crowd.
Down to three, 11-4 second favourite Cause Toujours seemed by far the most likely winner – attended only by Dan Skelton’s pair of big outsiders.
But Skelton’s first string West To The Bridge prevailed by three and a half lengths, leaving the trainer’s brother and winning jockey Harry counting his blessings.
“On other days, it could be me lying on the floor,” he said.
“There was a lot going on, and luckily we’ve come out on the other side of it – but I know this game, it can be swings and roundabouts.”
Champagne Mystery’s jockey James Bowen was relieved everyone somehow returned unscathed.
“I could see a long way out the horse was coming at me, and there wasn’t much I could do really,” he said.
“The rail smashed right in front of me. He crashed through, tripped over it and then veered off – it’s rotten luck, isn’t it? It was just a disaster.
“But at least the horse is fine.”
The Betway Handicap Chase was utterly routine, by comparison, but had a convincing winner in 7-2 favourite Ballyhill.
It was another familiar family success, Sam Twiston-Davies this time riding for his dad Nigel and coming home a three-and-a-quarter-length winner under 11st 11lb from Caltex.
In the Merseyrail Handicap Hurdle, back-to-form Midnight Shadow held on by a dwindling half-length to kickstart a double for Danny Cook and edge his own personal battle with fellow Scottish Champion Hurdle winner Ch’Tibello.
Sue Smith’s imposing five-year-old will almost certainly be a chaser next season, but will stay over hurdles for this campaign after putting his Greatwood disappointment behind him to win here at 4-1.
There was an appropriate winning surname for a Merseyside event when Keith Dalgleish’s Chica Buena turned the Listed Betway Fillies’ Juvenile Hurdle into a procession, storming home 23 lengths clear at 4-1.