Although the tradition post-Festival fixture at Uttoxeter could be cynically viewed as what is left to be swept up in the street after the Lord Mayor's show, don't tell that to Victor Dartnall. The Devon-based trainer has been enduring a frustrating campaign by the standards of his small, though effective, operation, and Russian Trigger's victory in yesterday's Midlands Grand National went a long way to steadying the ship.
Because of ill-health among its inmates, Dartnall's stable has been below par in terms of winners, runners and strike-rate, and his mood was not improved when his only genuine contender at Cheltenham, Exmoor Ranger, fell three out when going sweetly enough in Thursday's opener, the Jewson Chase.
"It's been a disappointing season, and it was a disappointing week," he said yesterday. "But this makes it all a bit better."
Russian Trigger, ridden by Tom Doyle, ceded the lead to Flintoff in the straight but rallied gamely after the last to take the £57,000 prize by two- and-three-quarter lengths. "I winged the last," said Doyle, "and once he got to the other horse and had something to race with, he picked up and went again."
It was a second National for the seven-year-old on only his fourth start over fences, having won the Kent version at Folkestone last month, and he may one day tackle the real thing. "Like all our horses, he had the virus around Christmas time," added Dartnall. "I'd like to think he could be an Aintree horse next season, as he'd stay 10-and-a-half miles."
The 8-1 shot's victory meant that Denman's part-owner, Harry Findlay, and 10 other punters, who had joined forces to cover all bar two of the field with their selections, shared the Scoop6 pool bet bonus of £3,184,369. Findlay, with four tickets, netted £909,819, but the dividend of £227,454 to some of the single-ticket holders – like the 75-year-old John Johnson from Fife, whose original stake was just £2 – will be rather more life-changing.
The afternoon's other National came at Naas, with the Leinster tag. The winner, Emma Jane, added to a fine week for Willie Mullins, on the mark three times at Cheltenham, but she had luck running with her. Paul Town-end put the lightly weighted mare's nose in front on the line to take the spoils by a short-head after the rider of runner-up Florida Express lost his whip four fences from home.
The best clue to next month's Aintree showpiece may have come with My Will's fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but last year's Grand National runner-up, King Johns Castle, running for the first time since his four-length defeat by Comply Or Die, made a satisfactory return with a staying-on seventh place in a two mile, three furlong hurdle at Naas.
Ruby Walsh, the jockey hero of Cheltenham, rode a double at the Co Kildare track on two promising novices, the hurdler Sports Line for Mullins and the chaser Joncol for Paul Nolan.