Paul Townend has carved out a niche by deputising for Ruby Walsh and he finally gained Grade One recognition in Britain with a wonderfully-timed challenge on Boston Bob in the Betfred Melling Chase.
Although he has multiple big-race wins to his name in Ireland, where he was champion jockey in the 2010-11 season through the many rides he receives from the Willie Mullins stable, Townend has only struck once at the Cheltenham Festival and this was his first Aintree success.
With Walsh out injured after a fall at the Festival, the ride on Graham Wylie’s slightly frustrating Boston Bob became available and he sneaked the 5-1 shot up the rail from last to first but it was only in the final 50 yards that he drew three and a quarter lengths clear of Rolling Aces.
This was certainly not the best renewal of the famous intermediate-distance showpiece, which had entered Mullins’ mind with Boston Bob having started the season regaining confidence over hurdles before a more promising sixth in the Ryanair Chase.
“I’m fortunate and Ruby’s unfortunate, but it’s really good to ride a big winner here for Willie,” said Townend. “I didn’t want to put him on his head early on, so I let him work his way into it and find his rhythm. He seems to have sorted himself out now, and he deserved that.”
Mullins said: “I was happier that he ran better than his finishing position at Cheltenham, so I thought I’d enter him in the two races here.
“Even though two and a half was not his trip, I thought it was a much easier race.
“We’ve plenty of time to go on to Punchestown. His owner might have two runners in the Gold Cup at Punchestown – (Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up) On His Own and this fella.”
Jonjo O’Neill’s Holywell (7-2) swept away Don Cossack by ten lengths in the Grade One Betfred Mobile Mildmay Novices’ Chase, while the RSA Chase winner and 3-1 favourite O’faolains Boy looked a pale imitation here. “I would never have said he was (a Gold Cup horse) before, but he’s beaten them pretty convincingly and last year’s best staying novice won the Gold Cup (Lord Windermere) and on form he’s probably the best one this year,” said jockey Tony McCoy.
The sponsor Betfred offer Holywell at 16-1 for next year’s Gold Cup.
The International Festival For Business 2014 Top Novices’ Hurdle went to Nicky Henderson for the fourth time in five years, with Josses Hill fitting an identical profile to his two most recent winners.
Like Darlan and My Tent Or Yours, the photogenic Josses Hill had been runner-up in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham but his latest addition to the roll of honour will stray from their path of challenging for the Champion Hurdle.
Strong-finishing Supreme fourth Sgt Reckless briefly threatened the 6-4 favourite, who quickened again for Barry Geraghty to finish six lengths to the good. Henderson said: “He looks like a chaser and he gallops as well as he looks. He looks like an Arkle horse to me.”