Forest Bihan upset the big boys with a clear-cut victory in the Virgin Bet Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase at Aintree.
A field of five runners went to post for the Liverpool feature, with much of the pre-race discussion focusing on an intriguing clash between last year’s winner Frodon and Amy Murphy’s stable star Kalashnikov.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Frodon went on to enjoy a remarkable campaign following his victory of 12 months ago, also landing the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and the Cotswold Chase before completing a Cheltenham hat-trick in a memorable Ryanair Chase at the Festival.
However, conceding upwards of a stone all round, he was second best in the market on his return to Merseyside at 11-4, with Kalashnikov the 7-5 favourite on his first start since landing a Grade One over the course and distance in early April.
Frodon and his regular partner Bryony Frost soon adopted their customary role at the head of affairs, but some sticky leaps allowed the chasing pack to keep tabs on him and first Kalashnikov and then Forest Bihan moved into his wing mirrors before the home turn.
With all the fences in the home straight omitted due to low sun, Frodon did his best to keep his nose in front, but was ultimately unable to resist the pair in behind – and it was Brian Ellison’s 9-2 shot Forest Bihan who showed the smarter change of gear to claim top honours by a shade under three lengths in the hands of Brian Hughes.
Kalashnikov was a clear second, with Frodon a further 12 lengths away in third.
In-form Ellison said: “I’m over the moon with him. Brian gave him a great ride and everything went well.
“We ran him at Kelso a few weeks ago (finished third) and he improved loads for that. He hadn’t won over two and a half (miles) before, but Brian said the ground was pretty soft today and he seemed to stay well, so he’ll definitely get it on good ground.”
Paddy Power make Forest Bihan a 20-1 chance for next month’s BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Ellison added: “I hadn’t really thought beyond today, to be honest, as this was the plan.
“That (Cheltenham) could be a possibility, but I’ll speak to Phil (Martin, owner) and see what he thinks.”