Gesskille finally got his moment in the spotlight over Aintree’s Grand National fences with a brilliant performance in the BoyleSports Grand Sefton Handicap Chase.
Trained by Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero, he was beaten a nose by Al Dancer in this race 12 months ago before again having to settle for second in the Becher Chase a month later.
However, there was nothing left to chance this time as Henry Brooke bounced out the seven-year-old and never missed a beat as he once again showed his love for the unique test the famous spruce presents.
At the elbow Gesskille held a narrow advantage over last year’s third Percussion and Laura Morgan’s charge was unable to reel in the 100-30 favourite, who kept on stoutly for a two-length victory.
Greenall said: “Courses like here and Auteuil seem to suit him – just the once round; he seems to get a bit sick of a tighter track and not enjoy it so much.
“He was quite sour when we first got him – he’s by Network and they can be a bit tricky, and they start racing quite young in France, and he likes something to brighten him up, like these fences.
“After finishing agonisingly close last year, winning this is more like a relief, really. The blinkers have definitely improved him. He needs to go up a bit more in the handicap to get into the Grand National, but he could be a contender.”
Another who thrives on Merseyside is Dan Skelton’s West Balboa (8-11 favourite), who claimed a competitive handicap at Aintree during the Grand National Festival and returned to win the BoyleSports Acca Boost On Horse Racing Hurdle.
It was a third-straight success for the improving seven-year-old, who also won the Lanzarote Hurdle last season, and her handler has big ambitions for later in the campaign.
Skelton said: “We needed to see she had stepped forward and to beat a horse like him (Brewin’upastorm) in what was effectively a graded race makes me very happy.
“This time of year horses are going to need a run and Harry said she took a blow. She had been working nicely at home, although as a stayer they are never going to burn the gallop up. Last year she improved a great deal from her first run and I hope she can from this.
“I’m not sure where we’ll go next. She’ll get an entry in the Long Walk (at Ascot) and see what the opposition looks like and also the Relkeel on New Year’s Day (at Cheltenham).
“We’d like to get her to Cheltenham this year and I’m confident she’ll be a more comfortable horse at three miles in the spring.”
Gentleman At Arms (9-1) was runner-up here in the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle in 2022 and made a welcome return to the winner’s enclosure in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.
The victory secures Stuart Edmunds’ charge a potential spot in the series final at Cheltenham in March, but the handler is unsure if he will make the final line-up for that contest.
“He was second here in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle and he probably overachieved there,” said Edmunds.
“He was a fresh horse against tired horses from Cheltenham and it’s taken a while for him to get back to where he can be competitive again. I ran him over fences and probably scared him a bit – he’s not overly big and it might have just frightened him a little bit.
“I doubt he’d get into the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham, but there’ll be some nice handicaps for him. He can go on better ground than this as well. He’s a very versatile horse. He’s done us well.”
Lucinda Russell’s Giovinco (5-6 favourite) gave away a golden opportunity at Carlisle last time when making a mishap at the third last, but made amends by taking the BoyleSports Best Odds Guaranteed Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.
Assistant trainer Michael Scudamore said: “Back on track. What happened the other day was frustrating, rather than anything else.
“He showed the engine was still there today, and with that weight (11st 10lb) and those conditions, it looked a good performance. He’s certainly put any questions in our heads to bed.
“He’s a beautiful-looking horse, very athletic, owned by a great bunch of people and has got plenty of nice targets to look forward to off the back of that. He obviously stays very well.”
There was a double on the card for Russell when Rocheval scored at 15-2 in the concluding BoyleSports Extra Place Races “Junior” National Hunt Flat Race.