Ladbrokes 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 today.
The talented but fragile nine-year-old proved his ability to stay three miles when claiming his seventh Grade One prize at the Cheltenham Festival, and was sent off the 9-4 favourite to make it eight on Merseyside.
Always travelling well in the middle of the pack, Charles Byrnes’ stable star 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 Carberry 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.”
Carberry 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 (be at Aintree), 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 retain his title in next year’s World Hurdle at Cheltenham, where he could meet legendary four-time winner Big Buck’s, currently sidelined by injury.
“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,” said Byrnes.
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.
“He’s not the biggest horse in the world but we’ll see how he jumps a fence.”
However, third-placed Smad Place will not be going to Punchestown.
His trainer Alan King said: “He ran very well. He was travelling like the winner until Solwhit popped up.
“That’s him finished now. He won’t go to Punchestown. He’ll go novice chasing in the autumn.”