Grand National Festival 2015: Silviniaco finds a silver lining after Gold flop


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No punter riding the Paul Nicholls wave in a campaign sprinkled liberally with high-profile victories will have had any cause for alarm regarding the well-being of the Ditcheat stable at any stage and will be further heartened by events here ahead of a potent Grand National challenge on Saturday, spearheaded by the second favourite Rocky Creek.

Silviniaco Conti was the star of the show when repelling all challenges to once again bounce back from a Cheltenham Gold Cup disappointment to win a second Betfred Bowl.

But this was no great surprise and the earlier success of outsider All Yours in the Juvenile Hurdle spoke louder volumes still for the health of the Nicholls team; this was a horse stepping up significantly on what he had achieved in a handicap at Cheltenham last month.

It takes a big man to admit when he is wrong and Nicholls held his hands up after Silviniaco Conti yet again demonstrated that he is at his most effective on a flat track, rather than up and down the hills of Cheltenham.

“It’s obvious now that he doesn’t like Cheltenham and this year the ground was a bit soft and Coneygree took him out of his comfort zone,” said the eight-time champion trainer. “But today his jumping was fantastic and he was given a great ride by Noel [Fehily]. I was a bit worried when he got in close to the last because he can idle a bit, but he kept on galloping.”

The well-supported favourite was harried all the way to the line, not as expected by Holywell or Ma Filleule, but by the outsider Ballynagour, who ran the race of his life to go down by a head, all guns blazing.

Fehily added: “You saw it at Haydock, you saw it at Kempton and you saw it again today just what a great jumper he is. His jumping won it. On his day he’s a little star.”

Nicholls revealed that the Cheltenham Gold Cup is no longer a priority for Silviniaco Conti, but is nevertheless looking forward to many more big paydays with the son of Dom Alco – including perhaps the Grand National one day.

Arctic Fire’s heavy last-flight fall in the Aintree Hurdle cut short what promised to be a thrilling Tony McCoy and Ruby Walsh set-to. McCoy was about to go for everything on Jezki and might well have beaten the Champion Hurdle runner-up anyway; as it was he was able to coast home clear of Rock On Ruby, badly hampered by the fall.

Walsh, who had earlier made all the running to win the Manifesto Novices’ Chase aboard Clarcam, suffered a dead leg in the tumble and was stood down for the rest of the day – “a bit of ice and it’ll be fine,” he declared.

McCoy also took a fall on the much-fancied Ned Buntline in the Red Rum Chase, but was quickly up on his feet, unscathed. The race went to the 33-1 shot Surf And Turf.

If anyone is still in the slightest doubt that Nina Carberry, who rides First Lieutenant on Saturday, is not up to guiding home a Grand National winner, they should watch her masterclass of patience and perfect timing aboard On The Fringe in the Fox Hunters’ Chase. “I was just a passenger,” said Carberry modestly after On The Fringe, owned, like Jezki, by J P McManus, had completed the Cheltenham-Aintree hunter chase double, the first to do so since 1993. “That’s helped me get my eye in for Saturday.”