West End Rocker was promoted to 14-1 favourite for the Grand National after demonstrating stamina in abundance when winning the Betfred Becher Chase at a rain-sodden Aintree.
The ground was changed to heavy after the third race following torrential downpours throughout the morning, making the three-mile-two-furlong test over the National fences a real event for the dour stayers.
Last year‘s winner Hello Bud set out to make all again under Sam Twiston-Davies and was still going well enough in front when he unseated the youngster at the Canal Turn.
West End Rocker, trained by Alan King, jumped superbly in the hands of Wayne Hutchinson and compensated for being brought down at Becher‘s Brook in the big race last season.
Niche Market looked a big danger on crossing the Melling Road for the second time, but he was running on empty reaching the second-last and trailed home 22 lengths behind the winner with Peter Bowen‘s pair of Ballyvesey and Always Waining claiming third and fourth.
Hutchinson said: “He thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. I schooled him on Thursday upsides Walkon and he was quicker than him and when we pulled up, Choc (Robert Thornton, King’s stable jockey) said ’you lucky sod!’
“He’s been fantastic to me. I won a handicap chase on him at Newbury and the Classic at Warwick on him last year.
“He was absolutely awesome. He usually takes a bit of time to get into his rhythm but after we crossed the Melling Road (first time), he travelled lovely. His jumping took him to the front and you could jump a house on him.”
West End Rocker’s part-owner Barry Winfield said: “I was a bit worried about the ground today. April is still a long way off.
“The Grand National is not really for me, the prize-money is good though, obviously. Usually I would leave before the National to beat the traffic!”
Victor Chandler make West End Rocker the new 14-1 favourite for the Grand National, cutting him from 25-1.
Tim Vaughan is also thinking of the National for Stewarts House after his thrilling victory in the Betfred Grand Sefton Chase.
Bought for just £11,000 out of Arthur Moore‘s yard, he held off his former stablemate Linnel, who made a mess of the final fence.
Aidan Coleman had to use all his strength to gain the win but was penalised by the stewards who found him guilty of using his whip with excessive frequency.
He was banned for seven days (December 17-22 and 26) and also forfeited his share of the prize money after hitting the winner 11 times.
“We bought him for £11,000 and I bought 15 at that sale and was struggling to pay the bills,” said Vaughan.
“I rang the lads (owners) up and asked them to help me out and it’s lovely to repay them. He had a breathing op after winning at market Rasen and Aidan said he was pretty thick in his wind today.
“I’d love to run him in the National. On better ground he could be just the type to hunt round and get involved on the last circuit.”
It was a good day for the mare Frankly Native as two of her sons won on the card.
Master Of The Hall (11-8 favourite) had to be kept up to his work to win the Betfred Goals Galore Bonus Chase for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty.
A smart novice last term, he handled the ground better than his market rival Nacarat.
“He was getting lonely in front and I thought Nacarat would find more when I went to challenge him,” said Geraghty. “It was a nice confidence booster for him.”
Philip Hobbs’ Featherbed Lane (9-2) is a full brother to Master Of The Hall and he emerged victorious in the Betfred Goals Galore Handicap Hurdle.
Up 9lb for a recent win at Ascot, the Ladbroke is next on the agenda for the Tom O‘Brien-ridden winner. He was cut to 10-1 from 14s for the valuable race.
Owner Terry Warner said: “I told Philip he would win today but he thought Spirit Of Adjisa would be tough to beat.
“I didn‘t think he could give us a stone so I had a decent bet on him. He’ll go for the Ladbroke next, he needed to win to get in.”
Donald McCain’s Cinders And Ashes was introduced into the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle betting at 16-1 after a smooth victory in the Jaguar Northern Dealers Maiden Hurdle.
Having finished a creditable second on his hurdling debut at Ascot, he was sent off the 6-5 favourite to go one place better, despite meeting old adversary Keys, who denied him in a bumper at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Jason Maguire always looked confident on the four-year-old before pulling clear for a nine-length win.
“The ground was slow enough for him, but he just did what we thought he would do,” said McCain.
“We’ve always thought plenty of him and he was only a youngster last season. We’ll step him up in grade now and maybe go to Haydock in the new year but Cheltenham will be his aim. He’s very smart.”
Ben de Haan, forever remembered for riding Corbiere to victory in the National of 1983, was beaming after the victory of Native Gallery (5-1) in the Betfred 1350 Shops Nationwide Novices‘ Handicap Hurdle.
“I’m delighted to have another winner here as my record since ’83 has been desperate,” said De Haan.
“I only rode one other winner here and have only trained one winner."
Russie With Love (3-1) claimed the Betfred Free Machine Play Mares’ Bumper for trainer Chris Down and jockey Giles Hawkins.