Coome Hill silences Monk

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The Independent Online
In an era dominated by big money and political bickering, it was refreshing to be able to return to steeplechasing's roots here yesterday as Coome Hill, a former point-to-pointer owned and trained by Walter Dennis, a 56-year-old farmer, and his family in deepest Cornwall, romped home in the pounds 70,000 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup Handicap Chase.

The seven-year-old gelding, given a brainy ride by Jamie Osborne, beat the favourite The Grey Monk, from Gordon Richards' mighty Greystoke yard, fair and square by four lengths and put himself bang into the Grand National picture. It was a blow for the non-leaguers - Dennis has five horses in his yard and Richards has 50 - but the Cornishman generously gave credit where it was due. "It's the horse that counts," he said, "even the top trainers can't do it without the right horse."

Coome Hill's rise up the ranks this season has been as rapid as it has been impressive, having tackled open company for the first time only a month ago after proving himself a star between the flags. Osborne, who met Coome Hill for the first time when he was legged up, had been instructed that staying was his partner's long suit and, with little early pace, elected to set the gallop himself.

He invited Coome Hill to enjoy himself in front and the Irish-bred bay did just that, jumping, apart from one paddle, with boldness and accuracy. Lo Stregone, another dour stayer, kept him company from half way, but just behind them, going ominously easily and gaining lengths in the air at each obstacle, was The Grey Monk.

Turning into the straight it was the grey, running on ground livelier than ideal, who went on, with Coome Hill's race apparently run. His trainer agreed. "I thought we were dead and buried three out," he said, "but Jamie never gave up, and then he began to stay on, and we began screaming."

Coome Hill regained the lead two out, and jumped the last with his ears pricked. It was a second Hennessy for Osborne, successful with Arctic Call six years ago, who said: "Once he had got his second wind, he felt like he was out for a Saturday afternoon canter. He could have done another circuit, and there probably isn't a race long enough for him."

The bookmakers have put the Hennessy winner in their Aintree lists at prices ranging from 20-1 (Hills) to 14-1 (Ladbrokes), and also similarly introduced him into their Gold Cup betting. Osborne said: "The National is absolutely tailor-made for him. All I have to do now is persuade the trainer to run him, and let me keep the ride." Osborne replaced the injured Jimmy Frost, who, in turn, had taken over from Dennis's son Tim, who led up the horse yesterday and led the cheering as his father held aloft the gold trophy, FA Cup-style, in the winners' enclosure.

Dennis, who has nursed his horse patiently since acquiring him in Ireland as a four-year-old, nominated the Welsh National next month as his next target. He said: "All being well, he'll go to Chepstow. As far as a race like the Gold Cup is concerned, we'll have to wait and see. Perhaps if the ground was soft, we might consider it. But it would be a big step up in class to take on the best at level weights. I haven't abused Coome Hill yet, and I don't intend to start now."

Dennis, who has 100 head of cattle, 100 ewes and an expanse of cereals on his 400 acres near Bude, has 70 point-to-point wins to his credit, and rides Coome Hill daily. But he is no yokel with mud on his boots, and looked decidedly dapper as he received congratulations from the Queen Mother yesterday. He said: "He's an extraordinary horse. He never sparkles at home, never tells us anything, and is so laid back a baby could ride him. But on the racecourse, he's different, and he never ceases to surprise me. We always hoped he would one day tell us just how good he was, and today he has, in a big way."

Alderbrook's absence from the Fighting Fifth Limited Handicap Hurdle at Newcastle, because the ground was deemed too firm, robbed the race of much of its interest, but there was much to like about the way Space Trucker outpaced Castle Sweep and Dato Star. Space Trucker is now 14-1 for the Champion Hurdle. More light will be shed on the Champion at Fairyhouse today, where Large Action makes his return on a card that also features Danoli, Doran's Pride and See More Business in a novice chasing showdown.