Multiple Grade One-winner Yorkhill rolled back the years and caused a 66-1 shock in the Betfair Exchange Rehearsal Handicap Chase at Newcastle.
A top-class performer in his days with Willie Mullins, for whom he won twice at the Cheltenham Festival, he badly lost his way in recent seasons and when previous owner Graham Wylie stepped away from the game, his friends David Armstrong and golfer Lee Westwood sent him to Sandy Thomson to see if any ability remained.
There was not much encouragement to be taken from his first run in new colours at Aintree, but set alight by Ryan Mania at the head of affairs, he looked to be back in love with the game, putting in some prodigious leaps.
Whatmore, Pym and Armstrong’s other runner Cool Mix closed to challenge, but Yorkhill dug deep to beat Whatmore by a length and three-quarters.
Thomson said: “Dave said to Ryan to go out and make it – it was his call and he loved it.
“We were really happy with him coming into the race. He had an away day on Thursday and loved it.
“Harry The Viking (ex-Paul Nicholls, Borders National winner) was the model to go against to freshen these old horses up, you just fiddle away with them to get them right.
“He did a nice gallop at Carlisle two weeks ago and today he was brilliant. At 10 he’s just a youngster!”
Yorkhill was introduced into the Grand National betting at 50-1 by Betfair, while Thomson and Mania were also on the mark with The Ferry Master (6-1) in the three-mile novices’ handicap chase.
Ella Pickard registered the biggest winner of her career to date when Getaround made all the running in the Newcastle Flooring “The French Furze” Novices’ Hurdle.
Having finished fourth in the Persian War at Chepstow behind McFabulous on his penultimate run, Getaround found himself able to dominate here.
Favourite Ask A Honey Bee made a late bid for glory, but Bryan Carver had just enough up his sleeve to hold on by a head on the 10-1 chance.
“We always thought he wanted better ground,” said Pickard.
“It was a really good ride from Bryan, who has ridden him all the way through.
“We’ll look to step back up class again now, this was one of the last chances for him to run as a novice, so it was important to get more experience into him.
“It took seven hours to get here, but you’ve got to go where the races are.
“We’ve got about 15 horses in, but this would be the biggest winner.”
James Ewart’s Ascot De Bruyere notched up a fourth win at Gosforth Park with a pillar-to-post success in the D J Jeffreys Racing Handicap Chase.
Running for the first time since a wind operation, champion jockey Brian Hughes got him jumping elaborately out in front and he never looked like being caught.
Ewart said: “He’s a lovely horse and everyone knows he’s a Newcastle specialist and that’s his fourth win here now.
“His best performance was actually over two and a half miles, so I said to Brian to make sure he made plenty of use of him today as I was actually worried the ground might be too good.
“Last year he had lots of little issues and it was the first season we’ve had him we didn’t win a race with him.”
Ewart later doubled up with the Rachael McDonald-ridden Fostered Phil (4-1)
Alan King tends to find a smart juvenile or two each year and Son Of Red made a winning transition from the Flat in the opening Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group Introductory Juvenile Hurdle.
Rated 66 on the Flat, he needed every yard of the trip to reel in the front-running State Crown, who had the benefit of experience.
Winning rider Daryl Jacob said: “That was a nice performance, he ground it out for me. He’s a lovely jumper, as you get from Alan King, and I was very impressed. That was his first run over hurdles and, please god, he’ll keep improving.”