Sandy Thomson 'delighted' as Empire Steel toughs it out to claim Premier Chase prize
The race was supposed to put the finishing touches to the Randox Grand National preparations of Dan Skelton's 10-11 favourite, but it was the locally-trained nine-year-old who bolstered his spring credentials - with a trip to the Scottish National rather than Aintree now likely.
With Le Milos and Wishing And Hoping disputing things on the front end, the chances of the course-and-distance winner looked to have gone when he made a mistake five out and was again sticky at the fourth last. Victory looked a formality for the race favourite and Harry Skelton was searching for dangers clearing the last. But the Lodge Hill raider start to look weary and with Mania having had time to fill up Empire Steel's tank, the dashing grey could sense a struggling target was in reach. He stuck his neck out and responded resolutely to his rider's urgings and with Le Milos waning with every stride, Empire Steel collared him in the shadow of the post to score at odds of 4-1 and seal a 59-1 double for the Lambden Racing operation following Benson's win in the Morebattle Hurdle. "I'm delighted for the horse that he's won a decent race, we've always thought a lot of him," said Thomson. "He was very unlucky at Wetherby (Rowland Meyrick, 2021) a year and a half or so ago and it hasn't quite gone right gone for him since. But he seems to run to get a rating of around 152 whenever he runs round here and has done it again. "You are always delighted when a horse who has ability gets one in the bag and no one can ever take it away from him." The Borders handler was winning the Listed event for a second time following Seldom Inn's success in 2017 and having taken advantage of those with the Grand National at Aintree in the back of their mind, Empire Of Steel will try to break Thomson's duck in the Scottish equivalent at Ayr. "I've been lucky Seldom Inn won it, Seeyouatmidnight was third and Hill Sixteen was second, so it was nice to get another winner in the race," continued Thomson. "The Shunter won his money and I'm not sure he's the horse he used to be and although the Skeltons will be annoyed they got beaten, they will be delighted with the Grand National trial that their horse ran. "If we get 4lb or 5lb and up to around 146, then I would be quite happy and the Scottish National would be the aim. "The great thing today is he has won on good to soft ground, whereas in the past his better performances were on soft and heavy ground, so I'm absolutely delighted with him and I don't think you will see him before the Scottish National. There's nothing really at Aintree that fits the bill and I think the Scottish National will be his sort of race." On the big-race double at his local track, he added: "It's been an unbelievable day. To have one winner is great but to win the two big races here is incredible."
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