Though this marathon race does not have the same stature of Aintree’s Grand National, which Smith, and her husband Harvey, won with Auroras Encore in 2013, this is still a notable feat of training by a team who have always excelled with staying steeplechasers.
Running in the colours of Cloudy Too, who excelled for High Eldwick-based Smith for so long, Sharp Response’s triumph follows the successes of Lackamon (2016), Straidnahana and I Just Know, who prevailed 12 months ago.
Ridden conservatively for the first half of this three-mile six-furlong test, Cook and the white-faced Sharp Response took up the running at the 14th of 24 fences when the pace became too stop-start for his liking.
An athletic leap at the first fence in the back straight on the last of three circuits consolidated the superiority of the top weight, and pre-race favourite, and they never came close to being challenged for the lead.
Five lengths in arrears was the runner-up Little Bruce, the early pacesetter, for the in-form Phil Kirby team, while the Sam England-trained Western Jo was third in a race that saw Yorkshire horses fill the first three places.
It was befitting of this race that the winning connections received the Denys Smyth Memorial Trophy in honour of the late County Durham trainer, a one-time taxi driver, who won the 1968 Grand National with Red Alligator.
“He’s run well every start this season and I’ve been looking to step him up in trip,” Cook told The Yorkshire Post.
“With a race like that, being on the front end doing the dictating is much easier than being dictated to.”
As to the future, Cook suggested Newcastle’s Eider Chase over an extended four miles for the eight-year-old Sharp Response before a possible tilt at the Grand National in time.
“He could make up into a National horse,” added the jockey, who said Sharp Response’s fourth-place finish behind Lake View Lad in Newcastle’s Rehearsal Chase last month is solid form.
“Whether he is good enough is yet to be seen. But he is a nice horse and he jumps brilliant. He is improving a lot, but he still has some way to go.”
As well as riding for the Smith stable, whose Midnight Shadow, a high-profile winner on New Year’s Day, could be aimed at the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, Cook has formed a good alliance with Malton trainer Brian Ellison.
Ellison reports Definitly Red, winner of Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase and also Aintree’s Many Clouds Chase, to be on track for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but says stablemate Nietzsche will miss the National Hunt Festival.
Victorious in Cheltenham’s valuable Greatwood Hurdle in November under conditional rider Danny McMenamin, the horse has had a wind operation to assist its breathing after disappointing at Ascot last month.
Ellison now has his sights set on the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock in the spring for the six-year-old.
Amy Murphy will ready Arkle Trophy contender Kalashnikov for a return to Warwick in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase.
Having had to settle for second in the Wayward Lad Chase at Kempton over Christmas, Jack Quinlan’s mount will now return to the scene of his debut win over fences.
Murphy said: “It was always going to be quick enough for him at Kempton – because he wants a big, galloping track – but there wasn’t a lot of choice for him.”