Elbow leaves little room for Casey's comfort

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The Independent Online
With five fences left to jump in the Grand National a confident forecast was expressed about the outcome. Turning to his companions, a man of great wisdom in these matters said: "There's only one winner."

He was speaking about Rough Quest who was travelling comfortably in fourth place and about to attack the tiring leaders. Nothing bar a disaster in jumping could stop him.

From a vantage point in the stands Terry Casey felt a surge of excitement. Things could not have worked out better for the quiet man from Donegal. First spring sunshine to provide the warmth he felt vital to a peak performance, then vindication of resistance to the temptation of putting up Richard Dunwoody in place of Mick Fitzgerald.

As they raced for the last, Rough Quest closing on Encore Un Peu, you could imagine Casey saying "Now!" because it was how he had planned it. Hunt around the first circuit, make sure you are in touch at the Melling Road then go for them. Nothing original, in fact standard procedure for class acts at Aintree, but in Fitzgerald's hands the plan was executed perfectly.

If doubts about Fitzgerald had indeed existed in Casey's mind they were probably to do with the jockey's dismal record in the National. Until Saturday he had got round only once in seven previous attempts - never since his first experience.

Last year he had departed at the first fence, so Fitzgerald considered it a bonus when Rough Quest took it nicely. "That was a big moment, I can tell you," he said.

Of course, it was nothing to the anxiety Fitzgerald had to endure when a stewards' enquiry put his great prize in jeopardy. After the result had been confirmed in Rough Quest's favour Fitzgerald made light of what he had been through but Casey looked in need of a large libation.

When we spoke last week Casey had given Rough Quest a real chance, feeling that he was in better shape than before finishing second to Imperial Call two weeks previously in the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

"I wasn't entirely happy with him then," he said. "He wasn't quite right, not where I wanted him but the way he's come in since has been remarkable. In today's condition Rough Quest would have beaten Imperial Call. There isn't any doubt in my mind about that."

The only doubt that did arise came when Fitzgerald and Encore Un Peu's jockey, David Bridgwater, began to battle it out at The Elbow. This was exactly the point where Casey had felt that a big effort would be required of Andrew Wates's black gelding, who started the race as the 7-1 favourite. "The idea was to come late so I knew Mick would have some work to do in the run-in," Casey said.

In response to his jockey's urging Rough Quest answered the call for a big effort but amid the excitement it was not noticed generally among the crowd that Fitzgerald had allowed his mount to veer left, causing Bridgwater momentarily to stop riding.

Would this be deemed avoidable interference or merely accidental? Opposite points of view, some inevitably subjective, were expressed loudly. "National or no National, rules are rules," a man growled. "There's no way Rough Quest can keep the race."

In speaking about the incident Fitzgerald, an articulate 25-year old who speaks in a strong voice, alluded to football. "I think there was a touch of Jurgen Klinsmann in the way David reacted," he smiled, this a reference to the German's histrionics when tackled.

Bridgwater admitted later that he had indeed thought about trying to pull a fast one. "Mick's horse did come across me," he said, "but to be honest I made a lot of it. Anyway it worked out for Mick and good luck to him."

Casey just sat there, patiently answering questions, his voice barely audible. For a man who almost gave up on racing after being forced to sell his stables in Lambourn two years ago it was an exhilarating experience.