With the Grand National itself now less than a fortnight away, Donald McCain and Jason Maguire warmed up for the world’s most famous steeplechase as Chamirey landed the Sean Magee’s Full Set Durham National at Sedgefield.
The pair can look forward to Ballabriggs defending his title at Aintree on Saturday week and they combined to take a far less prestigious, but likely just as attritional National in atrocious conditions.
The ground was officially described as good at the start of the day but a couple of hours later, the course had been lashed by rain, wind, hail and snow, leaving just six runners to go to post in the feature event.
Maguire quite sensibly set a sedate pace in the early stages of the three-mile-six-furlong test, before moving things up a gear heading down the back straight for the final time.
The 13-2 chance soon had his opponents toiling in the mud and he safely negotiated the final couple of obstacles to secure an 18-length verdict over Bellflower Boy.
“He went to Enda Bolger for a go at cross-country racing for a while but it wasn’t really his thing so I bought him back,” said McCain.
“The ground has come right for him as while he handles decent ground all right, he loves it when it’s really testing and he’s obviously enjoyed himself today.
“I’m under no illusions and we’ll just play it by ear and see where we go with him. It’s just nice to see him win again.”
Success in the feature event was the second leg of a double for McCain and Maguire after Saga De Tercey toughed it out to complete a hat-trick of victories in the SAFC Foundation Novices’ Hurdle.
The 8-11 favourite made all the running and held off the challenge of Walser by a neck.
The brace takes Maguire’s seasonal tally to 138, leaving him four winners behind Richard Johnson in the race to finish second to Tony McCoy in the jockeys’ standings.
“It’s nice to have another winner and I’ll just keep my head down and keep working and see where we end up,” said Maguire.
McCain added: “He absolutely hated the ground, so he’s done well to win and to win three novice hurdles is no mean feat.
“We might step him up in class now for a decent handicap or something and see how we get on.”
Positive tactics also paid dividends on Kealigolane as he justified 7-2 favouritism in the John Wade Waste Recycling Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final.
Barry Murtagh’s recent Haydock winner made every post a winning one in the hands of Lucy Alexander, making light of the testing ground to score by 14 lengths from Heart Of Dubai, picking up a little over £10,000 in prize-money.
Alexander said: “With the wind and rain it’s pretty tough conditions out there, but it’s nice to have a winner and this is a nice prize.”
Alexander also completed a double, guiding Ann Hamilton’s late arrival Fred Bojangals (8-1) to success in the digibet.com Handicap Chase.
Hamilton said: “We had blizzards up in Newcastle and I didn’t think we were going to get here, it was touch and go.
“It was worth it in the end, I just hope we can get home now!”
Hi Dancer won his second race in the space of four days in the O’Brien Waste Recycling Handicap Hurdle.
Ben Haslam’s charge had given 10lb claiming jockey Craig Gallagher his first winner at Wetherby on Friday and he was in the saddle once again as the 9-4 favourite won by 19 lengths from Alba King.
“I must say I am a bit surprised he’s managed to win as easily as that,” said Haslam.
“He won well the other day and was due to go up a lot in the weights, so we had to run him really and he’d come out of Wetherby in good form.
“I didn’t expect him to come out and win like that, but I suppose there were only six runners and in this ground the margins are exaggerated.”
Melua Maid (6-1) galloped her rivals into submission in the Livin Novices’ Handicap Chase, while the closing bumper went to 18-1 chance Forty Crown.