Ask Tom wipes away Tate's tears

GRAND NATIONAL MEETING: Novice victory gives trainer swift compensation after big-race fancy Lo Stregone is sidelined
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The Independent Online
GREG WOOD

reports from Aintree

As any punter knows, as long as a single penny remains in your pocket, there is hope, so swiftly can your fortunes ebb and flow. Tom Tate knows it too, after a day which started with the trainer close to tears, and by mid-afternoon had seen him secure one of the most valuable successes of his career.

It was early yesterday morning when a suspicion which had been growing in Tate's mind for 24 hours was finally confirmed. Lo Stregone, second- favourite for tomorrow's Grand National, had finally caught the equine 'flu which had passed through every other horse in the yard during the course of the season. "He had a temperature of 103 last night and again this morning and he is a sick horse," Tate said before setting off for Aintree. "It's a bit of an anti-climax to say the least, and I could cry."

But just a few hours later, fortune shifted straight through the gears from reverse into fifth. Ask Tom started at 10-1 for the Maghull Novices' Chase after a poor run at Cheltenham two weeks ago, but Tate had long been convinced that his horse was a potential champion and his faith was conclusively rewarded with a 15-length defeat of Lord Dorcet.

"He had the same virus that Lo Stregone has got about four weeks before Cheltenham," Tate said, "and while he was over it by then, it often takes a race to put them right again.

"When I bought the horse he was already named. I rang Brian Stewart-Brown and said I'd found a good one. He asked what it was called and when I told him he laughed and said `we'd better have it then'."

The winning jockey on Ask Tom was Peter Niven, a late replacement for Jamie Osborne, who had broken his collar-bone in a fall from Black Humour in the previous race, the Martell Cup. The winner of this race too had performed poorly in his most recent outing, but yesterday Scotton Banks not only returned to form, but appeared capable of a serious challenge for next year's Gold Cup.

For much of the contest, Scotton Banks was engaged in a private duel with Barton Bank, which ended only when the latter made one of his trademark mistakes at the final fence.

"Both times we went down the back he was dossing a bit," Lorcan Wyer, Scotton Banks's jockey, said, "and the second time I didn't think we would win. But Barton Bank missed the fourth-last and that let me get back into contention. It's very early to be talking about the Gold Cup, but if all goes well next season we could end up there with a chance."

Barton Bank's jockey yesterday was Tony McCoy, whose exceptional adhesive qualities were demonstrated several times during the afternoon. His strength in a finish was in evidence too, when he brought Top Spin to win on the nod in the final race, a success which completed a double after his victory on Zabadi in the juvenile hurdle.

Even so, the riding performance of the day was that of Paul Carberry, who put several unfortunate experiences over the National fences behind him to take the John Hughes Chase on Joe White, a 33-1 chance.

Perhaps inevitably, Carberry has rarely been mentioned in his career to date without reference to his father, Tommy, a National winner on L'Escargot. Carberry junior, though, is now a very fine rider himself, and his assurance on Joe White, as the winning post accelerated towards him with Go Universal still in front, was magnificent.

"I thought I'd definitely beat them as soon as we'd jumped the last," Carberry said afterwards, "it just took me a little longer than I thought to do it." The jockey is due to partner Three Brownies, a rank outsider, in the National tomorrow, but may miss the ride after his own run of luck came to a sudden halt. He sprained a knee when hampered and brought down on Edelweis Du Moulin in the next race, and must pass the doctor this morning if he is to ride in the afternoon.

It is the amateurs' turn over the big fences today in the Fox Hunters' Chase, but as ever this is a hopeless event for punters. Concentrate instead on the preceding events, in which Klairon Davis (2.35), Hill Of Tullow (next best 3.10) and ALLTIME DANCER (nap 2.00) in particular must go well.

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