Turners Mersey Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

PERFORMANCE of the day at Aintree aside from the big race came without doubt from the hugely exciting Brighterdaysahead (Gordon Elliott/Jack Kennedy) as she pulverised her opponents in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle over two and a half miles, beating stablemate Staffordshire Knot (Sam Ewing) by a facile seven and a half lengths. Outsider Bugise Seagull (Charlie Longsdon/Sean Bowen) kept on gamely for third, a further four and a quarter lengths away.

Much of the intrigue of the race was lost when the winner’s half-brother and former stable-companion Caldwell Potter was withdrawn in the morning, but there was no denying the deep impression made by 6/5 favourite Brighterdaysahead, whose only defeat to date came in a messy running of the Dawn Run Mares’ Novice at Cheltenham.

She jumped superbly here and was always travelling best, with her rider still taking a pull early in the straight. Kicked on after jumping the second-last flight, she had the race in safekeeping thereafter and is a hugely exciting prospect for the future.

Gordon Elliott said: “The horses have been running well all week, but we have been hitting the crossbar. I didn’t hide what I thought about this mare going to Cheltenham, and I was gutted coming out of it, but we have all enjoyed today. She is very good.

“I was nervous before the race today as she looked a bit light across her kidneys, and hips, but she showed how special she is. We could go wherever we want with her. Apple’s Jade was pretty special, but she is good.

“In this game there are always disappointments, but I look at life totally different now to what I’ve ever done. I love training winners, and horses, but to win with this mare is unbelievable. I thought she would win at Cheltenham, but I think Jack and Paul let the race get away from them. She is gorgeous.”

Murphy on the mark

JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle (Grade 1)

THE 8/1 shot Strong Leader (Olly Murphy/Sean Bowen) put up a career-best effort to land the Grade 1 JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle, justifying his trainer’s decision to bypass the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Towards the rear in the early stages as Flooring Porter cut out the running ahead of Dashel Drasher and Hewick, the seven-year-old took a wide course leaving the back straight and stayed on strongly in the latter stages to beat Buddy One (Paul/Jack Gilligan) by four and a quarter lengths, with Hiddenvalley Lake (Henry de Bromhead/Rachael Blackmore) half a length behind in third having travelled up strongly.

Strong Leader was third on his first attempt at three miles in January’s Cleeve Hurdle, but Murphy felt he was better than the result there and set him aside for this contest at a more suitable venue.

Murphy, gaining a second Grade 1 win of his training career, said: “That meant an awful lot to me, I’m chuffed.

“He probably should have won the Cleeve Hurdle as he got underneath his hurdles for a mile and a half that day; I could have gone back for the Stayers’, but I’m adamant he doesn’t like Cheltenham – he doesn’t come up and down those hills well enough.

“I wanted to go there as much as anyone as I’ve never had a winner at the Festival, but we saved him for today on a flat track. He’s been good around here twice before and he just got into a rhythm today and jumped and travelled good.

“He missed the last badly, but apart from that he was good. Normally your heart is in your mouth for the last mile and a half with him, but it was just for the last two furlongs this time!”

O’Brien dominates Grade 2 bumper

THE Grade 2 bumper which ended the Aintree card was dominated by trainer Fergal O’Brien who saddled winner Horace’s Pearl (Connor Brace) and second-placed Tripoli Flyer (Paddy Brennan).

The 14/1 winner coming late and fast to overhaul his stablemate after Brennan’s mount had travelled best, leading going easily three furlongs out and headed only in the dying strides to be beaten a length.

The Warren Greatrex-trained Good And Clever (James Bowen) fared best of the rest in third, a length and a quarter further behind.

Maghull Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

THE Grade 1 My Pension Expert Maghull Novices’ Chase went to 11/8 favourite Found A Fifty to give Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy a double on the card.

The Arkle runner-up had a tremendous tussle up the straight with Master Chewy (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Tom Bellamy) before prevailing by a head. The pair pulled 11 lengths clear of Libberty Hunter (Evan Williams/Adam Wedge) in third.

The winner was held up after being hampered at the start but moved smoothly into the lead after the penultimate fence, only for Master Chewy to rally to the cause and set up a barnstorming finish. The runner-up had also run behind Gaelic Warrior in the Arkle, falling at the second last when looking likely to finish fourth, but this was another step forward, as well as paying another compliment to the winner, who has further enhanced his big reputation while standing in his stable.