Florida Pearl fails to shake Business plan

If he had looked good at Kempton on Monday then See More Business was made to appear even better yesterday when Florida Pearl, his principal Cheltenham Gold Cup challenger, was swallowed up in the mud at Leopardstown.

If he had looked good at Kempton on Monday then See More Business was made to appear even better yesterday when Florida Pearl, his principal Cheltenham Gold Cup challenger, was swallowed up in the mud at Leopardstown.

The Irish gelding is now as long as 10-1 in his home land for the Gold Cup, while Ladbrokes proved unaffected by the ghost of Christmas past and offer just 2-1 See More Business for Cheltenham.

As for Florida Pearl, it was a defeat made more shocking by the fact that he executed the strategy planned for him almost perfectly in the Ericsson Chase. He was anaesthetised between fences at the rear of the field by Paul Carberry, waking only to put in precise vaults as the minnows thrashed around in front of him.

It took until the last half mile for the long, white baguette of a stripe on the 4-7 favourite's face to be seen among the leaders and the race looked at his mercy. Even after the last, Florida Pearl was just ambling in the tow of the hard-driven Rince Ri. However, in a matter of strides, it became clear that Carberry had been creating the sort of illusion in which Lester Piggott used to specialise. Willie Mullins's gelding went from being a horse who looked as though he could win pulling a tractor to a floundering beast in need of heavy plant to pull him from the Leopardstown mud.

Conor O'Dwyer, Rince Ri's jockey, did not have Carberry's neck, but he did have that distance in his favour at the line. It had not seemed a probable victory when the partnership blundered as the battle warmed up. "It was my fault at the fourth last, which was the only fence where I didn't ask him," the jockey reported. "I should have made up his mind for him there, but he really battled for me when it counted from the last."

Rince Ri will return to this happy ground in February for the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup Chase, when Florida Pearl will once again be among the field. The runner-up looked suspiciously like a non-stayer yesterday, but connections will convince themselves that a lay-off since his last victory was the dominant factor. They are not for turning.

"We are not changing the plan though we will probably alter our tactics and make more use of him in the Hennessy," Mullins said. "I told Paul not to take it up until the last possible moment. In my opinion, he was fit enough to do the job today."

Rince Ri is a 20-1 chance (with the Tote and William Hill) for the Gold Cup and he will go there with his durability and courage undisputed. These were qualities also much in evidence at Chepstow yesterday in the annual slog for the Welsh National. It was an intriguing race in that Henry Daly's Edmond proved for once that the tortoise does not always beat the hare in this race. He led from the start and repelled all boarders to be 10 lengths clear at the line.

Daly immediately thought of Tim Forster, his predecessor and tutor, who died in April. The Captain was a jumping traditionalist, who thought National Hunt racing to be about nothing but fences and long distances. "He certainly enjoyed himself out there," Daly said. "Captain Tim, my mentor, would have liked that."

Coral, not to be outdone by Ladbrokes in meanness, soon had Edmond at 14-1 favourite for the Grand National despite the nicety that we do not yet know what weight Edmond will be required to carry. They should frame a book for the Slimmer of the Year before the fat-off.

Even more striking though was the appearance of Richard Johnson, the winning jockey. He looked like a Belisha beacon when he removed his helmet and described his coiffeur as "banana yellow". This is because Johnson and several of his weighing-room colleagues are raising funds for Scott Taylor, the jumps jockey who suffered serious head injuries in a fall at Perth in August. In haircut and gesture this was rather less like Piggott.

Kempton's card went ahead unhindered and the star turn was provided by Dato Star, a horse who stayed in the Sunbury stables throughout Monday's evacuation. Malcolm Jefferson's gelding has an injury record of encyclopaedic proportions, but when he is good he is some machine as he demonstrated in dismissing Wahiba Sands by 10 lengths in the Christmas Hurdle. That was enough to earn him a 16-1 quote and third favouritism with William Hill behind Istabraq and Far Cry for the Champion Hurdle in March. Jefferson thinks his horse is even better than that. "He is the best two-miler there is in the country," he said.

Lorcan Wyer, the victorious jockey, added: "We're still on track and you wouldn't believe with all the injuries he sustained that he's such a willing horse. Invariably he gives everything of himself." It was a day when that quality in horses was rewarded in three separate lands.

LEOPARDSTOWN

2.40: (Ericsson Chase) 1. RINCE RI (C O'Dwyer) 9-2; 2. Florida Pearl 4-7 fav; 3. Buck Rogers 12-1. 6 ran. Nk, 15. (T Walsh). Tote: £3.60; £1.50, £1.10. Reverse: £1.80. CSF: £6.66.

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