AINTREE SECOND DAY 2024

THE TIMES SPORT

BROUGH SCOTT

Friday 12th April 2024

Agony and ecstasy in the final strides, the 494 yard Aintree run-in took its prisoners again. For 480 of them James Du Berlais was set to add the Topham Chase to the overloaded Willie Mullins trophy cabinet. But you are never home until you are over the line. At the post it was Arizona Cardinal who had the call.

Harsh though it always is on the leader, praise needs to be heaped on the perseverance and professionalism of the victory team for jockey Ciaran Gethings and trainer Stuart Edmunds. For Arizona Cardinal was winning for the third race in succession after nearly collapsing at Warwick in November and again failing to finish at Exeter in December.  This was a training performance of the highest calibre.

Edmunds has a mere 35 horses to Mullins’ near 300 and has only been training under his own name for 10 years. But he turned out some 90 winners as a long-time assistant to Renne Robeson, moved to his new yard near Stewkley last August and he was here saddling his 4th winner in the last 7 runners. As Ciaran Gethings followed the seemingly superior James Du Berlais and Gold Cup winner rider Paul Townend over the last, acceptance of defeat was not an option.

Mind you it certainly looked inevitable to these eyes standing along the rail hardly 100 yard from the line. Arizona Cardinal had been up with the leaders from the start and had been in front at least four fences out. But James De Berlais had always been stalking him and Townend had plenty of horse under him as he took the lead well before the last and came easily away from it with Gethings rowed away In seemingly hopeless pursuit.

Coming past us James De Berlais still had three lengths on his rival but those last flat yards can suddenly seem like a mountain. Weakness and will clutch at the rhythm. Gethings and Arizona Cardinal kept galloping and in a trice the mighty prize had gone to one of the smallest battalions.

Needless to say the Mullins’ operation did not leave empty handed and the regally bred Mystical Power (by Derby super stallion Galileo out of Champion Hurdler Annie Power) added another £40k to keep his UK prize money within Grand National winning reach of the British Trainers title.

Mystical Power carried the green and gold hoops of owner JP McManus which had earlier scored with the rapidly improving Inothewayurthinkin and were soon followed by  Jonbon to complete a Grade 1 Treble, dizzy even by McManus’ own lofty standards.

Jonbon was winning for the 13th time since taking a point to point in Co Cork in November 2020 and he is one of those horses whose style and athleticism and the odd travail has engaged the public. He had looked back to his best when winning the Tingle Creek in December but had lost his jumping rhythm in an unhappy round at Cheltenham in January. and was only now returning to put himself as well as trainer Nicky Henderson where he should belong.

It was to be Jonbon’s first attempt at two and a half miles and with Conflated, Protektorat, Pic D’Orhy  and Envoi Allen in against him this was to be anything but a cake walk. Nico De Boinville had been missing from the saddle at Cheltenham but now got a good jumping tune bar the 10th as he followed the leader Conflated and Pic D’Orhy with Protektorat locked on to the rail ready for attack.

Envoi Allen folded before the straight, Pic D’Orhy was spent before the second last but Conflated was set to take Jonbon all the way with Protektorat close enough to benefit from bungles. They were not forthcoming. A good horse had had its day.

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