Brothers Dan and Harry Skelton combined to land the opening race on Randox Health Grand National day as Aux Ptits Soins ran out a decisive winner of the Gaskells Handicap Hurdle at Aintree.
A former Cheltenham Festival winner, in the 2015 Coral Cup for trainer Dan Skelton’s former boss and mentor Paul Nicholls, the John Hales-owned Aux Ptits Soins has suffered his share of injury problems in the intervening four years.
He joined the Skelton team for this season – having been off the track for more than 18 months – and secured an impressive handicap victory at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, before finishing down the field behind star stayer Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle.
Reverting to handicap company on Merseyside, the 11-1 shot travelled strongly into the home straight and powered clear from the final flight to score by four and a half lengths under his jubilant rider.
Aux Ptits Soins was chased home by stablemate Tommy Rapper to give the yard a one-two.
Dan Skelton said: “I’m in a spot of bother with the landlord – because his horse was second!
“We deliberately kept Aux Ptits Soins away from Cheltenham. He is a competitor in those Grade One and Grade Twos, but he is lot more comfortable in handicaps – and I knew if I left him fresh for here we would give ourselves the best chance.
“I did fancy him a bit and I did fancy Tommy Rapper to run well. With a bit more rain, Tommy Rapper would have been even closer.
“It is a great team performance, because the pair of them have run their socks off there.”
Skelton is closing in on the 200-winner mark for the season, and added: “We’ve got 18 to go, but that feels like 20 in its own right!”
Ben Pauling’s Kildisart (8-1) defied top-weight in the Betway Handicap Chase.
Fourth in the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on his latest appearance, the seven-year-old had the burden of 11st 12lb to carry on his return to handicap company.
But Kildisart’s class shone through as he moved smoothly to lead between the final two fences under Daryl Jacob and winged the last to seal an impressive five-length verdict over Mister Malarky.
Jacob said: “I thought he might have been high enough in the handicap, but he is an improving horse.
“He has probably improved a bit from Cheltenham. We’ve always thought he wanted that sort of trip (three miles and a furlong).”
Having saddled Tiger Roll to claim a historic second victory in the Randox Health Grand National an hour earlier, Gordon Elliott landed the final race of the meeting with 13-2 chance Chief Justice.
Ridden by leading amateur Jamie Codd, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned four-year-old touched off Thistimenextyear by a head in the Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle.