Trainer Ned Mitchell has one eye firmly focused on the John Smith’s Grand National next April after Garvivonnian proved his mettle over the Aintree fences in the totesport Becher Chase.
The 10-year-old sprung a 33-1 shock in a race which saw the market leaders Forest Gunner, Juveigneur, Strong Resolve and Direct Access all crash out at the first three fences.
But despite the high casualty rate, there were almost six horses in a line as the field raced to the final fence.
By that stage, Just In Debt had just about joined leader Garvivonnian but despite being clearly headed at the elbow, the winner forced his way to the front again on the run-in for a three-quarter length success over the staying-on Le Duc (25-1).
Just In Debt (25-1) failed to find as much as expected on the run-in and finished third, a further neck away, while It Takes Time, fourth in the John Smith’s Grand National last season, claimed the same position here.
Garvivonnian missed the cut for the National itself by just one horse last year, but this win should ensure he gets a chance to show his dash – much to the delight of County Limerick-based Mitchell.
He said: “I wanted him to run well here to get him to go up in the weights - he’s also in the Hennessy at Newbury next weekend but he won’t go there now.
“Ruby Walsh rode him around Killarney 18 months ago and told me that day he thought he was a National horse and then Tommy Treacy said the same so I thought I ought to listen to them – then he won the Cork National last year.
“Garrett (Cotter) rode the horse for the first time here. He can do a light weight and he had experience of the fences which I thought would be important.”
Mitchell may lose the services of the rider in the big race, with Cotter also the regular pilot for another long-term fancy Jack High.
Le Duc’s run delighted trainer Paul Nicholls, who said: “That was a great run and he’ll be trained for the National now.
“I don’t think I’ll do a lot with him before then. He had a breathing operation over the summer and it has helped.
“Joe Tizzard has given him a great ride and I think we’ll stick with him for the National. You could say Joe’s booked his ride for it.”
Unfortunately, the stewards rewarded Tizzard’s efforts with a two-day ban (December 1 and 2) for using the whip with excessive frequency.
Nicholls was also delighted with the run of fifth-home Heros Collonges, who heads for the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow.
But Martin Todhunter, trainer of Just In Debt, was left feeling frustrated and said: “He just won’t go through with it on the run-in. He travelled well all the way but he still had his ears pricked.”
The valuable race lost favourite Forest Gunner after Nina Carberry parted company at the third fence but both horse and rider returned safely.
Trainer Richard Ford said: “Nina is all right and so is the horse. She said she just slipped going into the fence and came down.”
The Grand National will clearly be the prime target for Forest Gunner, as it will for the race’s 2004 winner Amberleigh House, who finished a creditable seventh.
His jockey Graham Lee said: “For a moment I thought we were going to win it coming to the second last but he just got tired in the ground. He really does love this place.”