Tom & Gina Ellis secured their largest triumph when prevailing in a tight finish to the Randox Foxhunter Chase over Aintree's imposing fences earlier this afternoon.
The 18 fences of the Foxhunter, whose magnificent trophy of a near full size fox should prevent any politically correct removal of the title of the race, are the ultimate challenge for the amateur riders who are the core of the sport. Riding round Aintree is on every self-respecting rider's bucket list.
Gina, who rides under her maiden name Andrews, is the foremost amateur in the sport, with over 300 Point-to-Point winners to her name, and nearly 80 winners under Rules, which include a Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir 5 years ago at the Festival. This will rank right up there with the best of those winners, not least as her mount, Latenightpass, was able to overturn a 2 1/2l deficit on last year's winner, Cousin Pascal, to secure the winner's berth.
All the leading candidates were in the vanguard of the field as they headed out into the country, with Cousin Pascal leading from Cat Tiger, Jett, Clondaw Westie and Latenightpass handy. Clondaw Westie was a faller at the Canal Turn, by which time the leading candidates had defined the race for the final mile.
Porlock Bay's rider-trainer Will Biddick had swerved Cheltenham to have last year's Cheltenham Foxhunter winner in the best of form for Aintree, and that decision looked very wise as they turned in, although his chance was not helped by dropping his stick. Cousin Pascal called time at the second last, where Latenightpass went on, pressed by that most game of Corinthians, David Maxwell, on Cat Tiger. The winning distance was a just 1 1/4l, with a further 1 1/4l back to Porlock Bay, running on gamely into third.
The race was a triumph insofar as 18 of the 23 runners finished, and the win and placed horses were a true reflection of the form of the best hunter chasers in Britain. Stand UP And Fight was the nearest Irish contender, a full 39 1/2l behind the winner.
To say that trainer Tom Ellis was fizzing would be an understatement. The leading Point-to-Point trainer heads up a truly family affair in Warwickshire, with a horse owned by his mother, and ridden by his wife. This is the stuff that makes our sport so unique.
A fair-run race, a just winner, and no real hard luck stories. What better reflection of Aintree.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)