Pic D’Orhy provided champion trainer Paul Nicholls with his first winner of this year’s Grand National meeting at Aintree as he posted an assured display in the Marsh Chase.
Twice a winner at Grade Two level earlier in the season, the eight-year-old was last seen chasing home Thursday’s Aintree Bowl hero Shishkin in the Ascot Chase in February.
Nicholls deliberately sidestepped last month’s Cheltenham Festival to keep his charge fresh for Aintree and was handsomely rewarded as Pic D’Orhy secured his first Grade One success.
Always moving powerfully behind the pacesetting Minella Drama, Harry Cobden’s mount moved to the front between the final two obstacles and soon put clear daylight between himself and his rivals.
Fakir D’oudairies, bidding for a record third victory in the two-and-a-half-mile contest, briefly threatened to throw down a serious challenge approaching the last fence, but Pic D’Orhy showed no signs of stopping and was ultimately good value for the winning margin of four and a quarter lengths.
Nicholls was unable to run Gold Cup runner-up Bravemansgame as planned on Thursday due to an ownership issue and having seen the likes of Stage Star disappoint, the handler thinks some horses that ran at Cheltenham might have been feeling a swift return.
However, Pic D’Orhy’s plan was long mapped out. Nicholls said: “What has happened with Bravemansgame might be a blessing in disguise. He had a hard race at Cheltenham so who knows, he’ll be back next year.
“This week has been quite hard, a few have disappointed, a few have run well but what we like is winning these Grade Ones with horses who have been aimed at them.
“He was trained for this race and it makes a big difference when you target them here. When you aim for Cheltenham, it is hard to get them back in that form again.
“I just thought he’d be better on the flatter track here. I’m not saying he’ll never go to Cheltenham another day, but this was the race we wanted to win ever since he won the Peterborough Chase. We set out to go to the Silviniaco Conti Chase, Ascot and then this. This track suits him really well.
“He’ll certainly get an entry for the King George.”
Cobden believes Pic D’Orhy’s improved jumping has been crucial to success.
He said: “I had a lovely run round. He galloped into the first but after that he jumped brilliantly and travelled well.
“We didn’t get racing too early and after the second-last I asked him to go and win his race. I was going to the last on a really long stride, I don’t normally ask for that off him, so I gave him a flick to remind him and it worked.
“He’s become a very good jumper but he didn’t use to be, I got three really bad falls off him but he’s learned. He has a low head carriage and eyes them up well.”