With 2015 winner Many Clouds making too many mistakes – he was the last of the 16 finishers on rain-softened ground – it looked like the Kim Bailey-trained eight-year-old, winner of Doncaster’s Grimthorpe Chase last month, would prevail under David Bass.
Leading narrowly at the last, the co-favourite had repelled the challenge of rank outsider Vics Canvas before 33-1 chance Rule The World and young Mullins – advised to keep wide by trainer Mouse Morris – mounted his challenge at the Elbow on the race-changing final run-in.
“He’s run an absolute blinder,” said Bass. “I can’t fault the horse, he’s as brave as a lion. I’m just gutted to finish second. He travelled, he jumped, we fought off the third horse and it’s gutting to be beaten by one.
“I thought going to the Elbow that if we just kept going we might finish with a wet sail. Anyway, hopefully next year.”
As for Bailey, he said the “rain wouldn’t have helped” as his thoughts turned to the 2017 National when his horse will have to carry an extra 12lb as a result of the Grimthorpe win.
In a race that took half a minute longer to complete than the 2015 renewal, all horses and jockeys returned home in one piece with Saltburn’s James Reveley the best of the Yorkshire contingent in which five of the first six horses were trained in Ireland. He was seventh on David Pipe’s Vieux Lion Rouge.
Even though Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls, the two men vying to be champion trainer, were out of luck, the Aintree meeting saw Mullins take a potentially decisive £180,000 lead in the prize money-determined contest thanks to a succession of big race wins. The contest ends at Sandown on Saturday week.
The most spellbinding performance came from Colin Tizzard’s Ryanair World Hurdle winner Thistlecrack who made all under Tom Scudamore to turn the Grade One Liverpool Stayers’ Hurdle into a one-horse race.
With wide-margin wins at Cheltenham and Aintree in the bag, Thistlecrack will be aimed at Ireland’s Punchestown Festival at the end of the month before connections contemplate a steeplechasing career.
“I’ve had harder days walking the dogs!” said Scudamore. “I said to Colin that he’d become so good this season that he was almost at the levels of a Big Buck’s. Before the race I said the only thing they could try and do was to mess the race up. He is the best I have ridden and as good as anything I have seen.”