The fearsome Grand National fences showed once again they still have a sting yesterday as the Becher Chase market leaders, Forest Gunner, Juveigneur, Strong Resolve and Direct Access, all crashed out over the first three fences.
A 33-1 chance, Garvivonnian, caused an upset in the incident-packed contest, though the result came as no surprise to the winning stable.
Despite the high casualty rate, there were almost six horses in a line as the field raced to the final fence. By that stage, Just In Debt had just about joined the Garrett Cotter-ridden Garvivonnian in the lead but the Irish-trained horse forced his way to the front again on the run-in for a three-quarter length success over the fast-finishing 25-1 chance Le Duc.
Just In Debt finished third, a further neck away, while It Takes Time - fourth in the Grand National in April - claimed the same position here. Back in seventh was the gallant 13-year-old Amberleigh House, well into the veteran stage of his career but sprightly as ever over his favourite course until gradually fading out of contention from the second last.
Garvivonnian missed the cut for the National itself by just one horse last year, but this win should ensure he gets a chance to show his dash, much to the delight of his trainer, County Limerick-based Ned Mitchell.
"Ruby Walsh rode him around Killarney 18 months ago and told me that day he thought he was a National horse and then Tommy Treacy said the same so I thought I ought to listen to them. Then he won the Cork National last year," Mitchell said. "It's great to be a part of history and he'll be trained to come back here in April. I am just a small trainer - I combine having eight or nine horses with farming."
Mitchell may lose the services of the rider in the big race, with 28-year-old Cotter also the regular pilot for another long-term National fancy Jack High.
Le Duc's display delighted trainer Paul Nicholls, who said: "That was a great run and he'll be trained for the National now. I don't think I'll do a lot with him before then. He had a breathing operation over the summer and it has helped."
Nicholls was also delighted with the run of fifth-home Heros Collonges, who now heads for the Welsh National at Chepstow.
Worcestershire trainer John Spearing and Paddy Brennan took yesterday's other race over the National fences, the Grand Sefton Chase, with Hakim.
Brennan, 24, said: "The first time I rode in the Grand National I was inexperienced and I didn't know what to do. But I've been watching Ruby Walsh, who to me is the best rider over these fences. He doesn't ride the horses, you've got to let them think they are loose and just sit on them and that's what I tried to do today."
After the Intersky Novices' Chase, rider Wayne Hutchinson was hit with a 14-day ban after taking the wrong course on Nyrche. The 7-2 chance still held a two-length advantage before the second-last fence but then steered his mount to the left of the obstacle, leaving Cerium to win.
Hutchinson said he had heard shouting behind him and he thought other jockeys were telling him he was going the wrong way.
Alan Shearer was in the winners' enclosure after the Children In Need Hurdle to greet Covent Garden. The Newcastle United striker is a part-owner of the gelding, along with trainer Howard Johnson.
Covent Garden was sent off the 5-1 co-favourite and Shearer admitted to backing the winner. He said: "I had a few quid on but I better not say how much."
* Following Towcester's abandonment yesterday, today's scheduled fixture at Ludlow fell to the freezing weather. Clerk of the course Bob Davies said: "About 80 per cent of the track is frozen and we are forecast to fall to minus seven overnight."
Nap: Peak Park (Southwell 3.00)
NB: Chilly Cracker
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