AMBERLEIGH House was the courageous local hero at Aintree last Saturday with a thrilling victory in the world famous Martell Cognac Grand National.

The gelding, partnered by Graham Lee, was a distant fourth in the second half of the marathon behind long time pacemaker Hedgehunter. Clan Royal and Lord Atterbury were well positioned just behind the leader who, unfortunately, lost his footing at the last obstacle.

Making up ground with every stride Lee galloped past the principals on the 16-1 shot to score a fourth win in the National for Cholmondeley-based trainer Ginger Mc-Cain.

'I can't believe it, it's a fairy tale,' sai Lee. 'He was so tough and jumped Becher's on the first circuit from a standstill. I didn't have a good passage, he's so sure footed I just steered him.'

Facing a strong headwind coming into the home straight Lee counted to 10 before starting his winning surge. Cheered past two remaining rivals who were unable to maintain the pace, the winning margin was three lengths reversing the Becher Chase form with Clan Royal.

A delighted McCain who trained Red Rum back in the 1970's to win three Grand Nationals said: 'It's down to my son Donald and Graham. They decided to hold him up, because he's got one run. There's no doubt about the Aintree element for horses, it's magic here with a happy bunch of people. They can shoot me now, I don't care!'

Responding to a query about possible retirement the 73-year-old trainer feels he might squeeze in another two or three nationals before hanging up his boots.

Amberleigh House will have a well-deserved rest before an autumn campaign taking in the Becher Chase run over the Grand National fences in November. Carrie Ford, of Little Budworth, returned briefly from race-riding retirement to partner Forest Gunner in the £30,000 Martell Cognac Foxhunters' Steeplechase on the first day of the Grand National meeting.

Eleven weeks ago Carrie gave birth to her first child, daughter Hannah, and faced a race against time to get herself fit in a month and had great support from the team at Folly Farm Stables.

The 13-2 shot, trained by Carrie's husband, Richard, made a slight mistake at the second fence before the partnership went wide on the course, a route advised by former jockey Neil Doughty who walked the course with Carrie.

Striking up a rhythm and making light work of the National fences the duo pulled ahead of their rivals to score an impressive eight-length win.

Richard Ford was victorious in this race back in 1996 aboard Rolling Ball. He remarked: 'I wasn't going to stop her riding, but I don't want to go through that again!'

Iris's Gift, sent off the 7-4 favourite, won the opening race, the Liverpool Hurdle Race by two and a half lengths. Owned by Nantwich-based landlord, Bob Lester, the gelding gave a performance best display of jumping and finished two and a half lengths ahead of the gallant Royal Rosa. Immediate plans may include a trip to the Punchestown festival before a tilt over fences next season.

Cheshire connections continued the winning streak at Aintree when 33-1 outsider Diamond Sal, trained by Mary Reveley won the final race on the card, the Champion Standard National Hunt Flat Race by half a length. Richard Aston, of Goldford Stud, Bickerton bred the mare.