Ginge makes Splash at Aintree
Local owner John Neild could barely contain his excitement as Splash Of Ginge routed the opposition in the Betfred "Fun And Friendly" Maiden Hurdle at Aintree.
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Despite being well beaten in a lesser race at Carlisle last month, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained five-year-old was a strongly supported 3/1 shot for this two-mile test.
Sent straight to the front by the trainer's son Sam, Splash Of Ginge hurdled fluently and galloped on relentlessly to have his rivals in trouble early in the straight.
Twiston-Davies' mount extended his lead further and safely negotiated the remaining obstacles to score by 20 lengths from Gabrial The Great.
Following joyful scenes in the hallowed winner's enclosure, Neild said: "This really is a dream come true.
"I've been involved with about seven syndicates before, but this is the first horse the family has owned outright and it's our first winner. I can't believe it, to be honest.
"I grew up literally half a mile down the road and we used to come and play football between the Grand National fences.
"I persuaded Nigel to bring the horse here. He was disappointing at Carlisle last time, but we think it was the heavy ground.
"The dream now is to come back for the Grand National one day. He is a staying horse, so who knows?
"My dad's nickname used to be 'ginge' and I had a dream once that we owned the Grand National winner called Splasher, so we combined the two."
Irish raider Gitane Du Berlais turned in a similarly dominant front-running display in the Betfred "Double Delight" Fillies' Juvenile Hurdle.
Willie Mullins' French recruit was beaten at odds-on when third on her Irish debut at Down Royal in early November, but the form has stood up and she was a 5/4 market-leader to gain compensation on Merseyside.
The three-year-old quickly built up a long lead in the hands of Paul Townend, and the chasing pack never threatened to land a blow.
Townend looked behind him on several occasions in the straight and came home with eight lengths in hand over market rival Mystery Drama.
It was remarkably a first Aintree winner for Ireland's champion trainer since Hedgehunter claimed the 2005 Grand National.
It was also Townend's first winner at the track on his 13th ride.
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The jockey said: "The long straight here suited her and her experience stood her in good stead. She jumped well and is a nice, big filly with plenty of scope.
"Her run in the north (Down Royal) wasn't bad as the first two have come out and done well since. It's nice to have a winner here. I've hit the crossbar a few times and I thought it was never going to come."
Sky Bet introduced the winner into the betting for the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival at 25/1.
Spokesman Michael Shinners said: "It was an impressive performance but on ground the jockeys are reporting to be very testing. Gitane Du Berlais was also franking the form of Triumph favourite Royal Irish Hussar having been beaten by Guitar Pete last time. He of course was no match for Nicky Henderson's charge subsequently."
Like Minded got the better of Party Rock in a thrilling climax to the Betfred Goals Galore Handicap Hurdle for Dan and Harry Skelton.
Runner-up on his debut for the yard at Kempton, having previously been trained by Dan's former mentor Paul Nicholls, Like Minded was a 12/1 shot for his latest assignment.
With the trainer's brother Harry doing the steering, Like Minded moved powerfully into the home straight, but top-weight Party Rock did not go down without a fight.
The pair had it between them from the final flight and it was Like Minded who won the argument by three-quarters of a length.
Favourite Clondaw Kaempfer was under pressure a long way from home, but boxed on to finish third.
The winning trainer said: "He ran really well at Kempton, I was impressed with the way he picked up and he has been a different horse at home since. I think the run just did his confidence good.
"I came here thinking if it rained I would fancy him and it's great it's worked out. He jumped well and Harry gave him a great ride.
"Two and a half miles is his trip and there are a collection of races he could go for, including the Lanzarote Hurdle back at Kempton, as we know he likes the track."
The Lucinda Russell-trained Tantamount ran out the 9/1 winner of the You'll Love A Bit of Betfred Novices' Handicap Hurdle.
Successful at Perth in July and placed twice at the same track since, the four-year-old is clearly improving judged on this impressive nine-length victory over Dundee in the hands of Tom Scudamore.
Rusell's partner and assistant, Peter Scudamore, said: "He did it well and I know I would say this as he's my son, but I thought Tom gave him a great ride, switching him off and then arriving there beautifully.
"We know the family (of Tantamount) quite well. They can have their moments, but they have plenty of ability and this horse is still only a four-year-old. I think he's grown up since his last run and we're delighted with him today."