Flyer averts crash landing to close gap on One Man

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reports from Wincanton

It says much for the fever that has gripped many punters since One Man's victory in the King George that the result of the John Bull Chase here yesterday raised barely a murmur in the ante-post market for the Gold Cup. Dublin Flyer, an immensely popular horse with saddlebags of courage and a spectacular fencing technique, proved himself to be better than ever, but was cut just two points to 14-1 for Cheltenham's showpiece chase. Justice, it seems, is the first casualty of the One Man era.

Dublin Flyer's defeat of Travado and the apparently declining Viking Flagship, the two-mile champion chaser, was achieved despite two significant lapses. First, the starter, though hardly facing a field of Grand National proportions, succeeded in sending the four runners on their way in a manner more akin to a cycling time-trial than a horse race. Dublin Flyer, who needs to set the pace, immediately had 15 lengths to make up.

The second mistake, however, was all his own. He met the final ditch, five out, so violently askew that he all but turned sideways in clambering across. It is an immense tribute to Dublin Flyer's resilience that he not only survived, but went on to win going clear. "I could see it coming a couple of strides away," Brendan Powell, his rider, said, "but with a horse like him there's not a lot you can do."

Dublin Flyer has built his reputation at or near yesterday's trip of two miles five furlongs, but his novice chasing record includes a victory at 26 furlongs, the Gold Cup distance. That is now a serious target, even for his instinctively pessimistic trainer, Tim Forster.

"That was a fine performance," Forster said, "especially as he hates going right-handed. The owner will be keen to run in the Gold Cup, and he's entitled to let him take his chance. That will be his first priority, but I expect we'll enter him in the National too. After all, he might fall at the first at Cheltenham."

Even Forster, though, would have to concede that an early departure is unlikely, as Dublin Flyer may instead subject One Man's fencing to a fierce examination. "One Man's a very good horse," Powell conceded yesterday, "but he'll have to jump with me down the back."

The Festival remains the principal target too for Viking Flagship, despite yesterday's uninspiring performance. David Nicholson's runner has taken the last two runnings of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and appeared similarly out of sorts before last season's victory, but Coral's offer of 8-1 (from 5-1) for a hat-trick is good news for the Irish. Three horses from across the water - Sound Man at 15-8, Strong Platinum on 3-1 and Klairon Davis (5-1) - now dominate the market.

Master Oats, One Man's main rival in the Festival betting, should at least have the assistance of Norman Williamson, his regular jockey, when he defends the Gold Cup. The rider said yesterday that he hopes to return to the saddle in the middle of next month after x-rays on his right leg, broken in a fall early in the season, showed his recovery to be all but complete. He will not, however, be fit in time to ride Master Oats in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown in early February.

As Williamson leaves the treatment room two other riders take his place after falls yesterday. Adrian Maguire must face the course doctor's scrutiny before riding at Ascot today. He suffered a possible sprained wrist at Wetherby, while Tony McCoy may have the same injury after a Wincanton fall. If he is forced to take time off then his diminishing lead of 15 over David Bridgwater in the jockeys' title race may have disappeared before his return.