Tony McCoy steered Don Cossack to his fifth victory of a memorable campaign in the Betfred Melling Chase at Aintree. The Gordon Elliott-trained eight-year-old enjoyed a magnificent start to the season, winning each of his first four starts including the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase, before finishing third when favourite for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
With McCoy replacing the suspended Bryan Cooper in the saddle, the Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding tracked the pacesetting Cue Card for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey before taking over early in the straight.
The 3-1 joint-favourite was soon away and clear and flew over the final fence to win eased down by a yawning 26 lengths. Cue Card ran a creditable race to fill the runner-up spot on his first start since Boxing Day, with Johns Spirit third. The other joint-favourite, Champagne Fever, was disappointing, with a bad mistake in the straight confirming his fate.
Last year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Sire De Grugy fell with over a circuit left to run. McCoy said: “I got a good ride off him. I owe JP’s (McManus) son Kieran a favour as we knew early in the week Uxizandre wouldn’t be running and I think Kieran sorted it with Eddie and Michael (O’Leary) - even though we have a healthy competition with them in England and Ireland it’s nice of them to put me up in a Grade One given I haven’t got long left.
“I think I’ve won five Ryanairs so I’ve won loads of money off him!” He added: “Fair play to Gordon, he had him in great shape. “I gave him a squeeze down the back, as it worked out he’s better with the bit high in his mouth. “Gordon told me he had a high cruising speed and not to be frightened to be positive and saying that was like a red rag to a bull.”
Amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen claimed a sixth victory over the Grand National fences as Rajdhani Express galloped clear in the Crabbie’s Topham Chase. Favourite for the Grade One Melling Chase on the same card 12 months ago, the Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old has endured a largely disappointing campaign this time around, but did shape with some promise in defeat at Cheltenham last month.
Among the leading contenders for his return to Merseyside as a 10-1 shot, Rajdhani Express was given time to find his feet by Waley-Cohen before creeping closer down the back straight. In a eventful race in which plenty to came to grief, Rajdhani Express was well placed from the Canal Turn and tracked the positively-ridden Fairy Rath into the straight.
The pair had it between them after jumping the final fence and it was Henderson’s charge who stayed on best from the elbow to emerge victorious by 10 lengths. Fairy Rath was in turn clear of Rathlin in third, with Henderson’s top-weight Hunt Ball fourth.
Saphir Du Rheu got his career over fences back on track with a brilliant display in the Betfred Mildmay Novices' Chase. Having failed to complete on two of his first three starts over the larger obstacles, the six-year-old was sent back over hurdles by Paul Nicholls after the turn of the year, a plan which yielded a Cleeve Hurdle success and a runner-up finish in the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Back chasing for the first time since falling in the Feltham at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day, Saphir Du Rheu was the 13-8 favourite and Sam Twiston-Davies cut a confident figure throughout. Never too far off the pace, the grey was far more convincing in the jumping department and had most of his rivals in trouble from the home turn.
Carraig Mor matched the Nicholls runner for a long way, while the winner’s stable companion Irish Saint also loomed up ominously, but Saphir Du Rheu found another gear on the run to the final fence and skipped over it well to seal an emphatic 15-length success. Carraig Mor just beat Irish Saint to the runner-up spot to prevent a one-two for the champion trainer.
Conditional jockey Jerry McGrath got the better of champion Tony McCoy to land the spoils in the Alder Hey Children’s Charity Handicap Hurdle in the first race of the day. McGrath brought the Nicky Henderson-trained five-year-old to join the leaders at the third-last flight before going on two out, only to discover the threatening presence of the soon-to-retire McCoy coming at him on the run home on the 11-2 favourite The Saint James.
However, the 3lb claimer kept Theinval (7-1) up to his work to win by half a length. Daneking was a length away third and Stonebrook fourth.
Malcolm Jefferson is excited at the prospect of Cyrus Darius (8-1) going novice chasing next season after the six-year-old romped to victory in the E-Lites Top Novices' Hurdle. Cyrus Darius put his rivals to the sword as he pulled clear in the closing stages to give jockey Brian Hughes his 99th winner of the campaign. There was 10 lengths back to Vago Collonges in second place, with Qewy third.