Memorable 1-2-3 for Nicholls at Chepstow
Welsh National report: Paul Nicholls pulled off a remarkable training feat when saddling the first three home in the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow, led by 14 to 1 chance L'Aventure.
Just as his stable jockey Ruby Walsh dominated the National scene last season, Nicholls took over that mantle in his role as a trainer in what proved a memorable triumph for Leighton Aspell on the winner and a cruel blow to Paddy Brennan, who got off her to partner the 9 to 2 joint-favourite One Knight.
When he arrived at the course, Aspell did not have a mount in the big race, while Nicholls suddenly found himself without a pilot for the mercurial L'Aventure after Brennan switched following Richard Johnson's announcement that he would not be able to ride.
Aspell was put on standby and was finally given the nod when Walsh recommended him.
L'Aventure is a tricky ride and in this race last season came from an unpromising position to make the frame. But under Aspell she travelled like a dream and had already mastered One Knight and Brennan when that combination parted company at the last.
Heros Collonges stayed on to deprive another Nicholls' stalwart, top-weight and the other market leader Cornish Rebel (ridden by Walsh), for second by a neck, but this pair were a distance behind the winner.
A jubilant Nicholls observed: "L'Aventure was fourth in the race last year and I knew I had to keep her fresh and well. It's very frustrating for Paddy that he didn't ride her and for a while I was left without a jockey when he switched to One Knight.
"It was all down to Ruby that I decided to use Leighton as Ruby said he thought he would suit the mare. It's amazing that her owner Chris Harriman got her out of a claimer. I left her alone after her last run because I know that when she's right she is a good filly."
Of the placed horses, Nicholls added: "Heros ran the race I expected. He stayed on at the end and I thought he had a good each-way chance. Cornish Rebel probably found this going too gluey considering it was good ground on which he ran so well in the Scottish National. But he ran a great race off his weight and I couldn't take him to Sandown (King George VI Chase) because the ground there was too fast."
Plans for Cornish Rebel are up in the air but owner Graham Roach, who was on the mark in the following race with Nicholls' Be Be King, indicated his charge might well be equipped with blinkers for his next outing.
For Aspell this was an unexpected triumph in every sense and he said: "I've seen her run and I guess she just had one of her going days for me. It was an easy ride and I was always travelling so well." The stewards looked into Aspell's use of the whip on the run-in and found him to have hit L'Aventure in an incorrect place, although the jockey escaped with a caution.
Alan King's Crystal D'Ainay ran on into fourth, while Sir Rembrandt was disputing fourth place when falling at the first in the home straight, five out, but there were disappointing runs from Comply or Die and World Wide Web, who were both pulled up.
L'Aventure was given a 33 to 1 quote for the Grand National.
* Yesterday's scheduled meeting's at Leicester and Huntingdon were abandoned due to snow.