Livelovelaugh turns Topham into a procession

Livelovelaugh turned the Randox Topham Handicap Chase into a procession for Patrick and Willie Mullins.

Having set off at what seemed a particularly brisk pace in the early stages, Livelovelaugh had burned everything else off crossing the Melling Road.

Mullins had got his mount into a fantastic rhythm, but when the pursuers began to close up as the field raced back on to the racecourse proper, it was a question of how much was going to be left in the tank.

The 11-year-old briefly looked in trouble – but Mullins had saved plenty on the 15-2 shot and put the race to bed approaching the Elbow.

Livelovelaugh had run in the Grand National itself two years ago and looked a non-stayer in 11th behind Tiger Roll.

Pink Eyed Pedro was second at 33-1, four and a half lengths away, with Senior Citizen third and Snugsborough Hall fourth.

Mullins, who replaced the injured Paul Townend, was emulating his father, who won over the fences aboard the Paddy Mullins-trained Atha Cliath in 1983 Foxhunters.

He steps in for Townend again in the Rich and Susannah Ricci colours on Burrows Saint in the big one on Saturday.

Mullins said: “Incredible. Every jockey wants to win over the Grand National fences. It’s something you’d like to do before you retire. My father did it on Atha Cliath in the Foxhunters’ in 1983. I got some spin there. If I could bottle that I’d take it home.

“It’s great to get one on the board the day before tomorrow. I wanted to get out, get away and over the first four fences near the font rank and get a break before the bend and let him jump and enjoy himself.

Livelovelaugh gave Patrick Mullins a brilliant ride
Livelovelaugh gave Patrick Mullins a brilliant ride (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I hadn’t asked him to go forward. He was just enjoying himself.

“When I jumped the third-last I had a look behind and was surprised how far clear I was. I wanted to get a little breather into him, but not give away my advantage altogether.

“The horse was very brave, but he’s a real example of the Aintree factor.”

He added: “It’s indescribable (to ride a winner over those fences). I feel very sorry for anyone who can’t experience it and I feel so lucky to have experienced it.

“As a kid you’re always watching and there is always a horse here every year that does that. You think ‘what must that feel like’.”

Bailey sets Two For Gold Topham test

Kim Bailey already has next year’s Grand National in mind for Two For Gold as he gives the eight-year-old a first taste of the famous fences in the Randox Topham Handicap Chase at Aintree.

Two For Gold has had a good second season over fences – beating Aso at Warwick in February before finishing third to Grand National favourite Cloth Cap at Kelso last month, with other big-race hopefuls Definitly Red and Lake View Lad behind him.

“The owners are very keen, as we are, to see him over the National fences,” said Bailey.

“We think he’s going to be a Grand National horse in a year’s time, so this is a good place for him to learn, and we’ll see how he gets on.

“It’ll be an interesting race, as it always is.”

The likely favourite on Friday is the Willie Mullins-trained Livelovelaugh, who will be ridden by the trainer’s son Patrick.

The 11-year-old, who finished 11th in the 2019 Grand National, has been running well in defeat this season – but has not managed to get his head in front in more than three years.

Mullins said: “I was actually angling to try and get Livelovelaugh to go for the Foxhunters’ this year, because he hasn’t won for a few years, but they decided to keep him going in normal racing.

“He’s been running very consistently. He’s an 11-year-old with 11 stone, so I don’t think the stats say he has as good a chance as the betting does.

“But he jumped fantastically for David Mullins in the National a couple of years ago when he didn’t stay, and the trip will suit and the ground will suit.

“I think he should give me a great spin.”

Willie Mullins also saddles Robin Des Foret, of whom Mullins junior added: “He’s a similar type of horse – he likes good ground, he’s a good jumper and a strong traveller.

“He needed his run back in Clonmel. He’s got plenty of weight, but the race will suit.”

Kauto Riko, last seen finishing fourth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November, is set to take his chance in the Topham because he is only third reserve for the Grand National on Saturday.

The 10-year-old’s trainer Tom Gretton said: “We were hoping he’d get in the National, but I think we’re struggling.

“He runs best fresh. He ran well at Cheltenham in November, and if he could run like that it would be ideal.

“He was going to run in January at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and/or Trials Day. They were both lost to the weather, then I didn’t want to run before Cheltenham or Aintree, and we decided on Aintree.

“He had a racecourse gallop and had a school over over Aintree-style fences twice this week.”

Alex Hales has had this race as the objective for Huntsman Son since the start of the season – and was pleased with his run at the Cheltenham Festival when he was sixth in the Paddy Power Plate.

“This has sort of been our plan all year,” said the Northamptonshire trainer.

“We wanted to run him in the Grand Sefton, and the ground went against us.

“I thought he ran very well at Cheltenham. Touch wood, he’s a very good jumper, and I think this race is made for him really.

“He’s got a lovely weight (11st), and I thought he was quite a big price, to be honest.”

The spring is Snugsborough Hall’s time of the year, and Liam Cusack is looking forward to giving the 10-year-old an opportunity over the National fences – with top Irish amateur Derek O’Connor in the saddle.

“He’s in good form, he’s a spring horse and it will be nice ground,” said the County Laois trainer.

“It’s his first time over those fences, but he jumps well.

“We’ve got Derek O’Connor. He’s a top man and has plenty of experience over those fences.

“We’re hoping he runs a nice race and comes back in one piece.”