Dove flies home as rivals fall to earth

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The Independent Online
The Gold Cup picture remains blurred after the Agfa Diamond Limited Handicap Chase developed into a chapter of accidents here yesterday. The most notable departure was Coome Hill, the second favourite for the Gold Cup, at the second fence; he was followed by Avro Anson in front of the stands, Go Ballistic five out and Major Summit, who sadly broke his neck at the penultimate obstacle, leaving Dextra Dove to outstay his sole remaining rival Northern Hide up the hill.

It was an uncharacteristic lapse by Coome Hill, normally the safest of jumpers, but the Hennessy winner returned unscathed after completing a circuit without Jamie Osborne. His trainer Walter Dennis, who had been dubious beforehand about running the talented eight-year-old on the prevailing firm ground but had been desperate to get a pre-Festival run into him, was philosophical about the turn of events, saying: "It was a pity, because none of us are now any the wiser, but it could have been a blessing in disguise. If he'd got into a battle on this ground who knows what he could have done to his legs."

It was the former top point-to-pointer's first outing since he won in such tremendous style at Newbury in November, and Dennis, joining the growing band of trainers praying for rain, added: "This is the first time he's fallen. He was probably a bit rusty; Jamie said he put in one stride to many and just brushed through the top of the fence."

If Gold Cup pointers evaporated yesterday, they will come a-plenty at Leopardstown today. The reigning champion, Imperial Call, not sighted since his last-fence fall at Punchestown in December, faces a formidable set of rivals - including his compatriots Danoli and Merry Gale, and the British raiders The Grey Monk, Jodami and Belmont King - in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup Chase, and the leading Irish and British novice chasers, Dorans Pride and See More Business, put their claims on the line in the Scalp Novices' Chase.

Although Dextra Dove's task was simplified, he completed it well and goes for the Grand National, for which he was an 11th-hour absentee last year after foot and muscle problems. The grey, now winner of 19 races, is notoriously lazy, and his trainer Simon Earle, who won 14 times on him in his days as a jockey, was the first to appreciate Norman Williamson's efforts in the saddle yesterday. he said: "He had to give him a smack after the second fence, and if whips were not allowed this horse would have never won. But although he is bone idle, he is as tough as they come."

There was a feature-race double for Williamson as the rags-to-riches story of Stately Home, trained by Peter Bowen near Fishguard, progressed one step further in the opening Scilly Isles Novices' Chase. Just over a year ago the six-year-old beat one in a selling hurdle at Catterick after being purchased at the sales for just 900 guineas; yesterday's Grade 1 victory, his ninth of the campaign, took his earnings to over pounds 60,000 and equalled the post-war record for chase wins in a season set by Carrigeen Hill in the Seventies.

Bowen's operation is a true family affair. He not only owns Stately Home, but also drives the horsebox, leads his horse up, and yesterday looked after his 20-month old son Michael as his wife Karen washed their hero down after the race. The riding - and an excellent display it was - was left to Williamson, who forced the game from the start and had plenty left to outbattle Land Afar over the final three fences.

Stately Home will be Bowen's first Cheltenham runner when he tackles the Cathcart Chase; other winners to earn their Festival tickets yesterday were Double Symphony, who will turn out again on Saturday in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury en route to the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Certainly Strong (Grand Annual Handicap Chase) and the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle hope Tullymurry Toff, who won the Tote Bookmakers Sandown Handicap Hurdle to take his unbeaten run to five.