Yorkhill digs deep to take Mersey spoils at Aintree
Yorkhill maintained his unbeaten record over hurdles to complete a Grade One hat-trick with a workmanlike success in the EZ Trader Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree.
Having posted one of the standout performances at last month's Cheltenham Festival when winning the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, the six-year-old produced a display of completely different contrast before mastering his rivals in the two-and-a-half-mile contest.
After failing to settle early on, the 30-100 favourite pulled his way to the front down the far side into a lead he was to hold on to for the rest of the race.
Although meeting the second-last wrong, the Willie Mullins-trained gelding still held the initiative out in front with his closest challengers Bello Conti, Le Prezien and Flying Angel all under pressure to close the gap.
The race looked in safe-keeping after he put in a bold jump at the last but after idling up the run-in, Le Prezien got another chance to close.
Showing his class, though, Yorkhill pulled out more when it mattered to cross the line two and a quarter lengths clear of Paul Nicholls' runner.
Paddy Power left the winner unchanged at 7-2 for next year's Arkle.
Winning rider Paul Townend said: "I can't say everything went to plan - nothing probably went to plan.
"He went to the start and he was on fire. I tried to drop him out to get him to settle and I couldn't get him to drop the bridle.
"He had a bit more of a look in front, but he's some horse to win after doing that.
"I didn't think there was a whole lot I was able to do. It just shows the engine that's there.
"When he felt them coming at him on the run-in he pulled out plenty again. He's a fair horse."
Mullins said: "It was very hard to watch, but it must have been harder for Paul on board. Not a lot went right for him today.
"The horse gave him an awful ride, but he pulled it out when he wanted. I thought he was beaten at the last - he went all over the place after landing - but he must be an iron horse.
"When I saw him in the parade ring and I was putting the saddle on him, I just thought Cheltenham was taking its toll. To put in a performance like that was very good. We'll look at Punchestown, but I'd say we might put him away."
The champion trainer remains undecided as to what route Yorkhill will pursue next season.
"His pedigree suggests we should be going chasing, but he looks Champion Hurdle material to me," he added.
"He won't be going down the World Hurdle route. It will either be the Champion Hurdle or the Arkle. Ruby (Walsh) said when he jumped off at Cheltenham that he'd win the Arkle with his mouth open, but I'm thinking he'd suit the Champion Hurdle."