The Conditional (15-2) battled to victory over Kildisart (10-1) to win the Ulitma Handicap Chase on the opening day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.
The David Bridgwater-trained The Conditional, under Brendan Powell, held off the late surge of Ben Pauling’s Kildisart to land a neck success in the 3m2f handicap.
A winner over the course and distance in October, The Conditional was also runner-up in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury before finishing fourth to another Grand National hopeful Kimberlite Candy in the Classic Chase at Warwick in January.
The eight-year-old is not entered in the Aintree marathon this year, but he landed his biggest success at Cheltenham.
Trainer Pauling, despite defeat, can dream of glory on Merseyside with his own eight-year-old, who iwas cut to 25-1 with most bookmakers for the Aintree marathon.
Pauling, who trains locally to Cheltenham at Burton-On-The-Water, also has Le Breuil entered in the Aintree marathon.
The eight-year-old, though, is 60th on the list and not certain to make the cut for the Grand National.
Le Breuil will bid for a second Cheltenham Festival win – he took the four-miler last season – in the Kim Muir Chase on Thursday first,
Pauling would love him to join Kildisart at Aintree, but he is just happy to have one definite Grand National runner.
Pauling told the ECHO: “He ran an absolute blinder. We couldn’t have asked for anything more. The ground probably wasn’t in our favour but we are thrilled with the horse. Now we can look forward to the rest of the season.
“That’s where he goes (to the Grand National) and we are looking forward to it. He has his own style but they (the Aintree fences) are not as stiff as they were. He will stay all day and we are hopeful.”
Discorama and Vinndication, the 11-2 joint-favourites, finished third and fourth respectively behind The Conditional and Kildisart.
The winning trainer was full of praise for winning jockey Powell, whose father Brendan landed the Grand National aboard Rhyme N Reason in 1988.
Bridgwater said: “What a great jockey – I thought we were stuffed (after the mistake).
“He’s a brilliant jockey – he’s given that a peach (of a ride).
“I was confident last night – this is unbelievable. I’m very emotional.”
Although The Conditional is not entered at Aintree this time, Bridgwater believes he could be a Grand National horse in the future.
He added: “I thought we had lost it at the second-last when he pecked, but that has probably done us a favour, as I said to Brendan don’t hit the front too soon – he gave him a fantastic ride.
“He is a good horse, but he is still only a baby. I was umming and ahhing whether to run in the RSA. If I’m being honest, I was half-hoping we were going to get balloted out of this, but we got in easy, so I thought stuff it and the betting never gets it wrong.
“I half-fancied him to run into a place in the RSA, not necessarily win it, which would have made him a certainty for today.”
“It was a great day when he won here in October, but to come and do it here is just amazing. I’ve always been lucky here as a trainer and a jockey.
“When I bought him he was possibly a long-term Grand National horse and it burst our bubble at Warwick, but when we were tacking him up today he was in great nick.
“Brendan has had a blip for a couple of years as we all do as trainers and jockeys and it is very special to him. Possibly he might be a Grand National horse, but he is still only a baby.”
Meanwhile Towshend, who is owned by Scouser John Neild, provided his son Jamie with a first ride at the Cheltenham Festival.
The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained nine-year-old – who is also entered in the Grand National but unlikely to make the cut – gave the youngster a great spin before he was pulled up before the last fence.