Fitzgerald's reward after agony of the waiting game

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Where there had been butterflies, a cascade of alcohol arrived for Mick Fitzgerald and Terry Casey on Saturday night. The jockey and trainer of the Grand National winner, Rough Quest, must have felt formations of flying insects crashing into their stomach linings as they had to endure a stewards' enquiry at Aintree, but hours later that was forgotten.

Fitzgerald celebrated at Franco's in Faringdon with friends and gin and tonic ("lots of it''), while Casey felt unable to turn down the offer of a free night at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, despite the fact that he was forced to drink a jeroboam of champagne as part of the contract. He left at 6.00am yesterday morning and tiptoed past the bar where his Irish countrymen were still keeping the optics humming.

Casey may have felt as anaesthetised as those folk, however, when the stewards' enquiry chimes went out at Liverpool. All, previously, had gone to plan.

Rough Quest, the first winning National favourite since Grittar in 1982 - ridden by one of yesterday's stewards, Dick Saunders - beat Hard Outlook, who like Rough Quest, was owned by Andrew Wates, had made Liverpool's obstacles look as daunting as ribbons of raffia paper. Not all of Saturday's field could create this impression, however.

Bernard Donigan, the RSPCA spokesman, believes the Aintree course is now as safe as it ever can be, but this will be no salve to either those who do not like see horses harmed in any way or the connections of Rust Never Sleeps. The Irish gelding broke a shoulder approaching the 13th fence and had to be destroyed.

There were other, if less serious, victims. Deep Bramble may have run his last race after rupturing a near-fore tendon, while the 1992 National winner Party Politics, who capsized at the third, is another likely to be retired.

As their races came to an end, Rough Quest slid silently through the field, like a spy through shadows, and it became increasingly apparent there was only one threat, Martin Pipe's Encore Un Peu.

His jockey, David Bridgwater, was in animated form in front of the hand- held television cameras before the race, his facial contortions suggesting he would be a force of some magnitude in Lakeland gurning competitions.

When he saw Fitzgerald and Rough Quest at his shoulder on the run-in, his features may have twitched violently once again.

The favourite swept past but then lurched towards the running rail, like a drunk feeling for the bannister, a manoeuvre which took him dangerously close to Encore Un Peu's snout. Bridgwater was forced to switch his mount, a motion which some thought he effected with overdue theatricality. Fitzgerald later called him Jurgen Klinsmann.

Rough Quest's connections were united in the belief they would keep the race, but were neverthless nervous and showed this emotion in varying manners.

Fitzgerald, sporting breathe-strips over a nose that was swollen to Karl Malden proportions, missed out very few contents of the dictionary as he addressed anyone within eyeshot. Fitzgerald's fiancee, Jane Brackenbury, whom he marries in July, will have been interested by one of his observations. "I've not enjoyed nine minutes so much for a long time," he said. "Sex would be an anticlimax after that."

Casey had his head bowed and hands together, palms on the stomach, and looked as nervous as a debutant chorister, while Andrew Wates, an old boy of Emanuel College, Cambridge, and a member of the Jockey Club, hyperventilated.

But after just 10 minutes of deliberation the stewards deemed that the interference had been accidental and that Rough Quest had won the race on merit.

The speed of the enquiry - and the fact that it would consequently return National money into public hands and the betting pool - upset quite a few, but a reverse of the decision would have disturbed a few more.

Rough Quest is now quoted at 16-1 with William Hill to win the 1997 National and 12-1 - Imperial Call is the 5-1 favourite - for next year's Cheltenham Gold Cup.

While Fitzgerald later refreshed himself with a gin and tonic, Rough Quest seemed to take on board just the second element and came back home yesterday morning an unusually revitalised horse.

When he comes creaking out of his box most mornings it must be a temptation to locate an oil can for Rough Quest, but yesterday was different on his return to Henfold House Cottage on the fringe of the Surrey village of Beare Green. "He has been in his box for almost six hours but he walked up that avenue like a two-year-old," Casey said.

As he breached the rise the sight for the 10-year-old must have been as arresting as anything he witnessed at Aintree on Saturday. Television satellite links trucks, with their towering aerials, were parked in a small yard overrun by wellwishers, some of them perched on a water tank.

Rough Quest was wearing a rug, but then he needs rugs. The gelding does not like cold weather, which some might think is a bit of a hindrance for a National Hunt horse. "His coat still looks bad," Casey said. "He's very hairy."

Rough Quest also suffers from muscle enzyme problems and if you look down the old boy's flanks you may find a list of minerals comprising his contents. "We have to be very careful with his diet," Casey said. "He doesn't get much protein, but lots of carbohydrates and plenty of Vitamin E which we give him in powder form. That keeps the muscular system going and prevents the build-up of lactic acid."

But Terry Casey, who was virtually turning out his trouser-pocket linings in front of the bank manager two years ago, does not mind pampering the horse. After Saturday he will probably allow him under his own duvet.