Agistment can graduate with honours

FESTIVAL FOCUS
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The Independent Online
Agistment was, as usual, easy to pick out on the schooling grounds yesterday. He was the one at the back, slouching around with his hands in his pockets. No wonder that his laziness used to exasperate Jimmy FitzGerald, his trainer.

On a race-track however, Agistment is transformed from a clodhopper into a potential champion. Unbeaten in his three hurdle races this season, the big six-year-old will be one of the favourites for the Royal SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle (2m 5f) at Cheltenham two weeks tomorrow.

FitzGerald goes to this year's Festival with his strongest team of hurdlers for years. Alzulu and Whip Hand have good chances in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle (2m 110yds) on the Tuesday, and Trainglot in the Stayers' Hurdle (3m 110yds) on the Thursday. But Agistment is his best prospect.

"We nearly didn't run him, and tried to sell him at one time," FitzGerald recalled yesterday. "He's useless at home. Everything else beats him, but on a track he's a completely different horse."

After winning two out of three National Hunt flat races last season, Agistment has won all three outings over hurdles this term. Last time out, ridden by Richard Dunwoody, in a two and half mile event at Huntingdon, he held off the well-regarded Forest Ivory by a neck in a driving finish. Later FitzGerald enhanced that performance by explaining that the winner had bruised a foot the previous week and had missed five days work.

Agistment is owned by the Marquesa de Moratalla, no stranger to Festival success. She owns The Fellow, who won the Gold Cup in 1994. Agistment could easily be another one out of the top drawer for her. He shows a particularly nimble-footed style when clearing hurdles. He races close to the pace, which should enable him to keep clear of trouble in the Royal SunAlliance, always a rough race with a field of up to 30. Staying the trip is not a problem - as a comfortable win over three miles at Newcastle last year proved. It will take a very good one to beat him.

Chris Corrigan

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