Gesskille (10-3 favourite) finally grabbed a well-deserved victory over the Grand National fences at the fourth attempt in the Boylesports Grand Sefton Handicap Chase at Aintree Racecourse on Saturday.
And his connections will try and plot a route back to Aintree for the Randox Grand National on April 13 in the New Year – although the seven-year-old will have to go up further in the handicap to make the cut of the race which has seen the field reduced to 34 runners from the usual 40 for the 2024 renewal.
Last year’s runner-up Gesskille – from the Cheshire stable of Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero – had won on his most recent start at Auteuil in September. And he showed his love for the National fences, over which he was also second in the Becher Chase last December and ninth in the Topham Chase in April, to land bold victory mostly from the front in the 2m5f feature at Aintree.
Under Henry Brooke, Gesskille was always near the head of affairs and shared the front-running with Percussion early on. But jumping superbly, he went clear of his rivals at the Canal Turn and before going on to score by two lengths from Percussion (15-2) with Venetia Williams’ Frero Banbou (11-2) a further two-and-three-quarters-of-a-length back in third. Gary Moore's Nassalam was fourth.
Greenall trains jointly with Josh Guerriero at their Stockton Hall Farm base in Malpas, Cheshire, and has long had close links with Aintree, going back to when his father Lord Daresbury was chairmain of the famous Liverpool racecourse from 1989 to 2004. Greenall also finished second to Tartan Snow on board Cool Friend in the 2013 Foxhunters' Chase over the Aintree fences, while Guerriero did triumph in the same race with Christy Beamish in 2008. So due to his connections to Aintree, Greenall was delighted to land another 'home' win.
He said: "It was great. The blinkers definitely helped him and riding him a bit more positively, he just seems to take lengths out of them. Just the different fences (at Aintree) seem to suit him. Auteuil and round here seems to suit him and also going the once round. He gets a bit sick on a tighter track going round and round. He seems to not really enjoy it.
"He was a bit sour when we first got him. In France the start racing very young and he was a bit sour and we needed something to lighten him up a bit. Last year we were just hopeful, but this year after finishing so agonisingly close, we were hoping to go one better. But the blinkers have definitely helped and he has improved.
"He needs to go up a bit more to get in the National. He is pretty versatile as regards the ground. I don't think he wants it that heavy. But he has run on all sorts. Auteuil when he won they were calling it soft, but it was pretty quick last year.
"We will have a look. Josh does most of the entries, so we will make a plan on how we get to the National. There is nothing really at the moment for next. We were thinking about going back to France in early spring. He might have a little break then go back there. With a restricted field (in the National) he needs to go up a bit. He will go up about 7lb or 8lb for that but he may nedd to go up more to get in. The Becher is not on his radar, that was probably the wrong thing to do. He ran well but he needed a bit of time after that. It was soft ground like this and it was just hard for him."
He added: "I have trained winners on the Mildmay course, but it is a first over the National fences. It is a local track, dad was chairman for 25 years, it was the first racecourse I came to as a child. So it is nice and very special. I was second as a jockey, my brother won her, Josh won the Foxhunters' so it is great to get the win."
Venetia Williams' Djelo (7-2) got back up to beat Master Chewy (11-10 favourite) to win the Boylesports Money Back 2nd Meeting Handicap Chase at Aintree Racecourse on Saturday.
The five-year-old, under Charlie Deutsch, went a few lengths down as the front pair drew clear coming to the final two fences – which had been omitted due to the low sun – of the two-mile contest.
As Nigel Twiston-Davies' Chewy, under son Sam Twiston-Davies, looked to have just held on, Djelo got back up to score by three-quarters-of-a-length with Netywell (8-1) a further 12 lengths adrift back in third.
Stuart Edmunds Gentleman At Arms (9-1) bounced back to form when sent back over the smaller obstalces to win the the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle. The six-year-old, who had been second over hurdles in the Grade One Sefton Novices' Hurdle at the 2022 Grand National Festival, had tried the bigger obstacles without success the following season. And although he hadn't won since March 2022, Gentlemans At Arms – under Ciaran Gethings – triumphed by two lengths from Sam Thomas' 2022 Welsh Grand National winner Iwilldoit (17-2) with 10-3 favourite Icare Allen a further six-and-a-half-lengths back in third with Starzov (9-2) fourth.
Edmunds said: “My daughter Harriet kept saying he was very sore in his back, and she used to massage him and God knows what else. We X-rayed him and he’s got quite a few kissing spines [where the spinous processes in a horse’s back are very close together or touching], so he’s had them medicated. He never showed any signs of it in that most horses who have had that problem lose muscle on their back, and he was still a ball of a horse, so good on Harriet. Someone’s got to tell Dad what to do! He’s travelled much better today and he’s a much happier horse – I think that has made a lot of difference.
“He was second here in the [Grade 1] Sefton Novices’ Hurdle [at the Grand National Festival in 2022], and he probably overachieved there. He was a fresh horse against tired horses from Cheltenham, and it’s taken a while for him to get back to where he can be competitive again. I ran him over fences and probably scared him a bit – he’s not overly big and it might have just frightened him a little bit.
“I doubt he’d get into the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham, but there’ll be some nice handicaps for him. He can go on better ground than this, as well. He’s a very versatile horse. He’s done us well."
Gethings added: “He’s been quite disappointing since his good run here at the Festival two years ago, and today we just changed it up a bit. After half a mile here, he felt like a different horse. He travelled well, he always went through the ground really well – it was just pretty smooth, to be honest. I held on to him as long as I could and just had one go, and I was very pleased. He’s a very good jumper. We’ve had one run this year, which probably stood us in good stead over Sam’s horse [Iwilldoit, second]. I’m delighted for [owner] Diana [Gardiner], as well, as he hasn’t won since her partner Barry passed away. It’s a good day all round.”
Dual Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell's Giovinco (5-6 favourite) proved too good for his rivals to run out a convincing winner in the Boylesports Best Odds Guaranteed Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase. The six-year-old unseated his rider on his chase debut at Carlisle last time, but he had shown promise during that contest and landed a first success over the big obstacles, under Stephen Mulqueen, to get his season back on track.
Assistant trainer Michael Scudamore said: "It was frustrating, more than anything, what happened the other day. I think with that weight an those conditions he did it well. He showed in his novice hurdles the engine was there. I suppose you could have picked holes in his Listed bumper at Perth but he put any questions to bed there. And in that ground over that trip, he did well. He is a beautiful-looking horse and very athletic and is owned by a great bunch of people. Hopefully he has got plenty of nice targets to look forward to on the back of that.
"He obviously stays very well. We will go home and have a sit down on where we go from here. But it is nice to get the season back on track."
Mulqueen added: “I suppose we had a little mishap the first day, so first and foremost we wanted a clear round. He was a little slow over the first fence so I just wanted to get him popping away. He took me there quite easy [to the front] and I was a bit worried when I saw a set of cheekpieces come to me, but he’d been there without a fence for quite a long time – if the fences were there, he’d have probably been more impressive. He’s got loads of gears and ability, and we’ve always thought very highly of him.”
Dan Skelton's West Balbao (8-11 favourite) won the three-runner, BoyleSports Acca Boost On Horse Racing Hurdle.