Flagship flies true colours

The turning wheel of fortune spun back in favour of Noel Chance here yesterday. Less than three weeks after injury to the Gold Cup winner Looks Like Trouble clouded the genial Irishman's normally sunny countenance a silver lining emerged in Flagship Uberalles, transferred to his Lambourn stables during the close season from Paul Nicholls.

The turning wheel of fortune spun back in favour of Noel Chance here yesterday. Less than three weeks after injury to the Gold Cup winner Looks Like Trouble clouded the genial Irishman's normally sunny countenance a silver lining emerged in Flagship Uberalles, transferred to his Lambourn stables during the close season from Paul Nicholls.

In the Tingle Creek Chase, salvaged from last weekend's abandoned Sandown fixture, Flagship Uberalles showed all his old brilliance on his essential soft ground to put himself back at the top of the two-mile tree. Ironically - perhaps inevitably - his immediate victim as he scorched up the hill to the finish was one of Nicholls' charges, Fadalko.

The rescheduling of the Grade One contest was entirely serendipitous as far as Chance was concerned. Flagship Uberalles had not been entered last week and had been due to take on Florida Pearl and Native Upmanship over two and a half miles at Punchestown this afternoon. "It has worked out very well," said the trainer, "but then with horses that's the way it goes, swings and roundabouts and blessing each day as it comes."

Flagship Uberalles, who runs in the stars-and-stripes colours of the Americans Elizabeth Gutner and Michael Krysztofiak, was a star novice under Nicholls' care two seasons ago but after he failed as favourite for the senior crown, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, in March and hisseason began to tail off, relations between his owners and trainer did likewise. With Nicholls' help, Chance is taking the measure of the big horse.

"He is not one to give you confidence at home because you get only what you ask but he gives it generously and so you don't like to ask too much," he said. "I was pretty sure he would be fit enough to do himself justice first time out; I am still learning him but every time I wondered I looked in the diary and he'd covered the miles, and looked at him and he looked straight."

Richard Johnson, riding Flagship Uberalles for the first time in public, sat off the pace as The Outback Way led. Unsurprisingly, given the testing conditions, he had had enough after a mile and Fadalko, who had gone with him for a fence before Tony McCoy realised the folly of the gallop and dropped back to the pack, took over in front and slipped clear at the top of the hill at the farthest point of the course.

But Johnson had the leader in his sights and two out had his measure. "Once mine was motoring I knew I'd got him. First time out and on tacky ground, this was a classy performance."

Flagship Uberalles has yet to win over more than two miles and a furlong but will try his luck over three miles next time, stepping into the absent Looks Like Trouble's shoes in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. "It is a pity there is not a championship two-miler over the Christmas period," said Chance. "You can ruin a speed horse going three miles, but you can settle this one. He is not a free-running horse so you can ride him to get the trip, and if there is a place where a two-miler can get three it is Kempton."

Flagship Uberalles is 5-2 favourite with Ladbrokes for the Queen Mother Champion Chase and is fourth favourite, behind his former stablemate See More Business, for the Christmas three-mile chase, at a best-priced 10-1 with the Tote.

The two contenders to foil Istabraq's bid for an unprecedented fourth Champion Hurdle fell by the wayside in the Bula Hurdle, won by Geos. The young Irish star Youllneverwalkalone, the favourite, went backwards without trace and the home side's best hope Barton, though he stayed on gallantly up the hill, looked one-paced in second place.

Geos has the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton in his diary. Future plans for the former star novice Barton, who missed the whole of last season with a leg injury, are as yet unformulated. "I was pleased, he will improve," said his trainer Tim Easterby, before adding: "I wish there was a two and a half mile Champion Hurdle."

But if the very presence of Barton on a racecourse is a triumph for time and patience, that of Nick Dundee is surely verging on a miracle. The eight-year-old was last seen here in March last year, when, after a sickening bone-breaking fall in the Sun Alliance Chase won by Looks Like Trouble, his very life, let alone his huge talent, was in danger of being snuffed out.

A superb effort by vets has saved both. And yesterday, a few minutes after his Eddie O'Grady stablemate Go Roger Go held Robbo's storming late flourish by a neck to become the first Irish-trained winner of the valuable handicap now known as the Tripleprint Gold Cup sine Leap frog in 1971, Nick Dundee resumed his progress on the track by cantering home, ears happily pricked, from three decent rivals at Navan. He is now back in the Gold Cup lists at 14-1 with Ladbrokes.

The happiest man anywhere was Go Roger Go's jockey Norman Williamson, who had partnered Nick Dundee that fateful day last year and whose quick thinking in grabbing the horse's reins and preventing him galloping loose and incurring further damage undoubtedly saved him in the first instance. "I may have won the big one here," he said, "but Nick Dundee's comeback means much more."

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