Liam Heard is keeping his fingers crossed he will keep the ride on Eurotrek when he bids for glory in the John Smith’s Grand National.
The 10-year-old entered serious calculations for the world’s greatest steeplechase with a storming success over the daunting Aintree fences in the totesport.com Becher Chase yesterday.
There was a scare for the 5lb claimer as he momentarily looked like going the wrong way when approaching the Elbow, but all was well in the end and his mount was full value for an eight-length call over Bewleys Berry, with Dunbrody Millar third.
“I was driving the horse and then I looked up, but there was no panic as I was far enough away and I had enough space and plenty of time to adjust. It was no problem,” Heard explained.
“I would probably have got sacked if I had mucked up! Hopefully, I’ll keep the ride in the National and you won’t get a better ride than this horse in the race – he just kept pulling away and pulling away.”
The 25-1 success left Paul Nicholls “gobsmacked”.
Fresh from the devastating display of Kauto Star only 24 hours earlier, the champion trainer admitted afterwards that his owner had not been too keen on running him under his welter burden, but a lack of options somewhat forced his hand.
“Paul (Green) didn’t even want to run him and we only decided to go for it five minutes before the deadline. I’m absolutely gobsmacked,” he said.
“We had no other options for him really but when he’s right he is a seriously good horse. Liam gave him a fantastic ride – except for nearly taking the wrong course!
“I wouldn’t be worried if he didn’t run before the National as he can go well fresh and he’s an older horse who’s had loads of problems.”
Sponsors totesport were hugely impressed and make the winner 12-1 second-favourite for the National behind 10-1 favourite Hedgehunter.
Connections of the runner-up were overjoyed with their charge and are now planning to return to Liverpool for the big race in April.
“I am over the moon with that. He loved it and jumped for fun. We’ve got to look at the National now, today was an experiment to see if he would take to the fences,” said owner Graham Wylie.
“He’ll certainly be high enough in the weights (to get in the race) and that’s where we’ll be looking to go.”
Wylie, trainer Howard Johnson and jockey Paddy Brennan enjoyed a great day as they also bagged a high-profile double courtesy of Lennon and Degas Art.
Another faultless display of fencing from the former in the Amberleigh House Novices’ Chase saw the six-year-old cut to 10-1 second-favourite with William Hill for the Arkle at Cheltenham in March.
Opera De Coeur did manage to close the gap to a length and three quarters close home, but only after even-money favourite Lennon was heavily eased.
“I’ll have to see what Howard says but we would have to seriously consider Cheltenham now,” said Wylie.
“He probably won’t have many more runs as he goes well fresh. He jumped well and is much better over fences that over hurdles, he just didn’t respect them.”
The stewards looked into the ride Mark Bradburne gave the runner-up and he was handed a seven-day suspension under Rule 158 having been found not to have taken all reasonable and permissible measures throughout the race to ensure the four-year-old obtained the best possible placing.
Trainer Henry Daly was found not to be in breach of Rule 155 (failure to give adequate instructions).
Degas Art completed the short-priced brace but was made to work much harder to land the odds at 4-9 in the opening Weatherbys Bank Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle.
A winner at Wetherby on his debut over timber after being purchased privately out of David Elsworth's stable, he had to battle to confirm his superiority over Alan King’s Pouvoir.
Totesport and Hills both make him a 20-1 chance for the Triumph Hurdle but he is set for a mid-winter break with a long campaign on the Flat apparently catching up with him.
“He’s still a bit tired after a long Flat campaign,” said Wylie.
“He didn’t like being in front for so long either, but he did well to win. I think he will be much better when he has a lead and Paddy thinks he needs to be freshened up, so I think he will have a bit of a break now.”
There was a slight sting in the tail for Brennan as he was found guilty of improper riding in that he used his whip in the incorrect place and was suspended for four days.
Wylie and co were out of luck in the totepool Grand Sefton Handicap but Theatre Knight gave them a great run for their money in third behind I Hear Thunder (12-1).
Bob Buckler’s charge jumped for fun in the two mile and five furlong contest over the National fences and 3lb claimer Daryl Jacob produced him to perfection.
Never far from the pace, he took over from Shannon’s Pride and Theatre Knight at the head of affairs two out for a seven-length success.
Buckler said: “I Hear Thunder would have to improve another stone just to get in the Grand National and he probably won’t go for it this year.
“One of the cross-country races at Cheltenham might be suitable for him as he is a very versatile horse, who is safe and jumps valiantly when he has to.”