Viking Flagship was a contestant in a race which seemed to be the product of a round of Chinese whispers, the Faucets For Mira Rada Showers Silver Trophy Chase. Victory here would have made him only the second British- trained jumps horse, following Desert Orchid, to earn over pounds 500,000 in prize money.
This milestone seemed an inevitability for much of the journey as Viking Flagship travelled sweetly in behind the pathfinder, Gales Cavalier. At the final obstacle all that remained was for the nine-year-old to unfurl his trademark bravery and battle home. But, for once, the surge was not there and Gales Cavalier held on by three-quarters of a length.
David Nicholson, who trains the runner-up, is not used to putting on a brave face with this horse and his features never really got past the disappointed stage. The visage may be different following the BMW Handicap Chase at Punchestown later this month.
Further ahead, Viking Flagship may be at Kempton on Boxing Day for the King George VI Chase, when yesterday's conqueror could be among his opponents. "He'll certainly be running over a trip next season," David Gandolfo, Gales Cavalier's trainer, said.
At 14, Mole Board may be very close to ear-trumpet territory, but there was little sign of his age in the paddock before the Mitie Group Hurdle. The old horse pranced around the oval like a bather negotiating hot sands to get to the sea.
In the race itself he too had a trailblazer to catch as Hops And Pops powered away. Unlike Viking Flagship, Mole Board actually got his frame in front on the run-in, but, just as the crowd hailed the veteran, fatigue set in and the mare passed him close home.
If Mole Board had won, Jim Old, his trainer, would doubtlessly have embarked on a retirement speech but now it seems there may be yet another last hurrah. After a summer holiday, he could be back in training. "If in November he's sparkling we might try again with him," Old said. "But we're anxious not to run him if he is deteriorating. He still loves it all, his work at home and his racing. He's a great enthusiast.''
Hops and Pops, like Gales Cavalier, was both the outsider and youngest horse in one of several small fields, perhaps in keeping with a new-look Cheltenham.
Both Tattersalls stands at Prestbury Park have been demolished since the Festival and by March next year a pounds 10m development will be in their place. There were almost as many bulldozers as horses at the foot of Cleeve Hill yesterday. The area around the finishing post is now dominated by piles of concrete and twisted metal. In keeping with the mood of the thrifty 90s, the rubble of the old buildings is being used for the foundations of the new.
There is a modernisation too in the jockeys' division, with a fresh name to be added to the title scroll at the end of the season. Few doubt that will be Tony McCoy, who rode trebles on the first three days this week but ran dry of good fortune yesterday.
The Irishman went to ground after Polden Pride capitulated in yesterday's opener and was taken to hospital with a wrist injury. He was later discharged and will ride at Ascot tomorrow.Reuse content