if tiger Roll is to win a historic third successive Randox Health Grand National, he will face a formidable home challenge.
It will – form and fitness permitting – be headed by Walk In The Mill who has now won back-to-back Becher Chases over the Aintree fences for Yorkshire-born trainer Robert Walford.
And the line-up is set to include Malton trainer Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red who ran on to be fourth despite carrying 11st 10lb and losing ground when a fence was bypassed due to an injured jockey.
Ridden by Grade One-winning jockey Henry Brooke, the 10-year-old started steadily in this three-mile test before his superior jumping enabled him to make up ground at each obstacle.
Assuming the Gordon Elliott-trained Tiger Roll recovers from a minor injury and lines up at Aintree next April – there continue to be mixed messages from owner Michael O’Leary – it will leave horses like Definitly Red and Walk In The Mill with relatively modest weights to carry.
“We’re pleased with that,” Definitly Red’s owner Phil Martin told The Yorkshire Post immediately after the race.
“He was a little bit outpaced at the start, but his jumping got him into it and he stayed on strongly at the finish.”
Asked if he was favouring a second National tilt – the horse was pulled up in 2017 – over a third attempt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Martin, the retired Tickhill businessman added: “I think the National; that’s the race for him. It’s got to be the race for him.
“Hopefully the handicapper will be kind and drop him a couple of pounds.”
Definitly Red is usually ridden by Danny Cook who ‘enjoyed’ an exasperating outing on Sue and Harvey Smith’s Vintage Clouds.
A first fence faller in this year’s National, the grey’s jumping lacked fluency before he took off too early at The Chair and crashed through the obstacle.
Amazingly Cook stayed in the saddle before pulling up the Trevor Hemmings-owned horse shortly afterwards.
As for Walk In The Mill, he became the first horse to win back-to-back renewals of the Becher Chase, a noted National trial.
Fourth in this year’s National to the aforementioned Tiger Roll, it was another landmark day for jockey James Best, one of the unsung heroes of the weighing room.
He has a great affinity with the staying chaser whose owner Dido Harding, an enthusiastic amateur rider before pursuing a high-profile career in business, won the 1998 Gold Cup with Cool Dawn.
“I just can’t believe it – he’s literally the horse of a lifetime for me and Rob,” said Best. “Days like this don’t happen to me. I couldn’t believe last year – and to do it this year, it means even more. He seems to come alive round here.”
Now based in Dorset, the aforementioned Walford said all roads lead to Aintree in April.
“He’s a great horse, and he just loves it round here and stays all day,” said Walford, whose brother Mark trains in Ryedale.
“It’s a jumping test, and a stamina test – perfect for him. He’s got no gears, and he just keeps going.
“I think probably the four miles (in the Grand National) suits him better than this really – but the problem is it’s a slightly better race.
“If he’s on a rating where we know he’s going to get in (the National), we’ll probably keep him over hurdles until then because he’s a novice. If we feel he needs to go up in the weights a bit more we might need to run him over fences again.”
Later in the meeting there was a surprise victory for the Jamie Snowden-trained Hogan’s Height in the Grand Sefton Chase over the National fences as Tom Cannon completed a treble on the day.
Hogan’s height was an impressive winner from the staying-on Wishfull Dreaming – trained at Guiseley by Sam England and ridden by heir husband Jonathan –with Beau Bay third.
In an eventful race, French challenger It’s Jennifer sadly suffered a fatal injury when falling at the first fence.
Native River will attempt to win a second Welsh National after his facile 33-length win in the Many Clouds Chase.
He jumped in solitary isolation after Might Bite, his 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup rival, unseated Nico de Boinville at the fourth.
Owner Garth Broom was asked about next year’s Grand National, and said: “We’re not ruling it out. The race for him now is the Welsh National.”