TOP trainer Jonjo O’Neill was just denied another big winner to add to his Cheltenham Festival and Irish Grand National exploits.
The Temple Guiting handler nearly marked a superb National Hunt campaign with another high but Hadrian’s Approach mowed down Burton Port to claim a thrilling bet365 Gold Cup race at Sandown.
The dangerously well-handicapped 8-1 joint-favourite travelled impressively under champion jockey Tony McCoy.
He was still hard on the bridle rounding the home turn but 10-1 shot Hadrian’s Approach emerged as the only serious threat at the final fence.
After a titanic tussle up the hill, Nicky Henderson’s charge saw out the three miles and five furlongs best under jockey Barry Geraghty by three-quarters-of-a-length. But O’Neill was delighted with 10-year-old gelding Burton Port, owned by Trevor Hemmings, who failed to finish last month’s Grand National at Aintree.
The 62-year-old trainer, who was hoping for success at this week’s Punchestown Festival, said: “It was brilliant and I’m thrilled. He did everything right and just got beaten by a better horse on the day.
“He jumped liked a buck, travelled great and there are no excuses unfortunately.
“He didn’t stop, he kept going but he’s as cute as a fox. He’s good on his day.”
O’Neill enjoyed a Newton Abbot success last Friday through six-year-old The Nephew (6-4 favourite) and McCoy.
Meanwhile, Gloucestershire WI Racing Club Trainers’ Championship title winner Ben Pauling enjoyed a dream debut campaign. Top trainer Henderson's former assistant registered nine wins, including three for stable star Raven’s Tower.
Bourton-on-the-Water-based Pauling will spend the summer looking for new prospects to join Raven’s Tower, who finished sixth in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Naunton trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies recorded a Perth double in Scotland through favourites Fond Memory (4-7) and Sybarite (3-1).