Haydock Park Racecourse earned warm praise from trainer Alex Hales after Smooth Steppers’ hard won Unibet Grand National Trial victory.
The veteran jumper lived up to his name to dent the Grand National hopes of better-fancied rivals in one of the chief trials for the world’s greatest steeplechase.
“It was the biggest win of my career and Haydock Park must have moved heaven and earth to get the meeting on,” said Hales.
“It was an incredible effort, with Storm Dennis wreaking havoc around the country.
“It must have been very hard to plan with the weather so unpredictable last weekend, but I want to congratulate them.”
The Oxfordshire based handler added: “Kirkland Tellwright, Haydock Park’s clerk of the course did a fantastic job keeping us all informed.
“We took Smooth Stepper up the day before and although the weather forecast was horrific, thankfully Haydock Park didn’t see the worst of the storm.
“The ground was lovely and soft - and that suited Smooth Stepper down to a tee.”
In a heart-stopping finish to the Unibet Grand National Trial, Smooth Stepper overhauled course specialist Lord Du Mensil to win the three miles and four furlongs test by a length and a half.
“It was lovely to beat some very special horses but weight stops trains doesn’t it?
“Smooth Stepper was carrying a low weight (10 stone) so I thought he could go well after he performed with great credit in the veterans’ chase at Sandown.
“He’s eleven and it was a real slog for him, but he has come out of the race very well.”
Hales added: “Harry Bannister, who rode him at Haydock Park, gave Smooth Stepper a masterful ride and I was delighted for Harry because he’s had quite a tough time.
“Now I’ve had a few days to reflect, I’m not sure where we will go next with Smooth Stepper.
“I’m not completely sold on the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter.
“But winning the Grand National Trial at Haydock Park is something we will always cherish at the yard and hopefully the horses will continue running well until the end of the season.”
Meanwhile, Unibet Grand National Trial runner up Lord Du Mensil, winner of the Tommy Whittle Chase and The Last Fling at Haydock Park over the festive season, has an entry for the Randox Health Grand National.
Trainer Richard Hobson said: “We’ve got a dream horse but the Grand National might just be a year too early.
“Unless the ground comes up very soft at Aintree, and I know that’s unlikely, I think we’ll give it a miss this year.
“But if we get the ground at Cheltenham, the National Hunt Chase would be his ideal race.”
Haydock Park returns to action with a midweek jumps fixture on Wednesday, March 18.