Vieux Lion Rouge rolled back the years to win the William Hill Becher Handicap Chase for a second time at Aintree.
Successful in 2016, the 11-year-old was making his fifth consecutive appearance in the race and ninth overall over the famous Grand National fences.
Jumping into the lead at the second-last in the hands of Conor O’Farrell, the David Pipe-trained 12-1 chance galloped away from the opposition to land the spoils by 24 lengths. Kimberlite Candy was second for the second year running, with Le Breuil four and three-quarter lengths away in third place.
There was drama from the outset, with Yala Enki falling at the first and Walk In The Mill – winner for the last two years – exiting at the Chair along with Coo Star Sivola, while Minellacelebration stumbled and unseated Ben Poste as the the field was about to set off on its second circuit.
The well-fancied Le Breuil led for some way, but a bad mistake four out did not help his cause as Vieux Lion Rouge made his way into contention and victory.
O’Farrell said: “That was super. He’s an old star who knows his way around here and is brilliant over those fences.
“There was plenty of pace today, so we took our time and let him get into a rhythm and he saw it out very well.
“There was a lot going on, but the course is wide enough and you can give yourself light everywhere if you want to.
“He has a fair record over these fences and to win this race for a second time, at his age, is fantastic.
“I’m delighted for David and for Caroline (Tisdall, part-owner) as well. I spoke to her beforehand and all she said was ‘make sure you both come back safely’.”
Vieux Lion Rouge was given a quote of 50-1 for the Randox Health Grand National with Betfair, although he has not managed to complete in the National itself to date.
Speaking from home, Pipe said: “What a horse over those fences. Jumping is the name of the game and it’s a great effort by the team.
“He’s dropped a few pounds in the handicap, the rain came and I thought he was in good form. I said to Conor this morning and said ‘he’ll take you round there, just take your time and creep into it’.
“Conor rode him to win a veterans’ chase last year and used to work here (Pond House). He’s obviously based up north now, but when Tom (Scudamore) chose Ramses De Teillee (finished seventh), Conor was the obvious choice.
“I believe the horse has now jumped 223 fences around the National course at Aintree – he seems to light up for the occasion and his record is second to none. He’s like Fred Astaire around there!
“He doesn’t seem to stay the Grand National trip and I didn’t think he’d even get into the race before today, but now he might.
“He’s in the Welsh Grand National and is also qualified for the veterans’ final at Sandown as well, so possibly one of those two races might be his next target.”
Tom Lacey was proud of Kimberlite Candy’s effort and he could be back in April for the National.
Lacey said: “He’s run an absolute cracker, but nobody wants to be second.
“I saw most of the race on the big screen and it looked like he put in an almost perfect round of jumping, excluding the first.
“He’s run a cracker, but obviously we’re hugely disappointed to bump into a very impressive winner.
“He’s done nothing wrong and seems to relish these fences. I can’t see why he won’t be back here in April if we get a wet spring, but we’ll get over today first and speak to Frank Berry (racing manager to owner JP McManus) and see what the plan is – maybe the Classic Chase at Warwick will be an option again.”
Of Le Breuil, Ben Pauling said: “Kielan (Woods) doesn’t know how he stood up at the ditch – it was a mad mistake and it knocked the stuffing out of him.
“He paid the price for that one mistake, but apart from that he’s run a blinder and he’s quite clearly able to jump these fences.
“The aim would be to come back here in April, but at the moment his mark would be nowhere near getting in and we’ve got a few pounds to find.”