Paul Nicholls’s decision to bypass the Cheltenham Festival with Pic D’Orhy paid off in style as the eight-year-old produced a sparkling performance to take the Grade 1 Marsh Chase, the feature event on the second day of Aintree’s Grand National meeting.
Harry Cobden rode a confident race on Johnny de la Hey’s gelding, tracking the pace-setting Minella Drama and Brian Hughes while Fakir D’oudairies, bidding for a record third win in the 2m5f contest, was never far from the leaders under Mark Walsh.
Hitting the front two out, Cobden oozed confidence on Pic D’Orhy, a fine leap at the final fence sealing the deal as they recorded a four-and-a-quarter length success over Fakir D’oudairies, with Minella Drama another two and three-quarter lengths away in third.
“He’s a much-improved horse this year so it’s fantastic,” Nicholls said after the race. “He’s so good on a flat track. This is the race we wanted to win. We might go to the Ryanair [at Cheltenham] another day.
“We said after the Peterborough Chase that this was the target. The track suits him really well. Is he a King George horse for next season? That’s a good question. He could well be, and he’ll definitely have an entry.”
Gerri Colombe failed by the narrowest of margins to overhaul The Real Whacker in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and Gordon Elliott’s charge gained handsome compensation with a facile victory in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase (3m1f).
Davy Russell took his time on Robcour’s imposing seven-year-old, who cruisied into the lead two out and produced a magnificent jump at the final fence to score hard held by seven and a half lengths.
Scottish handler Lucinda Russell has endured two near misses at Aintree this week with Ahoy Senor and Douglas Taking but her six-year-old mare Apple Away made no mistake in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle (3m½f) under a fine front-running ride by Stephen Mulqueen.
Maximilian and Iroko threw down strong challenges after the final flight but Apple Away wasn’t for passing, staying on strongly to take the spoils by a length and three-quarters from Maximilian for owners Old Gold Racing 14.
Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore teamed up to hit the Grade 1 bullseye with favourite Inthepocket in the Top Novices’ Hurdle (2m½f).
The Blue Bresil gelding, racing in the famous JP McManus silks, kept on strongly to defeat the gallant Strong Leader by a length and three-quarters.
Warren Greatrex has had a quieter time in recent seasons but the Lambourn trainer was back in the big time as Bill Baxter produced a fine round of jumping over the National fences to take the Topham Handicap Chase (2m5f) under Sam Twiston-Davies.