Giles Cross may be odds-against to turn up in the Grand National itself but he left his connections thrilled after claiming a deserved big-race victory in the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock.
Victor Dartnall’s dour stayer had to play bridesmaid in the Welsh National at Chepstow for the second successive year in December, making much of the running before being claimed late by Le Beau Bai.
Slightly better off at the weights as the pair renewed rivalries on Merseyside, Giles Cross was sent off the 4-1 favourite to gain his revenge and did just that under a magnificent ride from Denis O’Regan, who this time held on to his mount that little bit longer.
With classy top-weight Neptune Collonges for company, Giles Cross produced some prodigious leaps and plenty of those behind had cried enough by the time that pair rounded the turn for home.
Le Beau Bai stuck to his task as tenaciously as might have been expected, while Irish raider Some Target looked a player racing on his own closest to the grandstand.
But it was ultimately Giles Cross and Neptune Collonges who fought it out and while the latter came back tenaciously as the line approached, Giles Cross was called the winner by a neck.
Le Beau Bai was 11 lengths back in third.
O’Regan said: “He’s an easy horse to ride, he’s very genuine and jumps like a buck. I’d love to ride him in a Grand National, the only thing is he needs the ground soft, he’d love the Grand National but whether he gets in I don’t know and the ground has to be right.
“He’s such a legend, he never runs a bad race.”
Winning owner-breeder Kay Birchenhough added: “I’m absolutely thrilled, it doesn’t get any better than this.
“I always thought he had a big race in him, we just couldn’t shake Le Beau Bai off in the Welsh National but I was eager to take him on again.
“He could run in the National but the ground would have to be soft, if he didn’t go there he could go for the Irish National.”
Dual Grade One winner and one-time Cheltenham Gold Cup third Neptune Collonges could be Aintree-bound, according to his owner, John Hales.
He said: “He has run a blinder off that weight, you’d have to say he deserves his chance in the National now.
“It would be a real plus if Ruby (Walsh) decides to ride him at Aintree but I have no idea what his plans are.”
Betfred cut Giles Cross and Neptune Collonges to 20-1 from 33-1 for the Aintree marathon.
Lucinda Russell feels Brindisi Breeze represents her best ever chance of having saddling a Cheltenham Festival winner after his superb front-running display in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
The Kelso and Newcastle winner was the 9-2 co-favourite of four for the three-mile Grade Two, and dictated matters from start to finish under Campbell Gillies, galloping on relentlessly to score by 12 lengths from Harry Topper.
Both Ladbrokes and Betfred were suitably impressed, slashing the six-year-old to 12-1 for the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham.
“That was amazing,” said a thrilled Russell. “He’s not an overly-big horse but he has an amazing attitude and amazing ability – he’s awesome.
“You can go down to Cheltenham and have a nice day out with a horse, but judged on that performance, he would be my best chance of having a winner there. I don’t know if that makes it more exciting or worse, I’ll tell you by the end of Cheltenham week!”
Restless Harry (9-2) provided trainer Robin Dickin with a welcome tonic by landing the Betfred Goals Galore Hurdle under Henry Oliver.
Dickin suffered a broken neck in a gallops accident last month and is currently confined to his house, but will undoubtedly have been thrilled to see his stable star bounce back to winning ways having run behind the mighty Big Buck’s the last twice.
“I’ve got a feeling Robin will be feeling a lot better after that,” said the trainer’s wife, Claire. “We didn’t leave him in the World Hurdle – we’re getting a bit sick of looking at Big Buck’s’ bottom! The Pertemps Final or the Coral Cup could be options for him.”
Nicky Henderson’s French recruit Une Artiste (10-11) made a fine start to life in Britain with a determined victory in the Betfred ’When Both Teams Score’ Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle.
Colin Tizzard and Tom O’Brien combined for a double on the card, with Grand Vision (5-1) collecting in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle and 100-30 chance Cannington Brook sauntering home in the Betfred “Double Delight” Novices’ Handicap Chase.
The Tizzard wins came in a unforgettable hour spell for the Dorset-based trainer, who also bagged a double at Wincanton and a winner at Ascot.
The Betfred “Hat Trick” Heaven“ Walrus Hunters’ Chase was run in a hailstorm, and in ever-darkening conditions, with Unowatimeen (22-1) coming out on top in the hands of 7lb-claiming amateur Samantha Drake.