Aintree Festival: Bryan Cooper leads Apple’s Jade to pip Ivanovich Gorbatov
Meanwhile, Arzal and Gavin Sheehan got the week off to a flyer with convincing win
Footpad ridden by Ruby Walsh takes a fall in the Betfred Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle during the Grand Opening Day of the Crabbie’s Grand National Festival at Aintree Racecourse. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Apple’s Jade reversed Triumph Hurdle placings with Ivanovich Gorbatov in some style as the filly spreadeagled the opposition in the Betfred Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.
Beaten a length and a quarter by Aidan O’Brien’s runner at Cheltenham, the 3-1 turned that form on its head.
Azzuri took the field along to just before three out, but that is where Bryan Cooper asked the Willie Mullins-trained filly to go about her business.
She did not disappoint and steadily pulled clear to win by a yawning 41 lengths in the Gigginstown House Stud colours.
Azzuri stuck on gamely for third, just half a length behind Ivanovich Gorbatov.
Footpad, a stablemate of Apple’s Jade, fell at the fourth-last flight. Both horse and jockey Ruby Walsh appeared to escape unscathed.
Cooper said: “I knew turning in there was not much coming from behind me. I got lovely breather into her and a nice lead. She is very good at jumping and I’d say the Triumph probably left her right for today.
“She had a long break since her run at Christmas time and I think she has improved. David Casey and Ruby Walsh had said she’d improved a bit since Cheltenham and I’d say they are dead right.
“I’d imagine the ground had a big help to her over Joseph’s (O’Brien) horse to be fair, there was a nice ease in it which suited her well. She couldn’t have done any better.”
Mullins said: “I could not dream of anything like that. I was hoping to win and that the ground might not suit the favourite but suit us.
“That was extraordinary the performance she put in there. I thought Bryan was mad going on before he turned in, you could see him letting her slip into the lead and I thought ‘this straight is far too long with hurdles to jump, keep a little bit up your tank’, but when he got off her he said he still had plenty left in the tank.
“Who knows where she will go after that, that was only the fourth or fifth run of her life as she never ran on the Flat or anything like that.
“I think she had been placed in France. We thought she was a nice mare that might work into a Triumph Hurdle mare. You are always hoping they might win a Listed or a Graded race, or maybe a Grade One, but that performance brings her into a different league.
“Next year it’s a tough year for five-year-olds when they put in performances like that.”
Meanwhile, Arzal produced a superb front-running performance to make all in the Merseyrail Manifesto Novices’ Chase.
Harry Whittington’s decision to skip Cheltenham proved inspired as Arzal (4-1) put in an impeccable round of jumping to take Grade One honours.
Gavin Sheehan was always happy on the six-year-old, who shrugged off L’Ami Serge, his only serious challenger, to cross the line eight lengths clear.
Arkle Trophy runner-up Sizing John, sent off the 11-4 favourite, was 16 lengths back in third.
Whittington said: “He did have a temperature about two weeks before Cheltenham so that helped us make our mind up. He was fine about a week before Cheltenham — it just gave us an excuse to miss Cheltenham.
“I’ve been pretty worried, we’ve had a fantastic season and it is great credit to the team and I’m lucky to have good people around me and good horsemen riding out. I was just a little bit worried about our last three or four weeks.
“I was going into it with no expectations, but once he jumped the first I was pretty happy.
“It’s amazing for the whole team. I can’t tell you how much of a team effort it has been at home. It has been way beyond my expectations and this has been the icing on the cake.”
Of immediate plans for the winner, Whittington added: “That will be it (for the season), for sure. I would think he might end up back here for the Old Roan as his next target. He loves a flat, left-handed, galloping track.
“That is where he is at his best and he gets into a really good rhythm. The likes of Aintree and Doncaster suit him well, so they are the tracks we will stick to.”
Anthony Bromley, racing manager for L’Ami Serge’s owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, said “He went very well. The winner was obviously the only horse not to run at Cheltenham, that’s always a factor coming here, especially as there is only a three-week gap this year.
“That will be him done for the season, as he needs to go left-handed, there is no point thinking about Punchestown.
“We will probably stick to two and a half miles next season. He definitely won’t be going back in trip, anyway.
“He has been placed at two festivals now and we are very proud him.”