The admirably consistent staying chaser Giles Cross proved once again just what a talented performer he is when the mud is flying in cleverly landing the stamina-sapping Grade 3 Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Haydock Park on Saturday, writes Elliot Slater.

Only once out of the first three in his last nine outings, the Victor Dartnall-trained gelding had optimum conditions at the Lancashire venue as he attempted to go one better than at Chepstow in late-December when, for the second year running, he finished a brave second in the Coral Welsh Grand National, this time to Le Beau Bai, having made subsequent Grade 1 winner Synchronised pull out all the stops twelve months earlier. People with a 2012 Grand National free bet should bear this in mind.

Running off a career-high mark of 138, the 10-year-old moved sweetly at the head of affairs throughout the three-and-a-half-mile Haydock contest, looking fresh as paint as one-by-one the opposition gave up and shuddered to a halt in the bottomless ground. Turing for home the final time Giles Cross still hadn’t seen off the attentions of his old rival Le Beau Bai or the classy top weight Neptune Collonges, whilst Irish raider Some Target was also close enough if good enough.

Denis O’Regan however was barely moving a muscle whilst the other trio were all hard at work, and as they drew to the final fence only Paul Nicholls’ gallant Neptune Collonges was within shouting distance. Both jumped the last well and the popular grey did his utmost to get by Giles Cross, but the eventual winner always had something up his sleeve. Though the winning margin was eventually just a cheeky neck, the winner was value for a good deal more.

Quick ground at Aintree would almost certainly rule Giles Cross out of the race, but if it rains and comes up testing, Dartnall’s grand campaigner – now a top priced 25/1 shot from 40/1for the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree in April – will doubtless attract a tremendous amount of betting interest.

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