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Last Updated: 05/04/14 2:42pm
Lac Fontana and Tony McCoy (left) jump alongside Splash of Ginge with Wilde Blue Yonder third
Lac Fontana benefited from a typically power-packed Tony McCoy ride to clinch the Pertemps Network Mersey Novices' Hurdle, the opening race on Crabbie's Grand National day at Aintree.
The Paul Nicholls-trained five-year-old was the 9/2 favourite for the two-and-a-half-mile Grade One, stepping up in class and trip following a similarly determined display in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
With the champion jockey taking over in the saddle from the sidelined Daryl Jacob, Lac Fontana travelled powerfully but looked to have his work cut out when Splash Of Ginge committed at the top of the home straight.
Dell' Arca and Wilde Blue Yonder were both in the mix, but it turned into a straight shootout after the final flight, with Lac Fontana eventually wearing down Splash Of Ginge to take the prize by a length and a half.
Nicholls said: "He stayed very well at Cheltenham so we thought we'd go two and a half miles on this ground.
"He's tough. He made it hard for himself by missing the last two hurdles but he stayed on a little bit.
"He could end up being a good staying hurdler looking at him, he stays really well.
"It will be interesting next year."
Nicholls went on: "He looks like he'll make a nice staying hurdler next year, but he could just jump a fence.
"I'll keep all options open and I'm not sure there's much left for him this season - maybe there's a Grade One at Punchestown but I haven't really looked into it."
McCoy said: "I felt from three out that he was keeping a bit for himself but when I grabbed a hold of him at the last he picked up.
"He beat a good yardstick in Splash Of Ginge so it is solid form and it was easy enough to ride him.
"I don't see why he wouldn't get further as he does keep a bit for himself and he goes through his races relaxed, he might even be better as he goes further."
The locally-owned Splash Of Ginge again did his connections proud, adding another sizeable chunk of prize-money to go with his victory in the valuable Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said: "He was brilliant again. I thought we'd got it but it wasn't to be this time.
"He's had a smashing season. He'll stop now and go again next season. He'll go chasing."
David Pipe, trainer of third-placed Dell' Arca, said: "He's run a cracking race. He's been very consistent. All year he's been running in the top handicaps. He's only a novice and he'll be a lovely horse for next season.
"He stayed the trip well and we might even step him up in trip again.
"We'll decide whether to stay hurdling or go chasing with him when he comes back.
"He's run in all the good races. He's the ultimate professional."