It is only over the famous birch fences that Peter Bowen’s horse comes alive and he pulled off a remarkable feat to land the John Smith’s Topham Chase for the second year in a row.
Always Waining’s unpromising form figures during both this season and last may hinder him from ever getting a run in the big race itself – it caused him to be only the first reserve this time – but he was allowed to take his chance in the Topham after the final National deadline passed.
The 7-2 favourite Mon Parrain looked as if he was home and dry for much of the way but he suddenly ran out of steam approaching the Elbow, just as Tom O’Brien and Always Waining hit their stride and galloped four lengths clear.
“He’ll be 11 next year but I’d love to try to get him in the National then,” said Bowen, winning the race for the third time.
“It was a bit disappointing as there were three horses on the same weight at the bottom and I think a ballot should have been conducted.
“Our horse has run three times (unplaced) over hurdles recently, so why was that form even considered? Having won the Topham last year he should have been considered first.
“But this is good compensation. It’s difficult because he doesn’t like winter ground and he only comes right around March. Hopefully we’ll be back next year.”
There was another Welsh winner later on, when 33-1 shot Saint Are turned moderate-looking form into a first Grade One for Tim Vaughan in the John Smith’s Sefton Novices’ Hurdle.
“We had this horse as primed as we could and we missed Cheltenham to wait for a flat, galloping track like this,” said Vaughan.
“He’s a chaser in the making.”
The 4-1 favourite Sparky May ran well under the circumstances in third, having endured a seven-hour journey when trainer Pat Rodford’s horsebox broke down.
Topolski, who was smart on the level for Andrew Balding and Mark Johnston, took his unbeaten jumping record to three in the John Smith’s Top Novices’ Hurdle.