The Galloping Bear wore down Haydock favourite Bristol De Mai to crown a memorable week for trainer Ben Clarke and jockey Ben Jones with victory in the William Hill Grand National Trial.
Somerset-based Clarke, enjoying his first season with a full licence, teamed up with Jones to record the first double of his career at Sandown on Thursday, saddling Dr Kananga and Lettie Lutz to success.
Fresh from winning the Surrey National at Lingfield four weeks ago, The Galloping Bear was the 9-2 favourite to follow up on Merseyside and ultimately got the job done in fine style.
Bristol De Mai, a winner on five of his seven previous visits to Haydock including three triumphs in the Grade One Betfair Chase, gave his usual bold sight in front for much of the race.
Most of the field had cried enough leaving the back straight and the gallant grey looked set to for another victory in the Merseyside mud when producing an spring-heeled leap three from home.
But it soon become clear that Bristol De Mai was beginning to feel the effect of his exertions and in receipt of 19lb, The Galloping Bear reeled him in before pulling seven lengths clear.
Time To Get Up, who travelled well for a long way but finished some 26 lengths behind Bristol De Mai in third, was the only other finisher.
Clarke said: “I’m shell shocked. I thought we had a good chance coming here, but when it actually happens – and to beat Bristol De Mai, he’s a Haydock legend.
“That’s our third winner of the week, we’ve only had a licence since September, but I thought we’d used up all our good luck at Sandown the other day. I can’t believe how well it’s gone.
“I’m based half a mile from Anthony Honeyball and used to be his assistant. I’d previously been training hunters and pointers but like Dr Kananga at Sandown and this lad, I thought they should be winning some proper money. For it to happen so soon, I’m stunned.
“We’ve got 15 in total. I wouldn’t want 50 horses but 25 would be nice, we’re full at the minute, I like to keep it personable with the owners.
“This lad was supposed to win the Welsh National, that was the plan, but scoped dirty a few days before. When he won the Surrey National, which was worth £30,000, I was a bit annoyed as I felt we’d blown his mark for a smaller pot than we should.
“I was then a bit surprised we only went up 5lb so we straight away thought of this, as I thought he was quite a cosy winner.
“I was never very comfortable through the race looking at Ben’s body language, he wants soft but whether it was even too soft for him, I don’t know. And then when you see Bristol De Mai going great guns in front of you but you’re bearing down on him – it’s hard to believe.
“I felt a bit sorry for Bristol, like everyone I’ve loved watching him win races here but he was giving us loads of weight and that’s been the difference.
“Massive thanks to my fiancé, Sally, who does all the work with this horse but she’s not here today. She deserves the credit.
“The Midlands National will come too soon, so I want to go over the water for the Irish National if the ground is right, that’s if he runs again. Next season the Becher and maybe the big one.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies was proud of Bristol De Mai’s effort in defeat and felt top weight had taken its toll.
He said: “He’s run brilliant, he just had too much weight and as they say, weight stops trains.
“For a long time he had them all at it and I thought he had it won.
“We’ve no plans, we’ll just wait and see what happens.”