England eyes happy New Year on Distime

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JONATHAN England and Distime could return to Aintree next April for the Topham Trophy after their creditable third-place finish in Saturday’s Grand Sefton Chase over the National fences.

Despite the horse and jockey having never previously tackled Aintree’s unique test, they handled the fences stylishly and were making up ground as some of the early pacesetters faltered.

Though they had no chance of catching runaway winner Bennys Mist, Distime – owned and trained by the family of England’s fiancée Samantha Drake – plugged on gamely to finish third.

“He never missed a beat. I didn’t want to be forcing him on that ground because he always gives 100 per cent. He was a right pro. He schooled me round more than anything,” said Guiseley-based England.

“He’ll go for the good chase at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day.”

The race saw Shaun Quinlan taken to hospital with abdominal injuries after a sickening fall from Sue Smith’s Mwaleshi. The jockey was hoping to be discharged yesterday.

Don Poli confirmed his Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials with a hard-fought win over reigning Grand National hero Many Clouds – victorious jockey Bryan Cooper showed great horsemanship to keep the partnership together after his saddle slipped.