Racing: Fiftysevenchannels shows who is the cross-country boss

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The Independent Online
Ireland claimed its first success in the Sporting Index Cross Country Chase when Fiftysevenchannels snatched victory from the Czechs at Cheltenham yesterday.

Ken Whelan produced the gelding with a well-timed run to earn a neck triumph in the closest finish yet for the pounds 25,000 contest from Peruan and Market Place, two of three challengers from the Czech Republic.

It was Whelan's first winner at Cheltenham since landing last year's Kim Muir Chase on Stop The Waller during a 10-month stint in England. Fiftysevenchannels is trained by Enda Bolger, an enthusiastic Bruce Springsteen fan and named after one of the musician's songs.

The Cross Country Chase is a novelty event over a three miles seven furlongs course of 30 obstacles made up of banks, hedges, ditches, rails, fences and hurdles. But a chaotic contest almost ensued when the field was forced to plough through a set of wooden stakes that had not been removed by racecourse staff.

"The stakes were there to show us the way round on the first circuit," Whelan said. "But when we came round again they should have been moved out of the way. It could have caused great confusion and they could have been dangerous. Somebody could have got stabbed with them."

The clerk of the course, Edward Gillespie, admitted the error and confirmed that the field had taken the right course. "The five thin stakes were placed there to guide the field towards the fourth fence, but they were still there when they came through the next time."