Step up in trip no problem for Protektorat at Aintree

Protektorat (4-1) turned the Grade Two Unibet Many Clouds Chase into something of a procession at Aintree on Saturday as he came home the decisive winner. 

The six year old, who is owned by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson in partnership with Ged Mason and John & Lisa Hales, was stepping up in distance but came into the race with Grade One-winning course form, having landed the SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase over 2m 4f at the Randox Grand National Festival back in April. 

Settled off the pace today, the The Dan Skelton-trained son of Saint Des Saints made progress to track leader Native River (5-2 favourite) at the halfway point before smoothly taking the lead from the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner four fences from the finish. From that point on the result was never in doubt, with Protektorat going on to prevail by 25 lengths. 

Successful jockey Bridget Andrews, riding the third Grade Two winner of her career, said: “He was keen early, which was my biggest worry riding him today. He’s a big, strong horse and I’m not very big!

“Early on I just wanted to get him settled and give myself room to jump into as he is a horse with a huge amount of scope and I didn’t want to get trapped in behind horses. 

“The further we went, the keener he got with me. In the end I thought, ‘I have just got to relax at some point and just let him jump to the front’. He then pricked his ears and took a breath with me.

“Native River always goes his gallop but Protektorat is a horse with a high cruising speed so I was just trying to take him back the whole time, but it was a great performance. It was a big day for me and I’m really privileged to have been involved.

“We always thought he was a three-miler but was probably just not giving himself the chance to get the trip earlier in his career. Hopefully, we will be on our way to the Gold Cup and I know John (Hales) would love to go there if possible.

“I know I am number two jockey and more than happy with the job I have so Harry (Skelton) will be back on board on the big day.” 

Earlier on the card the Listed Unibet Proudly Supports "Racing Is Everyone's Sport" Fillies' Juvenile Hurdle (2m 1f) saw 8-1 chance Sea Sessions lead home a 1-2-3 for Irish-trained horses under jockey Johnny Burke.

The daughter of Territories got the better of a three-way tussle after the final flight to prevail by two and a quarter lengths from Calvados, with 6-4 favourite White Pepper another length and a quarter back in third.

Winning trainer Ross O’Sullivan said: “She is very tough and had form on this ground before so we were happy enough with the ground, but realistically we were hoping she might be third and get some black type.

“It’s great to have a winner here. The guys that own her are local to Aintree and the plan was always to come here and if all went well to come third, so to go and win it is very special.

“She was a middle of the road filly on the Flat but really likes jumping, handles all conditions and is really tough. On the Flat she was always off the bridle early before staying on so when she went jumping we knew the trip wouldn’t be a problem. She is really tough.

“Today was the plan and it is great to have her. Obviously, we would be dreaming of going somewhere in the spring-time with her and hopefully we’ll get there. Whether she is good enough I don’t know but we’ll enjoy today.”

O’Sullivan is the husband of former jockey Katie Walsh, who completed the course in five of her six rides in the Grand National and finished third aboard Seabass in 2012. 

He concluded: “I have been coming to Aintree over the years to watch Katie as a fan and support her. When we started having a few runners, she rode Baie Des Iles for me on her last ride in the National (finishing 12th in 2018), so Aintree is a great place for me and I love coming here every year. To have a winner here is brilliant.”

An added bonus to today’s programme was the Listed Unibet Houghton Mares’ Chase, which was transferred to Aintree following the abandonment of Carlisle’s programme on November 28th. The two and a half mile contest saw a superb pillar to post to victory by Zambella (5-1), trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies. The six year old jumped superbly throughout to finish four and three quarter length clear of Annie Mc, with 2-5 favourite market leader Elimay a further 10 lengths adrift in third.

Winning jockey Daryl Jacob said: “She is just a lovely, lovely mare who gives her all every time she goes out and runs. 

“She will always give you 110 per cent every time she runs. She can pull a bit hard sometimes but is very, very likeable.”

Betfair reacted to Zambella’s victory by cutting her to 16-1 (from 66-1) for the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.