"I had just about given up on the season", said Rowe. "Just about everything had gone wrong. But then a couple of weeks ago the horses seemed to pick up a little. And in the parade ring before the race today I thought Eulogy was walking round like a horse who was really up for it."
So it proved, as Barry Fenton brought the big chestnut, a 14-1 shot, home three and a half lengths clear of Betty's Boy (15-2), with Jathib (20-1) a length third. He was followed in by Fine Thyne (20-1), Cariboo Gold and a tired-looking favourite, the Grand National winner Bobbyjo.
With the trainers' championship - Paul Nicholls holding what seems a winning margin over habitual title holder Martin Pipe at the start of the day - yet to be resolved, Tony McCoy made a bold effort for the Pipe camp on Jathib, starting his run for home early on the second circuit and kicking five lengths clear. His tactics worked in respect of all bar Eulogy and Betty's Boy, who caught him three out. Eulogy was awkward at the obstacle as Betty's Boy forged into the lead. But Fenton had Nicholas Cooper's gelding in contention by the last, which he jumped with ears pricked.
And if the season had hitherto been something of a downer for Rowe, the same could not be said for Fenton. It was the second big race of the season for the 22-year-old from Co Limerick, after Kendal Cavalier's Welsh National win. "Everything went to plan," said the young Irishman, in his fourth year in Britain. "I gave him a bit of room early and they went a good gallop, which suited him. At the Pond he started to lug to the right, so I let him pick his way. But coming to the last he was running again and he met it spot-on.
"I gave him a couple of smacks on the run-in to keep him up to his work and he put his head down and stuck on really well." Those smacks, however, could prove costly. The stewards took the view that Fenton had hit his mount on his flanks rather than on his rump and have referred him to Jockey Club headquarters in London for punishment.
It was 17 years ago that Rowe, 39, rode Shady Deal to Whitbread victory. He is now in fairly distinguished company, his predecessors being Stan Mellor, Josh Gifford, and David Nicholson. Rowe prefers his present situation, despite its frustrations. He said: "Riding the winner was a momentary thrill, but this is lasting satisfaction."
He has had to be patient with Eulogy. Lameness forced the son of Paean to miss last year's Whitbread and he had raced only twice previously this year. Rowe said: "I am delighted it's come right, not only for the owner but for my staff as well. It's been a long hard season for them, with no pool money and horrible wet weather. It is tremendous to finish on a high."
Adrian Maguire reported that Bobbyjo, who made a bad mistake at the ninth fence, was feeling the effects of his extertions two weeks previously.
Yesterday's mixed card, featuring the Whitbread and the Classic Trial, is unique in that there is the opportunity for the National and Derby winners of the year to be seen on one afternoon. However, only four Aintree winners had previously tried the double and none coincided with the appearance of a subsequent Epsom hero.
No likely change this year. Neither Fantastic Light, lucky short-head winner of the Trial after Daryll Holland appeared to drop his hands early, nor runner-up Dehoush are Derby entries, and third-placed Glamis, though staying on, looked short of pace.
Paul Carberry will miss the rest of the jumps season after undergoing emergency surgery yesterday. The Irish jockey, who won the Grand National on Bobbyjo but missed yesterday's ride in the Whitbread because of an injury when riding out, collapsed at home and was taken to Cashel Hospital where he had an operation on his spleen. He was briefly in intensive care but is reported to be stable.