NICKY Henderson had the solace of a superb four-timer at Aintree as Paul Nicholls took a huge step to retaining the trainers’ championship by winning the John Smith’s Grand National with Neptune Collonges at Aintree.
Henderson’s near 155-1 quartet of Simonsig, Sprinter Sacre, Oscar Whisky, all ridden by Barry Geraghty, and Lifestyle, with David Bass aboard, brought the stable about £200,000.
However, it paled in comparison to the £547,000 earned by team Nicholls in the big one, when Neptune Collonges just pipped Sunnyhillboy in a photo finish.
Oscar Whisky (9-4) was the star of the Henderson show repeating his victory in last year’s John Smith’s Aintree Hurdle.
He proved once again that the two and a half miles around Aintree is his optimum, fighting off a sustained challenge by a neck from Thousand Stars, just as he did 12 months ago.
The champion hurdler Rock On Ruby was forced to make his own running due to the lack of a natural front-runner, and was still in front jumping the second-last but faded into third.
“It was a complete re-run of last year,” said Henderson. “I do feel sorry for the grey horse (Thousand Stars) - another two strides last year he won it and another two strides he might have had us today.
“To get him back after what happened at Cheltenham was tremendous. Maybe I ran him in the wrong race there.
“There’s a possibility he may go over fences (next season). We’ll have to have a talk about it.”
If he does end up over fences there is a chance he might have to meet his stablemate Simonsig (4-9 favourite) who cruised to victory in the John Smith’s Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.
One of the easiest of winners at Cheltenham, he never came off the bridle in beating Super Duty by 15 lengths.
Henderson said: “He’s done his bit now and that’s probably the last time we’ll see him over hurdles.
“Barry thinks it’s time to go over fences. He sees this trip (two and a half miles) out well, but I’d have thought we’ll start off over fences over two miles to just let him go and jump.
“We’ve got decisions to make with him and Darlan (winner on Friday) now.”
Sprinter Sacre was sent off at 1-7 to beat three rivals in the John Smith’s Maghull Novices’ Chase and it was as easy as the betting suggested.
As soon as Australia Day starting jumping alarmingly out to his right, Geraghty took the bull by the horns with the hot-pot coasting home by 13 lengths.
There was no fairytale ending for local jockeys Felix de Giles and Wayne Hutchinson in the Grand National.
Hutchinson, onboard West End Rocker, fell at the second fence while de Giles, riding Neptune Equester in his first-ever National ride, finished 13th.
De Giles said luck was not on his side but was delighted to finish his first Grand National.
“I was very unlucky early on and was hampered by loose horses and fallers so I ended up a little far back. He kept staying on and has run a very good race,” he said.
Hutchinson added on his short ride: “We were just too quick and got too deep to the second.”
Lambourn jockey Noel Fehily is having an operation on his broken leg today following his fall from State Of Play in the John Smith’s Grand National.
Fehily was taken to Fazakerley Hospital in Liverpool after being unseated from the Evan Williams-trained 12-year-old at the fifth fence.
He is likely to be transferred to a hospital nearer his Lambourn home following surgery.
“Noel has fractured his leg, which is a worry. He’s having an operation this morning,” said Williams.
“He’s in Fazakerley then he’s being moved this afternoon apparently, down somewhere closer to home.
“That was the only disappointment and upset for me that poor Noel broke his leg in the fall when he got unseated from State Of Play.”