Paul Nicholls, having seen his hot favourite Master Minded beaten in the previous race, the John Smith’s Melling Chase, earned immediate compensation when five-year-old Gwanako jumped his rivals into submission for victory in the John Smith’s Topham Chase.
“Did you see how he was jumping?” said Nicholls, watching the replay on the big screen by the winner’s enclosure. “He was brilliant over Becher’s, awesome over the last. It was like he was on springs.
“He’s only a little thing, barely 16 hands, and this is only his third chase. Kempton, Cheltenham and here. I rang up Ruby [Walsh] a while back and said, ‘You might think I’m mad to suggest this, but what do you think about him for the Topham?’ and Ruby said, ‘Why not?’ ”
Gwanako was comfortably clear at the last before the jockey seemed to take him wide coming into the elbow: “I thought he knew the way home better than I did,” said the trainer. Irish Raptor closed the winning distance to a neck, but Gwanako held on.
Nicholls gave full credit to his jockey for the ride. “It was brilliant, you can see why I wanted him in these colours tomorrow,” he said. Andy Stewart, who owns Gwanako, has Turko running in the John Smith’s Grand National, but Walsh has stayed with the 2006 winner Hedgehunter.
Nicholls has no plans mapped out for the horse. “God knows what we’ll do now. I can’t believe he would stay four and a half miles, but who knows, he’s only five. I just don’t know. We’ll just enjoy the moment.”
It was the second win of the day for the owner Andy Stewart, whose Big Bucks won the first race. Stewart admitted that he wabs pessimistic coming into the race, “I thought a little pony like that, he had no chance,” he said, “It’s all a bit silly.”
GWANAKO DANCES ROUND FOR JUBILANT WALSH
Ruby Walsh rode his second winner on day two of the John Smith's Grand National meeting when Gwanako landed the John Smith's Topham Chase.
Only five, Gwanako gave a superb demonstration of accurate jumping and Walsh was able to ease down on the run-in.
Walsh said: "He danced round there. He was fantastic all the way. Those fences are wonderful when you're having a good ride. They are unique, and this horse gave me a great ride from start to finish."
"He's a very inexperienced horse but he's a wonderful jumper. I was only aware of Irish Raptor when I was pulling up - I always knew I had him."
Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of runner-up Irish Raptor, entered the nine-year-old in the John Smith's Grand National, but the horse failed to make the cut - the Gloucestershire trainer still has four contenders.
Irish Raptor was prominent for a long way, and while brushed aside by Gwanako at the last fence, he rallied impressively and was just a neck down at the line.
Twiston-Davies said: "He was really good. He's a stayer and it's a shame we couldn't get him into the National. Next year that is definitely the plan, but that's probably it for this season."
BOTHAR NA DELIGHTS MULLINS
Willie Mullins saddled Bothar Na to finish third in an eventful renewal to the John Smith’s Topham Chase. The handler was more than happy with the performance of his nine-year-old, who was making his seasonal debut
“I’m delighted with Bothar Na. For his first run back this season, I’m absolutely thrilled with that run. He jumped from fence to fence and Paul (Carberry) gave him a super ride.
“I couldn’t see well from where I was, but I saw the horse stepping sideways a couple of times, at Becher’s Brook and the next one, Foinavon. He’s shown us before that he is very clever around here.
“He’ll roll onto Punchestown hopefully on the back of that run. I’ll enter him in anything from two and a half miles up to three miles and one or two furlongs in handicaps. He likes Punchestown and he’ll like the ground there.
“He is coming back to himself so there’s plenty to look forward to for a summer campaign. He may finish up the season at Listowel in September.”
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