Aintree Festival Review

Aintree can be sometimes a bit after the Lord Mayors Show which is the all-consuming Cheltenham Festival.

Thursday

Knight Salute was awarded a dramatic Jewson Anniversary 4-y-o Juvenile Hurdle by the stewards at Aintree after initially dead-heating with Pied Piper. Knight Salute has been a revelation this season for his resurgent trainer Milton Harris but had finished well beaten at Cheltenham, some 17 lengths behind Pied Piper. That looked a below-par effort from Knight Salute, though, as prior to that he had won his other five races this season, including two Grade Twos, and he was right back to his best on this occasion. Paddy Brennan had clearly decided to play his hand last of all, and he tracked Davy Russell on the Gordon Elliott-trained market leader for the whole race.

Approaching the last Russell must have felt he had matters in hand as he had not asked a single question – but Pied Piper did not jump the final flight well and gave Knight Salute a nudge, which caused a stewards' inquiry to be called after the long wait for the initial photo being announced. Despite the coming together at the last, 14-1 chance Knight Salute was able to edge in front on the run-in, only for Pied Piper to battle back and claim a share of the spoils right on the line – or so it seemed.

A lengthy inquiry followed and even though Brennan told the stewards he felt the contact did not affect the result and he was happy with the outcome, the officials disagreed which meant Harris had landed his first Grade One winner to cap a great season. The Boodles winner Brazil checked out on the run to the last and was beaten 12 lengths back in third. Harris said: "He cost 14 grand and gives everyone a bit of optimism."Brennan is his own man and said thank you for sticking with him, and he didn’t knock the horse about when his chance had gone in the Triumph."He could run anything down, this horse, but the juveniles are still 15lb below the Champion Hurdle horses."That’s why we were going to take him for a race in America later in the year with a view to possibly selling him."

Trainer Alex Hales and jockey Kielan Woods celebrated the biggest success of their careers as Millers Bank (7-1) displayed a fine turn of foot to run out a clear-cut winner of the SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices' Chase. The class came to the fore in the Betway Aintree Hurdle as brilliant mare Epatante ran out an easy winner. The former champion hurdler had cruised into contention under Aidan Coleman, who was still sat motionless on the mare approaching the final flight. While favourite Zanahiyr was within hailing distance on the run to the last, he looked set to be on the wrong end of the battle when he took a heavy fall, leaving Nicky Henderson's 2-1 chance Epatante to come home alone. Zanahiyr and Jack Kennedy escaped unscathed from the fall, which saw Guard Your Dreams badly hampered and Sam Twiston-Davies unshipped when in with a chance of finishing third. It has been an almost perfect season for Epatante, who has been right back to her best, dead-heating in the Fighting Fifth, winning the Christmas Hurdle and finishing second to Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle.

Clan Des Obeaux clung on grimly to claim a second victory in the Betway Bowl Chase at Aintree and give Paul Nicholls an important winner. He was on something of a retrieval mission here, however, as having finished second in the King George at Christmas he was disappointing in the Denman Chase at Newbury. But in another example of why Nicholls has been a multiple champion, he reached for first-time blinkers and Clan Des Obeaux looked back to his best. With Kemboy's jumping not holding up to the test on this occasion he was a spent force as Harry Cobden came alongside at the third-last. Davy Russell was still trying to creep into contention on Conflated, but 13-2 chance Clan Des Obeaux went six lengths clear – only to get very tired in the final 50 yards. Conflated closed to within a length, but the line came just too soon for him. Protektorat, third in the Gold Cup, travelled well for a long way but his Cheltenham exertions took their toll and he faded tamely in the straight. Nicholls said: "You’ve to just keep changing things with the older horses, he didn’t run quite as well as we thought he was going to do at Newbury but he was trained for today, not for Newbury and he’s improved from then."We just tried to do something different with him, it’s just sharpened him up so much. He was getting a bit idle, he’s pricked his ears before the line there. When they get a bit older, he’s 10, they know the routine, and they get a bit lazy.

Friday

Gelino Bello provided Paul Nicholls with a second Grade One victory of the Grand National meeting when staying on strongly to take the Cavani Menswear Sefton Novices' Hurdle. A winner at the track in October and at Newbury last time out, going left-handed and on a flat surface clearly suits him. Beaten twice by the sidelined Blazing Khal at Cheltenham mid-season, he was paying a handsome compliment to Charles Byrnes' charge. Never far from the pace under Harry Cobden, he jumped up alongside Stag Horn and Skytastic at the third-last and when the latter met it wrong his race was over.

Fakir D'Oudairies plundered a fourth Grade One of his career with another rock-solid display to see off a determined Hitman in the Marsh Chase on Friday at Aintree. It proved a wise move from trainer Joseph O'Brien to skip a clash with Allaho in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, turning up at Aintree a fresh horse and it paid dividends. O'Brien said after the race: "I'm delighted with that. Mark gave him a great ride and he's been a great servant to us that horse over a number of years. Hopefully, he'll be around another few years yet "I have to see the race again, but it's as good a performance as he's put up I'd say. "I think there's no doubt it was a deeper race this year and I was surprised he was as short a price as he was, to be honest."

Earlier on the card, Ahoy Senor (4/1) got his own back for previous defeats when landing the Mildmay Novices' Chase under Derek Fox for the Lucinda Russell team. Having been beaten by Bravemansgame at Kempton over Christmas and by L'Homme Presse at the Cheltenham Festival, he got his revenge with a bloodless victory from pillar to post. Jockey Fox set out to make all the running and he was able to control the tempo despite his mount repeatedly jumping out to his right.  Previously unbeaten over fences, Bravemansgame changed his position from being on his outside to go on the rail but quickly came under pressure and was first beaten, and not long after that it soon became apparent L'Homme Presse was not in the same form as at Cheltenham. That left Fury Road as the big danger travelling as well as the eventual winner, but Ahoy Senor quickly put the race to bed, winning by five lengths and bagging a first Grade One over fences.

Jonbon (Evens fav) got back to winning ways in the Grade One Top Novices' Hurdle at Aintree after seeing it out best in a thrilling battle with El Fabiolo. The Nicky Henderson-trained novice settled beautifully for Aidan Coleman and stalked the leaders until the race changed complexion at the third-last. Salamanca Bay unseated his rider who in turn hampered El Fabiolo and Paul Townend, losing around four lengths on Jonbon and momentum at a crucial stage. He managed to get back into contention but could never quite get past after the earlier exertion, with Jonbon and Coleman pulling away to win by a neck at the line.

Langer Dan (4/1 fav) made up for Cheltenham Festival heartbreak when landing the opening 20 Years Together, Alder Hey & Aintree Handicap Hurdle for the Harry and Dan Skelton team. The six-year-old was a heavily backed 7/2 favourite in the Martin Pipe Conditional Handicap Hurdle last month when being brought down at the second hurdle, but had no such issues on Merseyside, travelling sweetly and missing any trouble before challenging Fils D'oudairies at the final hurdle. He jumped it well and had enough in the tank to sprint clear of the Nicky Henderson-trained horse, eventually winning by just under two lengths at the line, with Balco Coastal in third also for the Henderson team. Also on the card, Mac Tottie (8/1) gave the Bowen family a win to remember when coming home clear in the Topham Chase. Trainer Peter Bowen was winning the race for the fifth time, having triumphed with Dunbrody Millar (2007) and Always Waining for three successive years from 2010-2012, but it was the first success for his son, Sean.

Saturday

Sire Du Berlais shocked reigning Stayers’ Hurdle champion Flooring Porter in the JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree. A 16-1 chance for Gordon Elliott and Mark Walsh, Sire Du Berlais looked up against it as dual Cheltenham Festival victor Flooring Porter set out to make all in the Grade One in the hands of Danny Mullins. All appeared to be going to plan for the 11-8 favourite as Mullins built up an early advantage before giving Flooring Porter a bit of a breather ahead of the run for home. Thyme Hill and Molly Ollys Wishes tried their best to keep pace but could not go on as Flooring Porter kicked, leaving Sire Du Berlais the only credible challenger in the hands of Walsh. The pair were locked in battle at the last, jumping in unison, although Flooring Porter landed a little awkwardly and had to be put straight again by Mullins, losing a touch of momentum in the process. Sire Du Berlais eventually made that advantage count and while he did drift to the rail, slightly checking Flooring Porter in the process, he eventually came home a length and three-quarters to the good. Champ kept on for third, beaten 20 lengths, with Thomas Darby a head back in fourth.

Three Stripe Life finally claimed a Grade One victory in the Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree for Davy Russell and Gordon Elliott. Gordon Elliott's charge had finished second at the highest level on his three previous runs, chasing home Mighty Potter on the first occasion before finding Sir Gerhard too good at both Leopardstown and Cheltenham on his last two outings. He was well in control jumping the last and while Might I tried to put up a fight on the run to the line, Three Stripe Life was just too good, coming home four and three-quarter lengths to the good. North Lodge was third, beaten a further three and three-quarter lengths.

Gentleman De Mee created a minor surprise as he lifted the Poundland Maghull Novices' Chase at Aintree. Arkle winner Edwardstone was widely expected to follow up his Cheltenham Festival success in this Grade One contest, being sent off the 4-7 favourite for Alan King. However, he proved no match for the Willie Mullins-trained winner, who raced generously throughout for Mark Walsh as he took a big step up from wide-margin wins at Thurles and in a Navan Grade Three. Third Time Lucki briefly looked like challenging after Harry Skelton did well to recover a lost iron, but he dropped away in the straight, leaving Edwardstone and Gentleman De Mee to slug it out. There was only one winner though, as Gentleman De Mee kicked on again at the last, coming home four and a half lengths clear with Dan Skelton's Third Time Lucki another 11 lengths back in third.