Aintree consolation on Winged Leader’s radar

Winged Leader could bid for Aintree compensation next month after being narrowly denied Cheltenham Festival glory on Friday.

David Christie’s charge looked home for all money in the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase, only to be caught in the shadows of the post by hot favourite Billaway.

Christie admits the neck defeat was hard to take, but is now looking to the future, with a potential appearance over the Grand National fences a possibility.

“He’s come out of Cheltenham well. He’s a strong horse with a good constitution,” said the trainer.

“He was quite tired, obviously. He set off home about 45 minutes after the race to get to the ferry in Liverpool, but he’s fine.

“It was obviously tough to take, but at the end of the day we did all we could to prepare him, Barry (O’Neill) did all he could to ride him and the horse did all he could on the day. When all that happens, you just have to take your beating.

“My daughter was with me and very down about it afterwards. I just said to her ‘we’ve lost the battle to Willie Mullins, but we’re not in a warzone’. You have to put things in perspective.”

Winged Leader looks set to run at either Aintree and/or Punchestown before the end of the campaign, while connections already have one eye on a return to the Cotswolds in 12 months’ time.

Christie added: “With any luck we’ll be be back at Cheltenham next year. In this game you can never look beyond a week with a horse, but he is only eight and fingers crossed he’ll be back.

“We’ll enter him at Aintree and we’ll see how the next week or so goes. We won’t do too much with him and let him recover.

“In an ideal world you’d love Aintree being another week further back, but he is a strong horse. We’re keeping all options open at this moment in time.”

Winged Leader was one of two Festival runners for the Northern Ireland-based trainer, with Koshari beaten less than eight lengths into seventh place in the Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday.

The 10-year-old was making his first competitive appearance since winning at Aintree in November and he too could return on Merseyside.

Koshari (left) on his way to victory at Aintree
Koshari (left) on his way to victory at Aintree (Simon Marper/PA)

“He ran a fantastic race,” said Christie.

“He got a very nasty cut the day he won in Aintree. It was very close to the tendon and in a very awkward place, so I actually had to walk him in the sea for eight weeks – that’s all he did.

“I had a very rushed preparation for Cheltenham. I couldn’t get a run into him and I had to take him there off the back of just training him at home.

“Jonathan Moore (jockey) said he felt like he might finish in the first four coming down the hill, but he blew up coming to the last hurdle, which is to be expected.

“He’s come out of Cheltenham bouncing, so I may look at Punchestown with him or I may look at the Grade One in Aintree over three miles (Liverpool Hurdle).”

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